there will be blood - a marmalade epic

(A little late in the day; this draft got held up in the finishing and is just making it into the end of February - it should have appeared a month ago*)


A word of warning to those who choose to read ahead, this post is going to get detailed and a little technical (not to mention a little long) because, not having made marmalade in a while, I have done a fair amount of research for this project. For the sake of my future preserving self, I am recording a little of what I have found, so be prepared for what may be a surfeit of detail.

Marmalade, it seems, is pretty much an exclusively British obsession in the early months of each year. Seville Oranges - sour, coarse, pippy - arrive fleetingly on our shores from the beginning of January; 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 British marmalade, the bitterness of a Seville being essential to a sophisticated marmalade palate. Some of us even become a little fanatical in our desire to perfect these bitter sweet preserves and to record the experience and compare notes and preferences.

American tastes, by and large, do not seem to run to marmalade; national palates there, so I am told, are attuned to sweeter or saltier preserves (grape jelly and peanut butter? ) and having, in any case no history with or crop of bitter fruit to use have no need to have acquired this particular foible. However, whether you consider a taste for marmalade refined, acquired or aberrant probably owes more to your geography and upbringing than to any absolutes of taste or sophistication.

Marmalade making, like all preserving, is a bit of a science. A certain proportion of fruit to liquid to sugar, the natural pectin of the fruit put to use to provide a set, but broad method and fine detail allowing 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).

Tawnys and Vintage Oxfords lie at the heavier, tangier end of the spectrum and the more delicate, perhaps wimpy, Golden and Silver Shreds at the end where my taste buds were, in childhood, more comfortable (the alternative being my father’s Oxford thick cut for which I still have no fondness). My palette has developed and sharpened a little over the years; tangy is good, so long as not too thick and dark, and I prefer my marmalade with a little substance, more orange than tawny, with peel and never too sweet or syrupy.

So what else did I find out? I found that 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; these fast workers will typically have their marmalade made in a day. There are others who slice the fruit first and then 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 a better colour and flavour will be created by white granulated (never caster or icing which will give you problems), and, finally, there are those who warm their sugar while others think that this is a waste of time.

I scoured my bookshelves and the internet and found an obscure and sketchy recipe that took three days to prepare and this time factor, to my mind, translated to a superior marmalade (although there is no other evidence than time taken to suggest that this is true). An idle comment from somewhere that water is not the only suitable liquid led me to believe my marmalade might be more “orangey” if I were to substitute the juice of sweet oranges for some of the water, and this, coupled with the appearance of blood oranges alongside the Sevilles, led me to believe, further, that I could make a luxurious product with a particularly beautiful colour if I mixed the two (although, quite possibly, I have only made it more expensive).

I am a week behind Nigel Slater, (*or at least I was when I started!) but then he has a column and a deadline to make while I am lacking not only discipline but an editor and a character limit.

Anyway, I will delay no further and provide you with the recipe and notes that I followed; a record for myself if there are no others game to take on a three day challenge. The three days involve slicing the oranges and soaking and part cooking and soaking again before getting round to the nitty gritty of adding sugar (always, always to pre-softened peel that will otherwise become tough as soon as the sugar hits it). The peel in the finished product with this method should be particularly tender (even if it is not always very fine) having benefitted from its prolonged bathing.

This method involves a little more sugar to fruit than is traditional (simply because it also requires a little more liquid). The flavour is supposed to be mild although mine has a definite tang - a level just above subtle - and it is not overly sweet. The set is good, the peel well distributed and prominent, and the colour a golden amber (the colour of the blood oranges, unfortunately, not particularly noticeable in the final product). The flavour is good and in this, I like to think the blood oranges have played some part, simply because, after slicing all those Sevilles, with their bothersome pips and strong orange aroma, the beauty and fragrance of the blood oranges was notable and in my mind, at least, will have added a little finesse to the finished project (although I could, of course, just be kidding myself).

This quantity of ingredients will make about 10lbs marmalade. Most extra large pans will have difficulty coping with this in one batch and I cooked mine in two.



12 Seville oranges;
2 blood oranges;
2 lemons;
4½ litres juice/water or a combination of the two,
(I used 12 blood oranges which contributed just under 1 litre of juice);
Approx 3kg white granulated sugar (calculate exact weight as per instructions in the method;


Day 1

  • wash all of the oranges and lemons with hot water.
  • Thinly slice all of the oranges (except the blood oranges being used for their juice) and one of the lemons, teasing out all of the pips at the same time. Put the citrus slices into a large bowl and put the pips into a small one.
  • juice as many of the blood oranges as you like and add enough water to the juice to create 4½ litres of liquid in total (or use 4½ litres of water).
  • cover the citrus slices with about 4 litres of the liquid, weighing them down in the liquid with a large plate or similar so that they do not float above it, and cover with cling film; cover the pips with the remaining 500ml liquid and also cover with cling film. Leave all to steep, in a cool place, for about 24 hours.

