The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today. – Lewis Carroll
Who says life doesn’t start at fifty? A couple of years ago, I transformed myself and began a career as a professional writer. Two or three years later, just a week ago, I became a hôtelière, a hotel owner, a hotelkeeper (yes, yes, Fawlty Towers, The Bates Motel, L’Auberge Rouge, I’ve heard it all). The Boss Lady. Yet it didn’t stop there. With a new profession comes another and now I am also a confiturière. A jam maker. Now, for whomsoever knows me, knows that I love to bake. But jam? That made my knees turn to jelly and go all wobbly. I was really in a jam.
I had never made jam before. But Laurent came to the rescue. The Hôtel Diderot has a long history of jam making; in fact, homemade jams, jellies, and marmalade are an integral part of the house, interwoven with its history and reputation. Mme. Lainel, who owned and ran Hôtel Diderot with her husband from the early 1960’s through 1979, began the tradition by producing classic jams using fresh ingredients from her garden. Mme. Kazamias, who, with her husband, followed in the Lainel’s footsteps, continued making jam but brought her own personal touch to the business: her French roots, her husband’s Cypriot ones and their time together in Africa were all reflected in the jams she produced for the hotel.
And then came the Dutheil siblings, Laurent, Françoise and Martine, in 2003. Laurent, with his cooking school diploma and his restaurant background took over the jam making, once again adding his own personal touch and taste. I had no idea what to expect the first time I sat down to breakfast at the hotel and found myself in front of twenty-some pots, each holding a different flavor jam, jelly or marmalade. And this was only the tip of the iceberg: over the course of a year, Laurent made upwards of sixty different flavors! Can they really be that good? I thought to myself, thinking of the grainy, murky homemade jams I had sometimes tasted in France. I tried the Blueberry-Black Currant jam first and heavens! It was fabulous! In flavor, in texture, in smoothness and clarity. The orange marmalade (traditional Dundee Marmalade) also had me swooning. Okay, I was in. Lead me to the kitchen. I accept my responsibility and my destiny!
The jelly – the jam and the marmalade, And the cherry-and quince-“preserves” she made! And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear, With cinnamon in ’em, and all things rare! – And the more we ate was the more to spare, Out to old Aunt Mary’s! Ah! – James Whitcomb Riley
“It’s orange season,” Laurent explained, “so we’ll be doing 18 kilos of bitter oranges for Dundee Marmalade and about the same of Sweet Orange Marmalade using the Maltaise oranges.” We ordered the bitter oranges first. And when they arrived we washed and dried half of them, juiced them and chopped them. The process for his Dundee Marmalade takes three days. I watched as the oranges and sugar macerated then cooked, noting the change in color, texture, thickness. And then we jarred them. We worked with 6 kilos at a time and ended up with a bit more than 60 jars of marmalade.
And some with a twist! “What do you think of adding cocoa powder to one batch?” Laurent asked me. “The flavor is divine! Maybe my favorite of all the jams!” Of course, I said yes, jumping up and down, imaging the best chocolate-orange cake I had ever made and eaten. “Or whisky?” he asked. Jean-Pierre overheard and said “Oh make whisky!” So of course we made both.
And as we began whizzing cocoa powder into the third and final batch of bitter orange marmalade, Laurent told me the story of how this flavor combination came about: many years ago, when they had just taken over the hotel and could not yet afford a receptionist, Laurent had the copper basin of oranges and sugar bubbling away on the stovetop in the kitchen upstairs when he heard the phone ring. Alone in the hotel, he ran downstairs and answered. A while later, still on the phone with a client, he realized the marmalade had been cooking alone for quite some time. Promising to call back the client, he hung up and ran upstairs only to discover that the concoction had begun to burn, caramelizing on the bottom of the copper basin. He stirred and stirred, only to release bits of dark, overcooked, burned residue from the bottom and watched, horrified, as it floated to the top. Frantically, he and his sister tried to pick out and skim off the dark bits only to find more and more appearing. It was hopeless. But loath to throw the whole basin of marmalade away, they asked each other “What can we do to save this mess and hide the dark brown bits?” Unsweetened cocoa powder! And that is how Bitter Orange – Cocoa Marmalade was born. And it tastes just like a Pim’s cookie.
Laurent is an incredibly talented jam maker and the perfect teacher;his instructions are clear and precise, he tells stories to fill up the time we spend stirring, he transmits his knowledge, his confidence and his good humor while we cook. And I am just so proud of my first jams.
- 6 kilos (about 13 lbs or a bit more) bitter oranges, preferably untreated
- Sugar (850 g to 1 kilo prepared fruit / 30 oz to 2.2 lbs)
- Whisky, for variation #1
- Very good quality unsweetened cocoa powder, for variation #2
- You will need a juicer and a robot with the chopping attachment. Have ready a large, clean bucket, bowl or pot, big enough to hold all of the juice, chopped oranges, and seeds. Pre-weigh your bucket. Have ready a very clean (new) stocking (one leg cut below the knee) place in a tall, narrow recipient in which to place all of the seeds. You will need a medium-sized copper jelly basin (mine measures 38½ cm diam x 15 cm depth / 15.15" x 6"). For the day of cooking, you will need 20 clean, sterilized jam jars, a bowl with water and a skimmer to skim off any impurities, a ladle, a heat-resistant cup or pitcher with a narrow spout.
