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Mrs Bailey’s Martian Cookbook: an introduction (with marmalade)

As everyone knows (well, everyone who pays any attention to geopolitical realities), Mars has been a province of the British Empire for the last hundred and fifty years, since the days of George III. Happy George, we call him: to be sure, the balance of his mind was somewhat disturbed by the loss of the American colonies, but nothing could be more restorative to a man so fond of farming and modern agricultural developments than the acquisition of a whole planet ripe for cultivation. And, of course, colonisation. Pioneers came from every corner of the Empire and further yet, drawn by the promise of a guaranteed welcome, fertile volcanic soil and water in plenty, space beyond measure…

These days the colony is broad, settled and prosperous. Industry thrives, alongside agriculture; with a whole planet to fill, there is still no bar to immigration, and Martian culture is a true melting-pot.

Still, the English governing classes cleave to their traditions. Time is measured by the Church of England calendar, regardless of the Martian year; this of course makes Christmas a moveable feast, falling sometimes in midwinter and sometimes at the very height of summer, or anywhere between. We sing carols none the less, eat goose and plum pudding, send cards bejewelled with snow.

Boys are sent Home for their education, to the great public schools of England; but passage to and from Earth is expensive, and there is no similar provision for our female children. Accordingly, good boarding schools for girls have been established right here on Mars, and the Crater School is one among the best. Perched on the rim of Lowell Crater above the lake, it takes girls from all across the province and turns out young women to be proud of, Martian to the core.

Mrs Bailey has been school cook since time immemorial. In her kitchen can be found spices from three worlds, and recipes likewise; out of her kitchen come meals to tempt the palate of any girl, whatever her background.

She has long promised to share those recipes with the wider worlds; and now, at last, that promise sees fruition. A growing collection of her recipes may be found elsewhere; new ones and selected standards will appear here, week by week. Bookmark those you like, to build your own collection…

To start you off, in this citrus season, here’s a classic:

MRS BAILEY’S SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Along with the Scots and the steam engine, Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade has long been one of the building-blocks of empire. Wherever the British are to be found, there’ll be a tin or a jar of this bittersweet benevolence on the breakfast table…

…that is to say, wherever on Earth the British are to be found. Mars is another story. Imports are prohibitively expensive, and for some unfathomable reason this particular delicacy has been classified – and taxed – as a luxury item rather than the essential that it actually obviously is.

No matter: Martians are very well used to making do, and making their own. As it happens, the Seville orange thrives canalside, all up and down the province. Come the back end of winter and the first hint of spring, Mrs Bailey enlists all the help she can from schoolgirls and kitchenmaids together, and devotes a week to chopping and boiling and bottling her own Oxford marmalade.

Seville oranges are crucial here; accept no substitutes.

First, weigh your oranges. Write down that number.

Now put the oranges, together with an equal weight of water (or a little bit more, enough to ensure the oranges are floating), in a large maslin, jam pan or stockpot. (If you only make a small batch, you will wish you had made more. Trust me on this.) Bring to the boil, simmer for an hour uncovered and then turn off the heat. Leave the oranges soaking in the water overnight.

Next day, line a colander with doubled cheesecloth and put it in a bowl. Set a chopping board inside a rimmed baking tray (this is one of Mrs B’s strokes of genius; the tray will catch stray juices, and be sure that none is wasted). Pick the oranges out of the orangey water and slice each one in half. Scoop out the insides, pulp and seeds together, and set those in the cheesecloth-lined colander. Chop the rinds not-too-finely, and add them back to the orangey water.

When all the oranges have been so treated, gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and knot them securely. Squeeze out as much juice as you can through the colander and into the bowl (which will already have gathered a fair amount, just from drippings). Now add your cheesecloth parcel to the pan, along with all that squeezed juice plus whatever has collected in the baking tray once you remove your chopping board therefrom.

Remember that number, your original weight of oranges? Add that weight of sugar to the pan, stir it in, and heat the pan slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring the pan to the boil and let it cook down. (The longer you cook it, the darker and better it gets, which is why it doesn’t hurt at all to have added a little more water than is strictly necessary, back at the beginning there.)

While the marmalade is cooking, sterilise your jars according to the customs of your country.

Once the marmalade starts to darken and thicken, stir frequently. You can start checking the temperature at this point – 222F is a good number to aim for – or if you don’t have a thermometer, put a saucer in the freezer and stand by to run the wrinkle test. A thermometer is better, though.

Once the marmalade is at the setting point, jar it up and seal the batch according again to the customs of your country. Label it as your very own Oxford Marmalade, and look forward to a future full of excellent breakfasts, and possibly founding your own empire.

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1 thought on “Mrs Bailey’s Martian Cookbook: an introduction (with marmalade)”

  1. Fabulous. Will start looking for Seville oranges immediately (although I am the only person in my household who eats marmalade or jam, so I will have to donate most of it. Sigh. I will incorporate Mrs. Bailey’s trick with the baking sheet–it is indeed genius.

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