This was my second marmalade season. Last year I was amazed and beguiled by the ease of making home-made marmalade. My first attempt was a triumphant success. I put oranges, sugar and water into the pot - stirred a few times in between feeding and changing the baby - and a few hours later I had a crisp, tangy, jewel-coloured jelly that set like a dream. Like gelatinous sunshine in a jar.
I'll admit I got a bit cocky. I wrote about how simple it all was, and how unnecessary it was for people to over-complicate things like cooking.
This year, it was different.
I was well-prepared for the season. Dear Husband was despatched to the shops to get the Seville oranges and sugar in good time. I had all the jars ready. I set aside an evening for the cooking, while Dear Husband set off for a friend's 40th birthday party.
When he left for the evening, the oranges were already chopped and bubbling away on the stove. I felt on top of it all. I thought I'd finish the marmalade off quickly, then indulge in a chick flick or a bath.
But then it started to go horribly wrong. I think I got the sugar level a bit wrong. I was pfaffing around with two pans of jam this time, wanting to make a double batch, and this confused measurements. In any case, the damned thing just wouldn't set. When Dear Husband returned, around 1 am, I was still stirring the marmalade, a little wild-eyed, and obsessively placing little saucers of jam in the fridge to check whether it was starting to gel.
I put it in jars that night, more hopeful than convinced, and sure enough in the morning, when it had cooled, it was still liquid - syruppy but still very far from gelatinous. I felt humbled, frustrated and resentful of the time it had robbed me of.
There was nothing for it but to boil it again, adding more sugar and some lemon juice for good measure. Eventually it did set, but by this time it was as dark as cough medicine, a swampy brew, the orange peel the colour of burnt onions. I eyed it suspiciously as I poured it into the jars - not so much sunshine in a bottle as something from the dark side.
On looks, I would have written the whole thing off as a failure, but then I tasted the marmlade. It was a revelation. Rich, complex, intense, mature - like a fine old wine - with notes of caramel and toffee mingling with the citrus. Like a beautiful, older woman who has survived a great but tragic love. It was sublime, and made last year's light orange batch seem as brash and jejeune as a page three girl.
I suddenly understood another thing about the English marmalade tradition. Now I see why people stay up late into the night with their preserving pans, fretting and stirring, double boiling and adding secret ingredients like molasses and whiskey.
There is a life lesson in there somewhere: often, it is only the things reached through great difficulty that are truly worth having.
Or perhaps another: for an easy life, make sure you never skimp on the sugar.
Working Mum, originally from Finland, is an embattled mother that juggles a job, two kids and life in suburbia.
Photo credit: Shadowfoot