- Wash and dry the oranges, rubbing off any dirt that remains stuck to the peel; remove and discard the little nib at the top (where fruit meets stem). Slice the oranges in half side-to-side (through the side, not through the center along the navel to the stem).
- Juice the oranges, placing all of the juice extracted into the bucket/bowl.
- Scoop the seeds into the stocking, pressing down and filling until you have a “sausage” about 5 inches in length; this should take most but not all of the orange seeds; this will be the source of pectin needed to thicken the marmalade. Press the seeds down and tie the stocking in a knot above the seeds then flip the stocking leg, turning the length remaining inside out and around the “sausage” of seeds and tie it into another knot at the toe end. Place in the bucket with the juice.
- Cut the juiced halves of peel – pith and all – each in four pieces and chop fairly fine and add to the juice in the bucket. Stir everything together until all of the chopped peel is wet.
- Cover the bucket with a clean cloth and leave overnight/24 hours.
- The following day, weigh the bucket filled with the pulp; once you have your weight, subtract the weight of the empty bucket and the seed sausage (my bucket weights 400g, my seed sausage 500g) = the result is the weight of your prepared fruit.
- Calculate the weight of the sugar: for example, my filled bucket on the scale weighed 5,400 g – 400 g (bucket weight) – 500 g (seed weight) = 4,500 g fruit pulp. 4,500 x 0.850 (weight of sugar to the kilo) = 3,800 g so I then weighed out 3 kg 800 of sugar.
- Using a large, long-handled wooden spoon, chop at the orange pulp to loosen then scoop and scrape it all, including the seed sausage, into the basin. Place the basin on the stove over medium heat/flame and heat, stirring occasionally, just until it come to the boil. Remove from the heat. Add the sugar. Cover the pot with the clean cloth and leave overnight/24 hours.
- The third day, place the basin on the stove over medium-low heat/flame and heat, carefully pushing down the sugar into the pulp, breaking up any lumps, stirring occasionally.
- Once the fruit begins to heat and the sugar melting, add ½ liter (2 cups) pure apple juice to add liquid so it doesn’t burn (because of the pre-cooking process, there should be very little liquid in the pulp; one batch I forgot the pre-cooking process before adding the sugar and I did not need to add the apple juice as the pulp was still very wet). Increase the heat to medium.
- When the pulp concoction comes to a boil, set a timer for 30 minutes. Have a bowl with water (filled about ¼ or so full), a skimmer, a ladle, and a pitcher or measuring cup with a narrow spout ready as well as your 20 clean and sterilized jam jars.
- Cook the fruit, stirring almost constantly, stirring constantly once it is really boiling; after about 20 minutes if the concoction begins to spit, lower the heat/flame to medium-low. Continue stirring, moving the wooden spoon in a large 8 movement and around the edges to keep the fruit on the bottom from burning.
- After the first 20 minutes of cooking, their may be some impurities and foam/scum to skim off, but if the oranges were very clean there should be very little more than a few seeds.
- The jam is done and ready when the pulp and liquid are uniform, a beautiful, shiny deep orange color (light amber, the jam will darken into a deeper amber color over time as it is stored) and the thickness when stirring should feel uniform… this should take between 25 and 30 minutes. If you skip the pre-cooking the day before, it should cook for 30 – 35 minutes.
- Reduce the heat/flame to the minimum without turning it off and begin jarring the jam; we find it easier to do this by ladling jam into the pitcher, stirring with the ladle before each scoop to get even quantities pulp and liquid, the pouring into the jars from the spouted pitcher. Fill 2 jars at a time, quickly screw on the lids, and flip the jars upside down. Continue until all of the jars are filled and the basin is empty. Turn off the heat under the basin.
- When the jars have cooled to warm, flip them upright and wait for the lid to seal with a click.
- Whisky – at the very end of cooking the jam, while it is still on the heat/flame, add 2 – 3 small mustard glasses (1 glass = 150 ml) of whisky (for 1 full quantity of the marmalade I added 2 glasses or 300 ml). Stirring, let the alcohol steam off; this should take only 1 or 2 minutes, until you can no longer smell the alcohol. Jar the marmalade.
- Orange-Cocoa – at the end of cooking the marmalade, scoop out 3 ladles or so of the marmalade into a heatproof recipient and add 4 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder; using an emulsion blender, blend until a smooth, lump-free paste. Stir into the marmalade and taste (carefully so as not to burn yourself!!); repeat the process with 1 heaping tablespoon at a time until you have a beautiful balance between the orange and the chocolate flavor. For a full quantity of marmalade, you will add 6 – 8 heaping tablespoons cocoa. For half batch (I filled the last 10 jars), we added 3 ½ tablespoons.