Nestled in a tiny hamlet in Somerset is the Old Stables Bed & Breakfast. Sporting three luxurious guest rooms, it is a 17th-century Grade 2 listed barn that screams of old-world charm. It is run by Alyson and Simon Tuxworth, who moved from the pink sands of Bermuda to fulfil their dream of opening a bed and breakfast. I caught up with them to talk all things bed and breakfast, including dogs, bacon, and marmalade.
AT: For us it is all about the freedom. After working 9-5 jobs for 25+ years, the working hours of a bed and breakfast allows us to be a lot freer. We also enjoy meeting so many lovely people from all around the world, so running a business like this suits us perfectly.
SD: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to open a bed and breakfast?
AT: The best thing we did before opening was take a course at the Bed and Breakfast Academy in Shropshire. We did an intensive two-day course that covered everything, from accounting to toilet paper. You really know at the end of the weekend whether you want to open a bed and breakfast or not.
SD: What do you think is the key factor that makes people stay with you?
AT: We’re in a great location, as we’re close to a lot of attractions, such as the Bath & West Showgrounds, National Trust properties, Wells, and Cheddar Gorge. We’re also dog friendly – our golden retriever Jasper loves greeting all of our canine guests. And our 4 star gold Visit England rating doesn’t hurt either, along with the masses of local ingredients that we use in our breakfasts.
SD: What local produce do you use in the bed and breakfast?
AT: We make sure to get as many products as we can from our local area. This includes Jon Thorner’s and our own free-range eggs. We also love Burns the Bread, a local bakery that makes a great high-quality, old-fashioned loaf. (Which is also available gluten free!)
SD: Is the local produce popular?
AT: Yes, absolutely! Our home-cured bacon is a huge hit. We think it’s because it tastes like old-fashioned bacon – it isn’t a salty bacon and people are reminded of what bacon used to taste like. The recipe for the cure has no shortcuts, and the combination of sweet to salt is an old recipe.
I also recently won two silver awards in the Hotel, Restaurant and B&B Category at the 2019 World Marmalade Awards for my homemade Thin Cut Seville Orange Marmalade and Orange Marmalade with Amaretto. So that’s pretty popular too!
SD: Wow! Congratulations! I’ve never quite understood…what’s the technical difference between marmalade and jam?
AT: Jam is always made from whole or cut fruits and is cooked to a pulp with the sugar. Whereas marmalade is similar, but only made from citruses and contains pieces of the peel. The combination of the citrus juice and the peel typically make it taste less sweet than jam. It is also the only preserve that Paddington will eat!
“Marmalade is the only preserve Paddington will eat!”
SD: Why do you use Seville oranges particularly?
AT: Seville oranges are great for marmalade because the walls of the fruit are really tough and good for slicing. They are also full of pips, which provide the pectin to set the marmalade. The juice and peel of Seville oranges are also really bitter – they’re not oranges for juicing or eating – but once cooked with sugar they have a lovely tart and sweet flavour combination.
However, they’re only available for a very short season – just a couple of weeks, really. I had to make enough in January and February to last the whole year. It would be interesting to find a British equivalent, but it’s difficult to find a fruit with the right pectin levels and tartness. I often have to add high-pectin fruits like apple when making strawberry jam, because British strawberries don’t have enough pectin to make it set.
Kumquat grows in cooler climates and that might work, if mixed with orange and lemon. However, it would take forever because you’d need to slice the kumquats into fine slivers – very fiddly!
“Seville oranges are great for marmalade because the walls of the fruit are really tough and good for slicing.”
SD: Have you ever had any marmalade mishaps?
AT: Not marmalade, but lemon curd! I forgot to add the egg, creating a very congealed lemon-sugar-butter thing. I’ve not forgotten them since!
SD: If I wanted to learn how to make marmalade and other preserves, what would you suggest that I do?
AT: Vivien Lloyd’s book “First Preserves” has great step by step photos which is an amazing teaching tool or you can attend one of her classes. I learned to make marmalade from her – I wouldn’t be making any preserves without her!
SD: Do you have any top tips for making marmalade?
AT: My biggest tip is to not rush the marmalade making process. Trust yourself to know when you’ve reached a set. Thermometers are not always 100% accurate!
SD: Do you know what you’re going to be making next?
AT: Yes, I’m going to try making a spiced blood orange marmalade with lemon. I’ve never made marmalade with blood oranges, and they’re easily available at the moment. They give a different flavour and are easier to source than Seville because their season is December-May, and there are different types. Sevilles you can only get for those couple of weeks per year.
SD: Do you have any recipes that you can share with us?
Award-winning recipe for Seville orange marmalade
- 675g Seville oranges
- 1 lemon
- 1.4kg granulated, cane sugar
- 1.75 litres water
- Weigh the pan and record the weight. Juice the oranges and pour the juice with the water into a large, lidded pan with a capacity of 6-8 litres. Remove the inner membranes and pips from the oranges. Do not remove the pith from the oranges.
- Juice the lemon and add the juice to the pan. Put the orange membranes and remains of the lemon into a food processor or mini-chopper and chop finely. Put the chopped mixture,and any pips into a 36cm x 36cm piece of thin cotton muslin. Tie this up with string and add to the pan. Shred the oranges and add the peel to the pan. If possible leave overnight.
- The next day, bring the lidded pan to boil, turn down the heat and simmer very gently for two hours. Remove the lid from the pan and set aside.The peel should be very tender and the contents of the pan reduced by a third. Warm the sugar in a low oven, 140°C/275°F/ Gas 1 for 20 mins
- Remove the muslin bag and squeeze the liquid from the bag back into the pan through a sieve, using a large spoon. Check the weight, the contents in the pan should have reduced to 1.4kg ( 3lb). Do this by weighing the pan with the cooked mixture. Look for the weight of the pan ( see point 1) plus the weight of the contents. If the contents weigh more than 3lb, simmer the pan ( without the lid) until the target weight is reached.
- Place clean jars in the oven to warm through.Bring the pan to a rolling boil and test for a set after 7 minutes, using the flake test. Dip a large spoon into the pan and scoop out a spoonful. Lift the spoon above the pan and turn it horizontally. If the marmalade has reached setting point of 104.5°C ( 220°F) it will drip then hang on the side of the spoon. Remove the jars from the oven
- Leave the marmalade to cool for 8 minutes, a skin should have formed on the surface. Remove any scum from the surface with a large metal spoon. Gently stir the marmalade to distribute the peel
- Pour the marmalade, up to the brim into clean, warm sterilised jars and cover with new twist top lids. Leave the jars upright and undisturbed to set.