A highly seasonal, bitter Spanish fruit
It’s been more than 50 years since Michael Bond’s marmalade-loving bear was created, yet it is still impossible to hear this particular preserve mentioned without immediately thinking of Paddington. And if you were to ask Paddington himself—or any other obsessive—to name the most important ingredient in marmalade, you would be told without hesitation: Seville oranges.
Oranges originated in China and were brought to Africa and the Mediterranean via trade links in the 10th century. The tarter-than-tart Seville variety was first cultivated in Andalucía, southern Spain, in the 12th century. Seville is still packed with orange groves, and much of the fruit is shipped to the UK to be turned into marmalade.
“They come in all different sizes, but generally speaking they look and smell the same as ordinary oranges,” explains Paul Wheeler of Paul Wheeler’s Fresh Supplies. “The difference is they’re really bitter, you wouldn’t eat one on its own—apart from my nephew, he loves them!” Paul laughs. “You can cook with them”—think ceviche, sticky orange cake or fiery pickle—“but most people use them for marmalade.”
Make it snappy
The Seville orange season is characteristically short but this year, praise be, at Ted’s Veg they’ve arrived early. “It was a lovely surprise to see the Sevilles in last week,” says Shuk on the stall. “They should be around for at least a few months. It’s always a disappointment when the crop is not plentiful, so hopefully they’ll last the full season.” If you’re keen to get your preserving pan out, we suggest you make it snappy. “January is the absolute ideal time for Seville oranges,” says Paul, who’s expecting his first batch in next week. “It’s when everyone starts making marmalade. The best thing about having Sevilles on the stall is that if I give my customers a few extra, they often bring me back a couple of jars, which is nice.”
If you fancy making your own preserve, all you need is granulated sugar, one unwaxed lemon and a big basket of Seville oranges—and food writer and Borough Market demonstration chef Jenny Chandler’s fool-proof step-by-step guide. Once you’re set, you could use your prized marmalade to glaze hams or parsnips, but really all you need for pure, wholesome joy—if you’re a Paddington Bear enthusiast, a marmalade enthusiast, or simply a sandwich enthusiast—is to slather it between two thick slices of white bread. Just be sure to keep it under your hat.