I was starting to lose hope that I’d ever make a good jelly. All those loose and liquid results with fresh-from-the-orchard plums and cherries were getting me down. That is, until the Pilates Girls started to talk about marmalade – in the heat of summer, no less. They started to swoon over tales of Seville marmalade, rolling their eyes in ecstasy remembering every slurp and mouthful, every stolen spoonful.
So very British of them, I thought in disdain, but their marmalade reverie was so very infectious, slipping deep into my flavour brain.
I took another look at the big fragrant box of Sungold cherry tomatoes I had ripening in the cellar under layers of paper bags. I’d harvested them on the vine – neon green – a good month ago. Now, their colour was like a pale sunrise, a little yellow, a little orange. They just weren’t their seductive, deep pumpkin orange selves, so sweet-as-sin in the heat of summer.
Here they were, half-ripened in my dark, unfinished basement and I could not ignore them. Nor could I forget that bag of organic lemons I’d bought recently…
I scanned the internet and was smitten with the cinnamon and saffron one author had added to her ridiculously difficult and multi-stepped recipe. I stole the flavour combination and started to pluck the green stem ends clinging to every SunGold.
I had to make this easy. I reached for my heavy, turquoise Cuisinart enamelled cast-iron pot that has braised heavenly concoctions all spring and summer in my oven, closed shut with the extra guarantee of a sheet of parchment paper.
I sensed this beast was up for the task. No lid. It had one hell of a thick base and a wide rim perfect for boiling off fruit into gelled perfection.
I had three and a half pounds of SunGolds the size of marbles. They looked so dainty and pretty as they tumbled into the pot alongside cups of sliced lemons. I cranked the gas up high. In just a minute, liquid started to form in the base. After a short, five minutes the mixture was sloshing about. I dumped in the organic sugar and all that fruity sweetness shimmered to a gloss.
Promising, dared I hope.
I brought it to a boil and the skins made an orange line around the perimeter. I stirred occasionally, not continuously, and it wasn’t sticking or burning to the bottom. It made quick work of the liquid, reducing it down by a third. The orange line was a full inch above the liquid’s surface and it thickened and hardened. I slid a knife under it and realized the line had gelled.
At first my wooden spoon dripped like fast falling rain when I tipped a maiden spoonful out and over the surface. But in 20 minutes it was starting to cling, clump and sheet. All the little drops left in my spoon-resting dish started to sparkle and reflect.
I ventured into this recipe carrying the baggage of a failed gel-maker. After the first ten minutes, I pulled out the Pomona’s Universal Pectin. I even filled a small bowl with sugar, ready to mix with the pectin powder to prevent that nasty clumping and frothing. I started to calculate, figuring this batch would need four teaspoons each of Pomona’s calcium water and pectin.
But just as carrying an umbrella stops the rain from falling, so did the appearance of that pectin box. It started up the natural gelling – instantly. Turning the spoon through this golden elixir took the push of oatmeal porridge. It was thick. It would gel.
And, it smelt exotic. The earthy tomatoes had collapsed into skins swirling in a shiny syrup littered with tomato seeds. Lemon skins turned translucent, limping seductively on the spoon. The cinnamon stick I’d cracked in half was swelling up like a wine cork. I waited for the final moment to gingerly tap the saffron bottle and let a few strands fall into the mixture to bleed their gorgeous tint. A marmalade was born.
Whether you pair this with cheese or slather on toast, this savoury-sweet marmalade will dance on your tongue. The lemon cuts the sweetness and the saffron slightly perfumes. A dollop on grilled fish offers delicious contrast and just a smidgen is the right condiment for dhal and rice. With any luck and lots of gelling, this marmalade will make you swoon just like those Pilates Girls.
SunGold Tomato Saffron Marmalade
3 ½ lbs green sungold cherry tomatoes, ripened in basement in paper to a yellow-orange OR ripe red grape tomatoes
2 lbs organic lemons, seeded, quartered and sliced thinly
4 ½ cups organic white sugar
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
In large, very wide and heavy enamelled caste iron pot heat tomatoes and lemons (without any liquid) until they sweat and emit liquid. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook on high, stirring for 40 min. Add saffron, check for gelling point. Process in sterilized jars with ¼ inch headspace for 10 minutes.