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Tiptree provides legendary jam session

Thursday, May 15, 2003

By Jane Citron

TIPTREE, England -- From London the train ride is less than an hour. Then follows a short drive through the village of Tiptree to Wilkin & Sons, time-honored English jam makers.

The fifth-generation family company owns approximately 1,000 acres in and around Tiptree, comprising fruit orchards, a factory and small museum and an old-fashioned tearoom and jam shop. In addition, the company provides homes on the property for the two managing directors and housing for two-thirds of the employees.

 
 
Origin Of Marmalade

Marmalade, the breakfast spread of choice in England and Scotland, originated in Portugal. From the Portuguese word marmelo meaning quince, marmalade was first made in the Middle Ages from quince, honey and spices

In the late 18th century bitter oranges from Seville, Spain, became the preferred fruit and today most of the annual crop is allotted to Great Britain for this purpose

In England, as the story goes, a resourceful woman named Janet Keiller first made thick marmalade from oranges using a windfall of Seville oranges from a ship stranded in Dundee Harbor. Her recipe became the famous Dundee Marmalade. Some claim the story is just hearsay or wishful thinking, nonetheless, it remains a good story.

-- Jane Citron

   
 

Each year, 60,000 visitors stop here as part of a sojourn in the English countryside to visit the museum displaying family paraphernalia and jam-making curiosities or to enjoy a cup of tea, a homemade scone with choice of jam and fresh whipped cream. The gift shop stocks every jam made at Tiptree.

A tour of the factory is generally not available to the public, but for those who do go, it is necessary to remove all jewelry and don a white coat, hairnet and hat. Our guide was production director Walter Scott, an affable man with a keen sense of humor. He introduced himself "as the new kid on the block," having been with the company 18 years. He described his job as "ensuring we get the product to the customer in best condition and our people [those who work there] home in one piece."

Since 1770 the Wilkin family has owned and farmed land in Tiptree. In 1885, a severe economic depression sent A. C. Wilkin in search of a new livelihood. He went no farther than his barn, where he used excess fruit to make the family's first commercial jam. Soon he created a small company with a long name -- Tiptree Jam Britannia Fruit Preserving Company Ltd. -- and sent the family's first lot of jam to Australia.

Today, Wilkin & Sons markets throughout the British Isles and exports to more than 60 countries, the United States being the largest importer of jellies, preserves, marmalades, confitures and luscious lemon curd. The demand in London is so great that two lorries make daily deliveries to the city. Prestigious stores, such as Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Selfridge and Harvey Nichols, as well as upscale supermarket chains, provide shelf space for Tiptree jams.

What makes Tiptree jams special? The obvious answer is premium fruits carefully prepared to create just the right texture and preserve the integrity of the fruit. Wilkin & Sons employs 170 people, making the company the village's largest employer. In 1907, the company initiated a pension plan, a first at that time, and continued to maintain a relationship where employees are treated like family and friends.

After five generations it is unusual to find the founding family still actively involved, but that's the case here. Co-managing partner Peter Wilkin, the last of the direct family line, credits this success to "good steady growth and conservative management concerned above all with quality of product."

January through March is marmalade making time at Tiptree. Most marmalades are made with oranges, but other citrus fruits -- grapefruit, tangerines, limes and lemons -- are used alone or in combination. No additives or preservatives are used. Many fruits come from the lush fruit orchards on the property, but for marmalade, bitter oranges (inedible when fresh) travel three days by road. The company may be unique in using whole fruit, processed in small batches partly by hand and partly by machine. Competitors use already processed oranges from Spain.

A wonderful citrus aroma enveloped us as we walked outside from the office to the factory. Inside, the captivating orange fragrance became intense. It was February, peak season for Seville oranges from southern Spain and other citrus fruit needed to make marmalade.

 
 
Know Your Spreads
MARMALADE: A thick jam made from citrus fruits containing pieces and often peels of the fruit. Marmalade may also be clear without any peel.

JELLY: Sweetened and jelled fruit juice. Sparkling clear it may be unmolded from the jar and used as cooking glaze.

JAMS: Prepared from chopped or crushed fruit, jams cook briefly with sugar only until the mixture thickens.

PRESERVES: Preserves differ in that they are made from large or whole pieces of perfect fruit.

CONSERVES: The most exotic member of the group made from jam-like combinations of fruits, nuts and sugar; cooked until very thick.

-- Jane Citron

   
 

Since making marmalade is an overnight process, the company produces jams in tandem. They began with the unloading of whole oranges and end with bottling and labeling. Wilkin & Sons makes 14 different marmalades but the process is essentially the same. Asked if marmalade could be made at home, Scott, the production director, replied, "Of course, but it won't be anywhere as good as one of ours."

Whole oranges simmer in tanks for 3 1/4 hours to 3 3/4 hours depending on the product being processed. Oranges are removed from the liquor and cooled in tanks overnight to release the pectin and for juices to be absorbed. The next day the peel and center of the orange is separated by hand. The center of the orange is passed through a sieving machine where a puree is produced. Pips, which are small seeds, are removed by hand. The peel is sliced by machine to the size required. The puree and peel are then added to the boiling pans with the syrup and liquor from simmering tanks and cooked to 69 percent sugar, then filled into jars and capped at 190 jars per minute. Orange marmalade may be kept unopened for quite a while -- perhaps as long as two or three years, unopened -- and like some wines, only gets better with age.

Our visit concluded in the small laboratory where lab technician Julie Williams checked samplings of the finished product for quality control. It is also the place where visitors may sample any of the Tiptree jams. It would be difficult to choose a favorite from more than 50 varieties made from indigenous and exotic fruits.

