lady marmalade

from "Living Within", January 2016 (abridged and adapted from earlier blog post, but with new method edit attached)

As the new year begins and summer jam supplies start to look a little depleted the preserving British faithful turn their thoughts to marmalade.  In spite of the fact that there are some countries where the word “marmalade” pretty much translates as “jam”, marmalade, at its bitter orange best, is pretty much exclusively a British obsession.  Seville Oranges - sour, coarse, pippy - arrive fleetingly on our shores from the beginning of the month; the Spanish seemingly happier to sell their crop to us than to use their own harvest.  No other oranges will really do to make proper marmalade, the bitterness of a Seville being essential to a sophisticated marmalade palate.

Marmalade making, like all preserving, is more science than art. A certain proportion of fruit to liquid to sugar is necessary, with the natural pectin of the fruit also put into service to provide a set; method and detail, however, will allow the maker to exercise both choice and skill.  The shred can be coarse and chunky or fine and delicate; marmalade can be very tangy with pith included in its body, or it can be clear gelled, pithless and shredded fine or, in extreme cases, shredless (although I think the fans of this last variety probably buy theirs off the supermarket shelf).

There are numerous techniques, preferences, and conflicting tips: there are those who boil whole oranges and then cool, peel and shred them before adding sugar, and there are those who juice and peel or slice raw fruit; there are fast workers who will typically have their marmalade made in a day and others who may take a couple of days over the affair.  There are those who swear by unrefined sugar to avoid ‘toxic froth’ (although I think that this may in fact be toxic tosh and the unrefined and brown sugar contingent simply prefer their marmalade darker and more caramel tasting); the opposing camp profess that a better colour and flavour will be created by white granulated sugar (never caster or icing which will give you problems), and there are those who warm their sugar while others think that this is a waste of time.  I am yet to find anyone who recommends using preserving sugar (with added pectin), although the choice is, of course, yours to make.

Having tried long drawn out methods in the hope of a superior product, I am now of the opinion that as long as the desired effect is achieved, there is no need to draw out the whole affair.  Recipes abound - you will find them in books and Sunday supplements, online and via supermarket giveaways - so long as you know the important principles to bear in mind there is more than one way to skin an orange.  The best advice might be to know what end result you want to achieve before you start and then set out to find a suitable recipe.

A basic recipe requires 1kg oranges to 2kg sugar to which you will add about 2 litres of water and the juice of a lemon*.   Before you start also make sure to have ready some sterilised jars (with lids or other suitable covers), and some small plates in the freezer together with a few frozen tea spoons.

A basic method might look like this:  squeeze the juice from the oranges and the lemon into a pan suitable for making preserves (ie large, wide at the top, and not made from aluminium or other reactive metal).  Gather together the remaining pulp and all the pips and put them into a muslin bag - tie it together with kitchen string leaving a longish tail.  Cut the orange peel into strips slightly bigger than the size you want to see in your marmalade (they will shrink during cooking).  Put the muslin bag into the pan along with 2 litres of cold water and all of the orange peel; bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours, or until the peel is softened.  Squeeze the muslin bag to extract as much pectin as you can from the pips and then remove it.  Add the sugar and, over a low heat, allow it to dissolve completely.  Turn up the heat, and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes before you start checking for a set - or alternately take its temperature and start to check for the set once it reaches 103ºC-104ºC.  A set is reached when a small drop of marmalade put onto a cold saucer with a cold teaspoon will wrinkle when pushed with a finger.  When your set is achieved, turn off the heat and move the pan away from the heat’s source; allow the marmalade to cool for ten minutes or so before transferring it into your waiting jars.

Erica x

I came all the way in a lifeboat, and ate marmalade. Bears like marmalade.
— "Paddington Bear" ~Michael Bond

* Later edit:

This year, my marmalade making did in fact take three days, and my quantities were 1.6kg seville oranges (9 oranges); 1 large + l small lemon; 2.4kg white granulated sugar (proportions 1 x fruit : 1.5 x sugar); 20cl water (approx) per citrus fruit (I counted 11), plus the juice of all the fruit (about half a litre).


Day 1:  Halve and juice all the fruit - reserve EVERYTHING! (including pips).  Slice the peel finely; put the pips in a muslin bag (made with bits of string and imagination), put juice, peel, pips, water into a large bowl - cover and leave for 24 hours - somewhere not too warm.  Do not leave a tail of muslin hanging over the bowl - it will siphon water onto your worktop. #Ilearnthelessonsoyoudon'thaveto

Day 2:  Bring all to the boil in a Maslin pan (or equivalent), and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes; transfer to a bowl, cover and leave for an additional 24 hours.

Day 3:  Strain the liquid from the peel (top up the liquid in the bowl first if it is looking a little dense in your bowl and you lack faith that there is enough - allow the liquid to just cover the peel to get the quantities about right).  Put strained liquid back into the Maslin pan; add the sugar - (Keep the faith! even at this scant ratio, the sugar looks monstrously generous, but Seville oranges are super bitter!). 

Over a gentle heat, allow the sugar to dissolve (stir from time to time - tap the bottom of the pan with a metal spoon to "hear" when the grit has softened).  Add the peel back in.  Squeeze out the muslin bag into the mix - extract every last bit of gelatinous pectin that you can, and then leave aside; it should have done it's job by now.  Pick out the bits of peel that cling to its sides.  You can leave it in for the final boiling if you like, but I find it gets in my way.  Bring all to a nice rolling boil - get your jars ready - and finish off as per usual - checking the temperature, testing for a set, etc, etc, etc …