Artisan. The oranges are washed, cut and juiced by hand. The cooking, in two stages, takes hours. / SALVADOR SALAS

Costa school's marmalade wins prizes in top awards

Bitter orange. Jacaranda secondary school in Churriana has won three bronze medals at the World's Original Marmalade Awards, which are held in Cumbria, UK

FRANCISCO GUTIÉRREZ

The flavour of bitter orange isn't really appreciated in Spain, which is why all those oranges from the trees in town streets end up falling on the pavement and being thrown away.

However, it is very popular among the British, especially in the form of marmalade. In fact, the World's Original Marmalade Awards are held in Cumbria every year, and the varieties of marmalade made by the IES Jacaranda secondary school in Churriana, outside Malaga, have just won them three prizes in that competition.

This is a satisfying reward for the work of some of the teachers at the school, especially Juan Carlos Martínez de la Ossa, who for years has been researching this type of marmalade, calculating the weights and proportions of every component, the cooking time and the percentage of sugar needed.

Juan Carlos Martínez and Jacaranda school have been taking part in the competition since 2016, when they began by sending a few jars. During that time they have received an occasional medal and mention of honour, but this is the first time they have been awarded three bronze medals.

The recipe was taught to Juan Carlos by Eddie Rampoldi, who was second head chef at the Savoy Hotel in London in the 1950s. Juan Carlos' parents spent 17 years in London and when they returned they opened a restaurant in Benalmádena.

"Eddie was a customer. Sometimes he would come into the kitchen and one of the things he taught us was this marmalade recipe," says Juan Carlos.

He was looking on the internet for information about traditional European recipes which could be made with local produce when he found this international competition which takes place in north-west England. It is held at Dalemain, a country house in the Lake District, an area which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and is considered the most important citrus marmalade competition in the world.

This last year, despite the pandemic, there were a record number of participants, with more than 3,000 jars sent from 30 countries. With this level of competition, it is much more difficult to win a prize, but the IES Jacaranda managed three awards, bronze medals in the categories of Clear Seville Marmalade, Whole Fruit Marmalade and Merry Marmalade. There are 14 categories in the competition, so this allows for all possible variations and innovations, such as marmalade with liqueurs, with chocolate, combined with other fruits, etc.

Juan Carlos explains that taking part in the competition is part of the Erasmus K102 project, Discovering European Catering, at the Jacaranda school, which he coordinates.

"With this activity, we cover some of the objectives we have set for this project, which is getting to know much more about really local produced, like the bitter oranges. We learn a typically British recipe - marmalade - and at the same time we find out more about an area of the United Kingdom, Cumbria, which we would probably otherwise never visit," he says. "It brings us closer in cultural and gastronomic terms."

Recipe

With his pupils from the specialist pastry and baking course, he prepares the marmalades which they plan to present at the competition next year. The ingredients are very simple: for every kilo and a half of bitter orange they use the juice of two lemons, three litres of water and between 75 and 85 grammes of sugar for every 100 grammes of cooking liquid.

It takes a great deal of patience and many hours of cooking. The orange and lemon juice, with the pulp and seeds (which are placed in a bag) take at least an hour and a half, until they reduce by about three-quarters. For every 100 grammes of cooked liquid, 75 to 85 grammes of sugar are added, depending on the sugar content of the juice. In the same way as with an exact science, Juan Carlos Martínez uses a refractometer to measure the percentage of sugar in the juice.

The cooking process can take up to six hours. Over a very low heat, the juices and sugar are mixed as a controlled process: every now and then the temperature is checked to prevent the sugar burning.

The orange peel, cut into strips, is added to the marmalade. Beforehand, the white pith between the peel and the segments has to be carefully separated, but before adding it to the marmalade it is cooked up to three times to get rid of the bitterness.

Cítricos El Romeral, a company from Alhaurín de la Torre, has given the students 50 kilos of organically grown bitter oranges to make the marmalade which they will put forward for next year's competition.

The head teacher of Jacaranda school, Julián Carpintero, says all the teaching staff are delighted about the awards. "It is a matter of pride for the school to have teachers who enjoy their work so much," he says. These international awards are also an incentive for teachers and students.

The school has now reopened its restaurant to the public. It was closed last year and during that time they took the opportunity to carry out improvements and redecorate with old photos of Malaga.

They now serve lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays, at a price of 20 euros not including drink.