With French toast, Loganberry, Mulberry or the company's biggest (and most expensive) seller, Little Scarlet Strawberry, is equally delicious. Any of the 14 marmalades pair well with English muffins or a bagel and cream cheese. We especially liked Tawny.

Lemon Curd, made with fresh lemons, eggs, sugar and butter, makes a delicious cake roll or tart filling, but the English spoon it on toast at breakfast.

Recipes rarely specify a make of jam. Red Currant is popular for baking and glazing. It's fun to experiment. The accompanying desserts were made with Black Currant, Seedless Raspberry and Tawny Marmalade with A-1 results.

Among the local stores offering Wilkin & Sons Tiptree jams are Shadyside Market, 5414 Walnut St., Shadyside; Whole Foods, 5880 Centre Ave., East Liberty; McGinnis Sisters Special Foods Stores, 4311 Northern Pike, Monroeville, and 3825 Saw Mill Run Blvd., Brentwood.

English Trifle

In England Trifle is an individual matter influenced by the way trifle was made in your family. The pudding-like cake traditionally includes a form of sponge cake, sherry wine, custard, fresh berry fruit and whipped cream. Components may be made from scratch, from a mix or store-bought. No matter which way you choose, it is important to refrigerate the finished dessert 8 hours so flavors may be absorbed in the cake. Considering the number of servings and necessity of making the dessert in advance, English Trifle is an excellent choice for entertaining.

Sponge cake

    • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
    • Confectioners' sugar

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    Butter and flour a 15-1'1/2x10 x1-inch Teflon jelly roll pan 15-by-10 1/2-by-1-inch

    Place eggs, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at high speed about 3 minutes until mixture is light. Reduce speed and gradually add 3/4 cup sugar. Increase speed and beat until mixture is very thick and falls in a heavy ribbon when beaters are raised. Add vanilla and sift flour over batter folding in by hand or at very low speed on the mixer. Do not overbeat.

    Spread batter evenly in pan and bake 12 to 13 minutes or until sides of cake pull away from pan and top springs back when lightly touched with fingers. Do not overbeat. Remove cake from oven, loosen sides with a metal spatula and immediately turn out on dishtowel sprinkled with confectioners' sugar. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and reserve.

    Custard

    • 3 cups milk
    • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
    • 2-inch piece vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 2 egg yolks
    • Pinch of salt
    • 2-quart bowl (glass preferred)

    In a heavy 1-1/2-quart saucepan combine 1/2 cup milk with cornstarch and whisk until cornstarch is dissolved. Add remaining 2-1/2 cups milk, vanilla bean if using, sugar and salt. Blend well and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until custard thickens and comes to a boil. Remove vanilla bean.

    In a small bowl break up egg yolks with a fork and stir in 1/2 cup of the hot mixture, mixing well. Whisk egg yolk mixture back into saucepan and heat again. When mixture returns to a boil, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add vanilla extract if using. Cover surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until custard is cold.

    To assemble Trifle

    • 1 jar Wilkin & Sons seedless raspberry jam or jam of your choice
    • 4 cups fresh whole strawberries
    • Granulated sugar as needed (1/3 to 1/2 cup)
    • 1/2 cup Cream Sherry

      To garnish Trifle

    • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
    • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
    • Reserved strawberries

    Cut sponge cake horizontally into 4 pieces. Spread one piece at a time with jam and cut into 1-inch cubes. Reserve a few whole strawberries for garnish and slice the rest. Place 1/3 of the berries in bottom of bowl and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Top with a layer of cake cubes, pressing close together and into berries. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Cream Sherry then spread 1/3 of the custard over cake.

    Continue layering berries, cake and custard until used. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or more. Before serving, whip cream and spread over top. Garnish with reserved berries and toasted almonds.

    Note: It is possible to have some sponge cake left. Use with jam to improvise a jelly-roll treat.

    Makes 12 servings


    Marmalade Muffins

    • 1 3/4 cups flour

    • 3 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 cup milk
    • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
    • 1 tablespoon orange zest
    • 6 tablespoons orange or lemon marmalade or other fruit preserve

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, granulated sugar, brown sugar and salt together. In a separate bowl beat egg lightly, then beat in milk. Mix butter and orange zest into egg-milk mixture. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, add liquid mixture all at once and using a large wooden spoon, stir batter with 10 to 15 swift strokes, or until ingredients are just combined. Do not overmix; batter should be slightly lumpy.

    Spoon about 2 tablespoons batter into the bottom of 12 generously greased muffin tins. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons marmalade to each muffin tin, then add enough additional batter to fill each 3/4 full.

    Bake in the center of oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool slightly then remove from muffin tins. Serve warm.

    Makes 12 muffins

    "Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; New York)

    Tiptree Buttermilk Cake

    • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 2/3 cups sugar
    • 3/4 cup butter
    • 3/4 cup buttermilk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 eggs, unbeaten
    • 1 jar Willkin & Sons Lemon Curd
    • 1 jar Wilkin & Son raspberry or other seedless preserve of your choice
    • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring butter to room temperature.

    Measure sifted flour into sifter; add baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

    Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir to soften. Sift in dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix until all flour is dampened. Beat 2 minutes at low speed. Add eggs and beat 1 minute longer.

    Pour batter into two round 9-inch pans after lining bottoms with wax paper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

    When done remove layers from pan and cool on cake rack.

    Place one layer of cake on cardboard round top side up. Spread enough lemon curd over top to make a thick layer. Place second layer on top, top side down. Spread top of cake with a layer of raspberry jam to cover. Frost sides with whipped cream. Refrigerate. Before serving allow cake to sit at room temperature 30 minutes.

    Makes 9-inch round double layer cake

    Jane Citron is a Squirrel Hill freelance writer and cooking teacher.

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