Saturday, 15 January 2011

Marmalade, seasonality, production planning

It's the middle of January, and this is the time of year to buy Seville oranges. And to make real "English" marmalade, you must have Seville oranges. However, these oranges are only available for a few weeks, from early January to early February. Commercial producers can preserve the fruit and spread the production over the rest of the year, but amateurs have a short window for home production. It is seasonality, but seasonality of supply of raw material, not seasonality of demand.

So yesterday and today we have been making marmalade. Just over 20 pounds of it. (This is one product in the kitchen which we measure in pounds, not in the metric way, because the glass jars we use are "one pound jars" or "12 ounce jars" even though they are labelled 454 grammes, or 340 grammes.) This was two batches in our large jam pan, and my forecast is that it will last us until early 2012. Forecasting demand for twelve months is not generally advisable in industry or commerce, but in our case we know that the rate we use it is about 20 to 24 pounds per year, and we buy a little each year to add variety to the diet, to support charities who sell home-made marmalade, to try other flavours, and because my family know that a jar of "interesting marmalade" will be a welcome present for birthday or Christmas. Given all this, our actual demand for our own marmalade is less than 20 pounds per year, so next year will probably be a "one batch" January. So here is a matter of "make-to-stock" production planning!

The basic recipe can be varied in many ways; extra fruit can be added, in which case the quantity of sugar needs to be increased. This year, for the first time, we have added some fresh pomelo.

Who would have thought that something so mundane could illustrate facets of operational research.

Here's the recipe for a basic batch, which we keep written in one of the cookbooks on an old 80 column punched card!

3lb Seville oranges
2 lemons
5.25 pints water
6lb sugar, which may be mixed granualted and demarara
0.5oz margarine or butter

1: peel the fruit and cut the peel into slivers of the size you like (ours are about 2cm by 2mm [it is easier to give small sizes in metric units])
2: put the peel into 2.25 pints of water and simmer gently for 90 to 120 minutes
3: chop the peeled fruit roughly (we either quarter the fruit or cut it into 4 or 5 slices) and put it all as pith in a large jam pan with 3 pints of water and simmer alongside the peel
4: Drain the pith into a bowl or pan through a colander, and scrape the pith through the colander as well, to give "body" to the marmalade.
5: unless you have two jam pans, now you need to wash the jam pan
6: add the drained liquid from the bowl to the jam pan, add the peel and its liquid, add the sugar and boil steadily ("rolling boil") until a test shows that it has reached setting temperature. (We take a small amount, put it on a saucer, cool it in the freezer for 30 seconds and then see if it wrinkles. Other methods exist.)
7: remove from heat, add the margarine/butter and stir to remove the scum on the liquid. Leave to cool for 6-10 minutes
8: meanwhile, wash your jars, and place in a cool oven to dry and sterilize at about 100 deg C,
9: Carefully fill each jar, and finish off as usual for home-made preserves.

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