I have been tucking into the homemade marmalade, wondering, in a sleepy, first-thing-in-the-morning kind of way, how something made of Spanish oranges and sugar cane manages to taste so singularly British. Apart from the occasional tart, with its curling trellis work of pastry, our favourite preserve hasn't really gone very far since 17th-century cooks used it as a sweetmeat "to aid digestion". Most of it still ends up ushering us gently into a new day.
The marmalade that ventures into the kitchen is likely to end up as a mustard-spiked glaze for ham, or as a flavouring for a cake, where it is both old fashioned and charming, and instantly cuts the sweetness.
I do, though, like a spoonful of the amber nectar in the gravy to lubricate a pork roast, or occasionally in the mahogany sauce of a duck casserole. Its astringency sharpens the edges of the fatty meat, removing any excessive richness. Once the finished roast is resting under its ill-fitting hat of tinfoil, I put the pan over a moderate flame and stir in a ladle of stock and a spoonful or two of marmalade. As it bubbles down, the orange jam thickens the juices and adds a welcome nip of bitterness.
The boat got pushed out this week in the form of a large duck. I served it on the bone and tucked in a few golden turnips just to make everyone feel they were getting more meat than they really were. Into the pot went some smoked bacon, fat onions roughly chopped and a large knob of ginger, cut into shreds the size of a Swan Vesta. Juniper would have been my own seasoning had
I not put the ginger in, but I added star anise instead to keep the ginger company and to take it away from the duck à l'orange route.
A slow-cooked duck, braised in bony lumps over a low heat, is something that needs a bit of padding if it is to fill as well as excite us. Root vegetables, crushed with a potato masher, can be a good one here, especially parsnip or celeriac. They blend blissfully with the gravy and both are happy with orange and ginger. Or maybe some cracked wheat or plain and fluffy rice.
Having a goodly amount of sugar in it, a jar of marmalade often ends up in a pudding. My dad stirred it into his weekly rice pud. One of my favourite desserts of all time is an open marmalade tart made with a bit of lard in the pastry. Drop a dollop in the bottom of a steamed pudding on an icy day and the house will fill with a gorgeous citrus-scented fug. This week I used it to top an open apple tart, the orange jam nicely setting off the sweet, rather biscuity pastry. Just the sort of food for a clear-sky winter's day with a distinct chill in the air. A marmalade day, if you like.
Marmalade apple tart
You will need an old fashioned pie plate for this, about 24cm across the top.
For the pastry:
75g golden, unrefined caster sugar
an egg yolk
150g plain flour
a little milk to finish
For the filling:
850g sweet dessert apples
half a lemon
a tbsp unrefined caster sugar
cold double cream
To make the pastry: cut the butter into chunks and put it in a food mixer with a beater attachment. Add the sugar and beat till pale and creamy. Mix in the egg.
Add the flour carefully and slowly to the mixture. Stop as soon as it is incorporated. Check the texture of the dough, adding a very little milk if necessary to bring it to a nice rolling consistency. Remove the dough from the bowl, put it on a lightly floured board and roll it into a fat sausage. Wrap in greaseproof paper or clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
Meanwhile, peel the apples. As you finish each one, drop it into a bowl of cold water in which you have squeezed the lemon. Roughly chop them and drop them back into the acidulated water as you go.
Drain the apples and put them into a large, heavy-based saucepan with the sugar and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, and continue till the apples are tender and have all but lost their shape - about 20-30 minutes over a moderate heat with the occasional stir. Leave them to cool.
Very lightly butter the tart tin. Remove the pastry from the fridge, and cut it into thick slices, using them to line the tin, pressing the dough firmly into the corners and patching any tears or cracks. The pastry should be quite thick. Prick the pastry lightly with a fork, then chill for 20 minutes. Set the oven at 200C/gas 6. Place a baking sheet in the oven. Put the chilled pastry case on the hot baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until light biscuit-coloured. Remove the tart case from the oven and turn the heat down to 180C/gas 4. Fill the tart case with the apple purée. Warm the marmalade in a small pan, then spoon on top of the apple and return to the oven for 30-35 minutes. Serve warm, with cream.
This is not the classic duck with orange sauce, but a mildly spiced casserole. The orange should not dominate, and the flavour can be tweaked to your taste at the end with lemon juice or, better still, a bitter Seville orange. Serves 3.
groundnut or vegetable oil
a large duck cut into 6
250g smoked bacon
2 medium to large onions
4 smallish turnips
a 3cm lump of ginger (about 50g)
1 litre of light stock (water at a push)
the juice of 2 large sweet oranges
3 bay leaves
a stick of cinnamon
2 star anise flowers
2-3 tbsp of marmalade
the juice of a lemon or Seville orange
rice, couscous, cracked wheat or quinoa
Warm a little oil in a heavy-based casserole and lightly brown the pieces of duck in it, two or three pieces at a time. Drain them and set aside on kitchen paper. Cut the bacon into thick strips and add to the pan, letting them crisp lightly in the fat. Remove them and add to the duck. Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the onions.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan, then add the onions and cook over a moderate to low heat, stirring occasionally. As the onions cook, peel and roughly chop the turnips and add them. Cut the ginger into fine matchsticks, then add to the pan.
Once the onions have well and truly softened and are starting to turn pale gold, add stock and orange juice, the bay leaves, cinnamon stick and the star anise, a generous grinding of salt and some black pepper. Return the duck pieces to the pan, turn down to a slow simmer and leave for 45 minutes.
Check the duck for tenderness. It should be soft, but far from falling off the bone. Put the pan to one side and let it cool (overnight if possible). Scoop off as much fat as you can and discard it.
Bring the pan back up to simmering point. Stir in the marmalade, then correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and the juice of the lemon (or bitter orange if you have one). The flavours should be warm, sweetly spiced and with the gentlest hint of marmalade.