Day 2


  • put all of the citrus slices and their soaking liquid into a large, heavy-based pan. Bring to a boil, skimming off the surface scum/foam that rises to the top, and then allow to simmer gently for about 30 minutes;
  • remove from the heat and leave to steep, covered, for a further 24 hours (or thereabouts).


Day 3

  • sterilise jars and lids . (You can sterilise them in the hot wash setting of a dishwasher, remember the jars should be warm at the time you are ready to fill them.)
  • sieve the pips from their soaking liquid and reserve both; divide the pips into two and put into two (small) muslin bags and tie the bags securely with kitchen string. Add the juice of 1 lemon to the liquid that the pips have soaked in;
  • weigh the fruit and the liquid (including the liquid that has soaked the pips) separately from each other;
  • put all of the liquid back into your original pan (keep the fruit pulp separate at this stage) and add sugar . To calculate the amount of sugar, bear in mind that the liquid will be about twice the weight of the fruit pulp and for this you will need about 1kg of sugar per 500g of fruit pulp - the ratios are: 1 part fruit pulp : 2 parts liquid : 2 parts sugar (for other methods, the fruit to liquid to sugar ratios are about 1:1:1);
  • over a low heat, gently stir the sugar in the pan (preferably with a large metal spoon) until it is dissolved and there is no trace of grittiness - raise the heat and bring to a boil and allow to boil briefly; remove from the heat. ;
  • the weight of the sugar syrup that you have just created will be equal to the weight of all of the liquid plus whatever weight of sugar you added to the pan (for example, if there was 3 litres of liquid (which would have been the equivalent of 3kg) the syrup should now weigh 6kg). Divide this syrup into two equal quantities (by weight and NOT by volume - 300ml of sugar syrup will weigh more than the same volume of water or orange juice) and put one half back in the pan and reserve the other half until later. Divide up the fruit pulp into two equal weights and add one half to the syrup in the pan together with one of the muslin bags full of pips;
  • bring the ingredients up to a good rolling boil and then boil at the highest temperature that you feel comfortable with (and from which the marmalade will not damage you or make too big a mess of your hob) - I used an AGA hot plate and a simmering plate which I danced between depending on how much mess they were making and how low or high the rate of boiling;
  • skim the top regularly if you see any foam/scum appearing and, from time to time, give the bag of pips a squeeze to make sure that it is releasing pectin efficiently into the mix. You can stir, or not, with a blunt ended wooden spoon or heat proof spatula, according to your preference; stirring will lower the temperature temporarily but will even up the heat across the pan and will stop the mixture from catching on the bottom of the pan if it is inclined to do so;
  • start checking for a set after about 10 - 15 minutes. A set will be achieved at about 105ºC (a temperature that is harder to achieve, in an even spread across the pan, from 104ºC than you might think); check at regular intervals (start at about 10 minutes and make those intervals shorter the nearer you get to temperature). Keep a few saucers in the freezer to do a second check; take out a small quantity of the marmalade with a teaspoon, put it on a freezing cold plate, and as soon as it is cool, check to see if it will wrinkle if you push it with your finger - if it remains liquid, you are not there yet, as soon as it wrinkles you are done;
  • as soon as a set is reached, take the pan off the hob, skim any scum/foam from the top and remove the muslin bag (two pairs of tongs might help with this). Leave to cool, without further disturbance, for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, make sure that your jars are ready and that they are warm;
  • After 15 minutes, stir the marmalade gently to redistribute the peel and then, using a an appropriately sized ladle and a jam funnel, if you have one, (and remember, the width of the neck of the jam funnel needs to be smaller than the size of your jam jar openings - needless to say, I didn’t think about this beforehand!) pour the marmalade into the jars; seal immediately and leave, where they stand, to cool completely;
  • repeat the whole process with the other half ingredients that you have reserved;
  • when the marmalade has all cooled, tighten up any loose lids. The marmalade can be eaten immediately, but it will mature after a week or four and the flavour should get better. Store in a cool place and use up within the next year or so;

A few things that I learned the hard way: a muslin bag should not be overlarge; marmalade making takes longer than you think; a sugar thermometer that sits in the pan and that you don’t need to hold might make life easier; prepare for everything to get very sticky, and, just for the end of day three, to feel for a moment that you may never, ever, eat marmalade again.


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

Erica x