Bitter-sweet symphony

Frank Camorra
Refreshing: Lemon cordial.
Refreshing: Lemon cordial. Photo: Marina Oliphant

When I see orange blossom on the trees in September, I always think ahead to May when fresh, local oranges start to appear in the shops and at markets. I love oranges and I am sure eating them keeps the winter colds at bay.

Many Australian backyards have a lemon tree. They're an easy fruit to grow and with minimal effort you can be rewarded with a bountiful crop each year. Any excess lemons can be squeezed and the juice frozen in ice-cube trays for later use.

Making marmalade is another great way to use excess citrus - cumquats and oranges are the most popular citrus to use.

This marmalade recipe came from a friend's mother who lives in Mildura, a well-known orange-growing area in Victoria. The addition of lemons to the marmalade gives it an unusual edge. I like to use meyer lemons, but Lisbon work fine as well. I have tried using limes instead of lemons in this recipe but I find the skin is a bit tough.

The cordial is from an English recipe I discovered. It is so refreshing with mineral water, and a nip of vodka if need be.

MILDURA ORANGE MARMALADE

3 lemons

3 navel oranges

2kg raw sugar

Wash the fruit, slice in half lengthways, then slice each piece into 3 lengthways.

Chop into small pieces, place in a heavy-based saucepan, cover with cold water and soak overnight.

Next day, bring fruit to the boil in the soaking water and reduce to a simmer. Cook until skin is tender, about 20 minutes - you should be able to cut through it easily with the side of a spoon.

When skin is soft, add sugar, stir well and bring to a gentle boil (if the sugar is added too early, you will end up with tough-skinned marmalade).

Cook for 40 minutes, then test if marmalade is ready. Spoon a small amount onto a plate and chill briefly in the freezer until cool. If the marmalade holds firm when touched and doesn't run off the plate when tipped at an angle, it is set. If it is not firm enough, keep cooking until setting point is reached.

If it is ready, take it off the stove and pour into sterilised jars* immediately. The marmalade will keep for a year.

Makes 1.5 litres


LEMON CORDIAL

7-10 unwaxed lemons

650g granulated sugar

Scrub lemons and zest four of them. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add lemons and leave for 1 minute. Lemons are often quite hard and unyielding - this softens them so they give more juice when squeezed.

Remove lemons and reserve lemon-infused water. Juice lemons. Put sugar, lemon zest and 500 millilitres lemon-infused water into a saucepan. Heat gently to dissolve sugar, then bring to the boil.

Add 500 millilitres lemon juice and bring just to boiling point. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve into a jug.

Pour immediately into hot, sterilised bottles and seal immediately with sterilised screw caps, corks or swing-top lids.

Leave to cool, then store cordial in a cool, dry place or in the fridge for up to 4 months. For longer storage - up to a year - sterilise the bottles in a water bath*. To serve the cordial, mix 1 part syrup to 4 parts water.

Makes 2-3 x 500ml bottles

Note Another way to increase the yield of juice from citrus fruits is to roll the fruit back and forth over a work surface, pressing down firmly with the palm of your hand, for 2-3 minutes.


* To sterilise jars and bottles, put them through a short dishwasher cycle, then use immediately while still warm. To sterilise in a water bath, put the glassware in a pot and fill with water, bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove while warm, drain water and keep in a clean place until needed.