Certain things make me blue in winter: short days with low light levels and muddy dog paws in the house, but other things make me smile: the witchhazel that flowers with its sulphur yellow blooms like exploding fireworks and each with a bewitching citrus scent.
A small twig in a bud vase on the bedside table lifts spirits for the start of the day and, when it flowers, it is a timely reminder to hot foot it to the greengrocers and see Roddy at ‘Stobos’ in Corbridge to order my three boxes of Seville oranges to make the Linnels Farm marmalades for the year.
Making marmalade on a wet and miserable day is a pure joy and you often end up with a ‘Jo Malone’ scented kitchen without the vast expense of a candle, plus a cupboard full of bright orange jars for little expense.
All you need is a preserving pan, a long wooden spoon, Seville oranges, a lemon and a lot of granulated sugar.
People are always astounded at how much sugar goes into marmalade and yet you still end up with quite a bitter preserve – it does rather moderate your intake.
We teach a lot of preserve making courses here at Linnels Farm and the holy grail of preserving is ‘testing for a set’.
With jam you can go past the setting point and just end up with a very solid preserve that will need levering out the jar, but with marmalade, once you go past setting point the marmalade will never set.
Marvellous marmalade muffins >>
These muffins are oh-so simple – literally mix all of the ingredients together and bake for 20 minutes then eat warm for breakfast.
This recipe makes 12 muffins so you’ll need a 12-hole muffin tin and cases. The muffins can be frozen, but make sure you warm through before serving.
2 eggs, beaten
90ml sunflower oil
230g plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
50g caster sugar
1/2 jar homemade marmalade
Preheat the oven to 200°C and line your muffin win with muffin cases.
Whisk eggs, sunflower oil and milk together in a bowl.
In a separate bowl sift the flour and the baking powder and stir in the sugar with a wooden spoon.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the liquid mix. Mix gently but thoroughly.
Do not beat too vigorously.
Spoon half of the mixture into the muffin cases.
Place a heaped teaspoon of marmalade into each case and then thoroughly cover it with muffin mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes then remove to cool on a wire rack.
Contain your impatience for at least 10 minutes before eating.
JOBS IN THE GARDEN >>
Prune apples, pears and vines – if you don’t know where to start, then join us on a half-day pruning course (when time allows).
Do not prune stone fruits (cherries, plums, greengages or damsons) as they may become afflicted with silverleaf. These need to be pruned in the growing season, not when dormant.
Mulch any bare soil in the veg plot with farmyard manure – the veg plot is the one area of the garden where nutrient deficiencies, and particularly deficiencies of trace elements, will rear their head if organic matter, in the form of well-rotted farmyard manure, is not put back into the soil on a regular basis.
Think of the soil like a bank account without wages or interest going in each month. While money is withdrawn (harvested) on a drip, drip basis, over time the account will become empty and fail to support you.
RICH PICKINGS FROM THE GARDEN >>
Pickings are few and far between at this time of year so it’s time to supplement them with a host of preserves made from last year’s harvest: beetroot relish with smoked fish, plum and chilli jelly with sausage and mash, and for pudding, greengage torte with custard.
Kale can be decorative in the veg plot with both red and green varieties. We concentrate on growing ‘Sutherland Kale’ from the Highlands of Scotland – we think it feels like it’s on a summer holiday when it grows in the veg plot down here!
Leeks are like green soldiers standing to attention in the veg plot. They look truly beautiful when a slanting shaft of sunlight in hits the glaucous green stems.
There is little food more comforting than a bowl of steaming leek and potato soup.