Late January with the end of winter still a long time in the future, brings the respite of Seville oranges and a Sunday afternoon making marmalade. This tart citrus from the sunny Mediterranean is known for its thick, gnarly skin and natural pectin in the seeds and pith that make it ideal for preserving. Long a staple of the pantry in the UK, variations of sour fruits (citrus, quince, cherries etc.) have been preserved across Europe for centuries. The origin of marmalade itself is colourful, with its invention claimed by the British, Scottish, Portuguese, and early Romans. Marmalade is not so common on the table anymore in Britain & Scotland, as people unfortunately abandon a hearty breakfast in favour of cereal, quick shakes, or simply coffee.
The health benefits of eating citrus peel is a source of debate in our modern times, but if anything would fall into the category of the trendy Superfood, it’s marmalade. Naturally high in pectin which relieves constipation and sore throats, there are 20x more antioxidants in 1g of marmalade than a glass of orange juice, and its peel contains limonene which has a “well established chemopreventive activity against many types of cancer”[1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18072821] and demonstrated effectiveness in relieving gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn, as well as having a protective effect in relation to squamous cell carcinoma of the skin[2. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1114208]. If that doesn’t impress you, it also tastes amazing as a glaze for chicken wings or salmon, filling in chocolate cake or poaching figs.
Marmalade is a true slow food, taking two days to complete; however, this just serves to make the task less demanding compared to the typical jam making frenzy of prepping, cooking and canning all in one day. Your biggest hurdle may be finding the Seville oranges necessary for making marmalade as, although you can make marmalade with any citrus such as lemon or grapefruit, these don’t have the flavour or pectin of the traditional Seville. Locally I found some at Kara’s Smart Foods–Gerald Kara tweeted they were available in-store which was much appreciated. Once you’ve secured these precious and increasingly rare beauties, it’s time to get to work making delicious bottled sunshine.
The first thing you should know about making marmalade is the classic, traditional recipe is pretty much a ratio. That ratio varies depending on whether one likes a tart marmalade or sweet–the latter being what most people are used to finding in supermarket marmalade. Generally the ratio, which is based on the weight, is 1:2:2 or Oranges (weighed whole) : Juice/Water : Sugar. That ratio translated works out for example to 1kg fresh Seville oranges (about 6), 500ml squeezed juice+1500ml water, 2kg sugar. Yes, you read that right. Marmalade has a shocking amount of sugar because the fruit is so tart.
The second thing to know is how the peel should be chopped can bring marmalade afficionados to blows: a chopped peel is completely unacceptable to a strip peel lover, and vice versa. My impression is there is no latitude on this. Just saying in case you’re making this as a gift. If it’s for your own enjoyment, chop however you prefer.
The third thing, as mentioned earlier, marmalade making is a two day process:
The first day the oranges are sliced in half, juiced into a measuring cup, and the pits, pith and membrane are saved to be wrapped up in a muslin or cheesecloth bag. The orange rinds are sliced (or chopped) and put into a large non-reactive bowl (glass, stainless steel) along with the juice, water, and bag of pith. Submerge the rind and bag under the liquid, cover, and keep in a cool place overnight.The pips, pith and pulp are loaded with pectin and this soak will draw it out; the pectin is what will ‘set’ your marmalade.
The second day, prepare your preserving jars by washing in hot soapy water, rinsing and placing on cookie sheet in 300F oven for 20 minutes. Wash lids at the same time but leave them out of the oven. Remove to cool; note these jars will be hot! Put the juice, peel and pith bag in a large pot (twice as deep as your mixture) and set on medium high heat. Bring to a boil then lower the heat so the liquid continues to simmer until the peel (rind) is totally soft and translucent (should be almost mushy in your fingers)–press pith bag from time to time to release pectin; this could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how big the chunks of rind have been cut (I sliced mine and took 45 minutes). When soft, remove from heat and set pith bag aside in a bowl to cool.
Weigh the sugar, spread on foil-covered cookie sheet and put in 250F oven for 15 minutes–warming sugar before adding to liquid will reduce foaming which will make your marmalade cloudy. Add warmed sugar to pot and stir to dissolve. Meanwhile squeeze the bag of pits & pith (I used a potato masher, others squeeze with their hands) releasing as much of the juice/pectin into the bowl–add this juice to pot. Raise heat to slowly bring to boil, stirring often–burned marmalade is not edible.
