The Cottage Smallholder

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The landscape is never flat when it comes to cooking

Photo: Simmered Seville oranges

Photo: Simmered Seville oranges

I seem to have been cooking for days. When I get home from work. Loads of delicious pies. Fish, beef and oxtail and mixed game pies.

I like pies.  Somehow if we have a homemade pie for supper, I feel that we are almost there cooking wise. All is needed is a pair of  thick gloves to tackle the freezer in the morning. And half an hour to prepare some tasty vegetables whilst the pie warms in the oven.

Even though it’s spring here in the UK, with quite a few sunny days, it’s chilly after dark and I’ve had a longing for traditional English food. So we’ve run the gamut from roast chicken with bread suace on Sunday, through stew to steak and Guinness pie last night.

During this morning’s foray to Newmarket to buy the last of the forgotten Easter eggs and lunch for Easer Day, I was planning to make a small batch of Oxford marmalade for my mum this afternoon. I remembered her comment as I flew past the sugar section.
“Don’t forget to use brown sugar!”
I selected Dark Muscovado sugar, the brownest of brown sugar. This was a big mistake. It’s a molasses sugar and imparts the taste of bitter treacle to the marmalade. During the boiling up process I was appalled as it tainted the marmalade which tasted bitter and nasty.

All was not lost as I did have some Seville oranges waiting in the wings. I planned to make them into a final batch of our Seville and Quince Marmalade.  The good fairy, who is a bit more generous spirited than me, suggested that I could use these to remake the marmalade for my mum. The bad fairy wasn’t going to have any of that rubbish. 

In desperation, I trailed upstairs with a teaspoon of the bitter treacle marmalade. Perhaps D would find something good in it that I had missed. He tasted it with the gentleness of an insect. After a long pause he turned to me and said.
“Well, I would never choose to eat that.”

I went downstairs and tasted the pieces of Seville orange. Their flavour was marmaladey and good. I telephoned my mum and explained the problem.
“It tastes treacly. I don’t think that you’ll like it.”
“I always used a pale brown sugar. The molasses sugar must have been too much for the marmalade.”

I drained off the loathsome treacle intense syrup and made some new syrup, using white granulated cane sugar and a lot of fresh lemon juice. Then I added the strained Seville orange pieces and boiled it up. I created a tasty ‘Oxford’ style marmalade, dark and full of deep flavours. Edible at last and a recipe that I don’t think that I could or would want to ever repeat again.

Next year I’ll use the same sugar as my mum. The remains of the dark Muscovado sugar are now trembling on the sugar shelf in the larder.

  Leave a reply


  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Seahorse

    I think that I used Delia’s measurements – so if you have 4 pints of water add 4 and a half pounds of sugar. You could try using less sugar – like Nigel Slater does.

  2. seahorse

    Fiona you are a genius. I have this exact problem with a recent batch of Oxford. Oh happy day, I will now be able to get in the kitchen and rebatch. Just a quick question, with the new syrup did you use the same quantities of sugar and juice as you would for a normal marmalade recipe? I’m thinking 2kg sugar and 4 pints juice/water?

  3. Please do next time as I’m usually around, and at the moment quite often as late as you…

    Question for you, when do you normally stop using the wood burning stove or do you use it throughout the year?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Amanda

      Usually the jackdaws take over the chiney in April and finally leave in September. This year is different. If I win the battle with them (they like nesting in the wood burning chimney) I will have a small fire most nights. It’s often chilly after dark in the country. But the jackdaws are determined and this evening I did consider throwing in the towel and letting them nest.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Mandi

    The gypsy tart sounds divine! Thank you so much for posting the recipe.

    Hi Veronica

    I love playing with food and tweaking it to get the flavours that I imagined.

    Like us all, I hate failures, and will try to virtually anything to avert it. I’ve discovered most of my cooking tips this way!

    Hi Jabblog

    I agree, I can’t wait to try it.

    Hello Kate(uk)

    That is a brilliant idea. Thank you so much!

    Hello Springtime

    I agree. I’m happy to eat lighter more summery food for lunch but in the evening I want to light the wood burning stove and eat comfort food.

    My mistake was that I used all molasses sugar for the marmalade. Rather than just a touch like you.

    Hi Amanada

    I wish that I’d emailed you on the horror marmalade making night! Thanks for the tip.

  5. Mix it half and half with some light brown sugar and it will be good to go. It’s quite nice sprinkled on porridge – if you like porridge that is.

  6. springtime

    I know what you mean about cold evenings still!

    We also enjoyed a steak and ale pie (ale courtesy of brewery neighbours behind!) last night. But the sunshine today lulled me into a false sense of security: risotto and salad was on the menu tonight. Delicious, but I feel a bit duped but sunshine as it’s freezing again this evening!

    P.S. Weird about the sugar in the marmalade, I use dark brown muscovado without a problem, but just a little bit right at the end. Either that, or my taste-buds are considerably deformed (which is highly likely…)

  7. kate (uk)

    If you ever have a similar accident again with jam/marmalade, add spices ,vinegar, apple, sultanas and onions and hey presto, chutney!

  8. jabblog

    Ooh Mandi – gypsy tart! I remember this from my Kentish childhood and just thinking about it makes me want to taste it again.

  9. Veronica

    Love the description of Danny as an insect, and his deadpan comment 🙂 But you have a great talent for rescuing things from the brink of disaster!

  10. If you want to use up your sugar on a delicously sweet naughty pudding try making a gypsy tart.
    I don’t know if you have ever tried or heard of it as I believe its a kentish recipe and people from other parts of the country never seem to know what it is.
    If you’ve got a got sweet tooth and love the taste of the darkness of the sugar without the bitterness …have a go at it it takes minutes to make.

    1 400g (14oz) Tin of Evaporated Milk
    340g (12oz) Dark Muscovado Sugar
    1 10inch Pre-baked shortcrust pastry case

    Pre-heat oven to 200°C: 400°F: Gas 6.
    Whisk evaporated milk and sugar together for approximately 10 minutes
    Until light and fluffy and coffee coloured.
    Pour the mix into the pastry case.
    Bake for 10 minutes.
    The surface will appear slightly sticky but will set completely when left to cool.
    Serve cold.

    I find that chilling the evap milk in the fridge or freezer before starting helps it whisk up lighter and make sure you sieve your sugar through a fine sieve before adding to the milk to get out the sticky lumps.

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