With marmalade at regular boil, skim off any froth that surfaces, stir constantly, and cook for 15 – 30 minutes. The marmalade is done when the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 220F. Remove from heat and let sit for ten minutes while stirring occasionally. Ladle the marmalade into the prepared jars, wipe off any drips, add lids, and screw on rings. Let sit until cool.
A few notes:
- If you don’t have a reliable candy thermometer, a time-tested technique is to put a small saucer in the freezer before starting your second day; after boiling the marmalade for the first 15 minutes, start testing if it’s done by removing a teaspoon of liquid to the saucer–it is done if the mixture is gels and you want a soft gel. Test every 5 minutes and if not ready, try again. It’s better to test the set point too soon–you’ll see how it thickens as it cooks. If the temperature of the marmalade goes beyond 220F you’ll end up with a caramalized mixture, more like marmabrick, so be careful.
- Altering the sugar or water ratio affects the setting temperature; should you decide to experiment, be vigilant as the marmalade cooks. Less water means it will set quickly and less sugar can be successful if the acidity, pectin and temperature are right. Less sugar is indicated in the recipe below because I love a marmalade that wakes up my mouth.
- Adding the sugar before the rind/peel is soft may actually toughen the rind; cook the rind thoroughly first.
- I have absolutely no idea if other sweeteners could be suitably substituted–you’re on your own there.
- Typically a lemon is included in the recipe to help set the pectin, and I’ve done that here.
- Cheesecloth is fine to use in place of a muslin bag and is what I used; however, make sure you use at least four layers of it or the pits will poke through. Ask me how I know this.
This recipe reflects my preference for a tart marmalade; if you have a sweet tooth or only know supermarket marmalade, use more sugar:
- 1 kg Seville oranges (about 6)
- 1 lemon (scrubbed or wax free)
- 1 kg white granulated cane sugar
- 1 kg (or 1000 ml) water
- 2 tbsp Triple Sec or Grand Marnier (optional)
- Wash the oranges and lemon and cut in halves
- Juice the oranges and lemon, saving the juice to a measuring cup, and the pits & pulp to a bowl. Once juiced, scrape the halves with a spoon and put pith in the bowl with pits.
- Place pits and pith (pulp) in muslin or cheesecloth bag and securely tie.
- Slice or chop the peel of both oranges and lemon.
- Add the juice, water, peel, and bag of pulp & pits to a large non-reactive bowl or pot and push muslin bag down under the juice. Set aside overnight in a cool place.
- Prepare your canning jars by washing thoroughly and placing in 300F oven for 20 minutes to sterilize; wash lids but do not put in oven.
- Tip the juice & peel mixture into a large pot (big enough to accommodate more than twice as much as your mixture) and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Lower the heat and press the muslin bag down into mixture; keep on gentle boil or simmer until peel softens. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the thickness of your pieces of peel.
- When peel is almost ready, measure and spread the sugar on foil lined cookie sheet and warm in 250F oven for 15 minutes.
- When peel is really tender, remove mixture from heat; press muslin bag and set aside in a bowl to cool.
- Return marmalade to heat and add warmed sugar; stir to dissolve then slowly bring to boil over medium high heat; adjust heat to keep on slow boil and stir often to prevent sticking.
- Squeeze or press the muslin bag of pits & pulp to release as much juice (pectin) as possible into the boiling marmalade.
- Keep marmalade on a boil and at 15 minutes start testing temperature or doing the saucer-in-the-freezer test. Better to be vigilant than to have your marmalade be overdone.
- If the mixture is foaming, remove this with a spoon so your marmalade won't be cloudy.
- When ready, take off heat, add Triple Sec if using, and set to cool for 10 minutes; this will help ensure your orange pieces will be evenly suspended in the marmalade.
- Pour the marmalade into prepared jars and immediately put on the lids, wipe the jars clean, and label.
- Turn the jars upside down for five minutes, then set right side up to finish cooling.
- If you prefer a darker marmalade than in photo, up to 1/3 of sugar can be substituted with golden cane sugar (brown sugar)
- The marmalade will set/gel in the jars and even in the pantry over time. Do NOT overcook!