The marmalade season is nearly at an end now, but nevertheless it is always useful to have this amazing recipe under your belt in readiness for next year.
First published on A Greedy Piglet in April 2010 it has served me in such good stead. I have used MaMade oranges out of season (the ones in the big tin) and found them perfectly serviceable, or sometimes I will use sweet oranges and extra lemons. But there is NOTHING like the warm, orangey fug of marmalade simmering on the stove.
My mother has made jams and marmalades ever since I can remember, but I never have. I have a distinct taste memory of being allowed to eat the froth skimmed from the top of the jam as a little child. I don’t think I liked marmalade then, but strawberry sits in my memory bank, near the top, easy to reach. The foamy set scum was like a sweet strawberry flavoured meringue. Delicious.
I think that marmalade is an adult thing. I was reading the other day about how your taste changes when you hit 50, so that bitter things you didn’t like as a child, lose their bitterness for you. Perhaps this is why marmalade is something that you grow to like as you get older, starting with the sweeter orange shred and ending up with a Dark Old English that would strip paint?
I wanted something about half way. Bitter enough that it was truly marmalade, but fresh and light, with fine peel. The thick peel in Tawny and Old English marmalade doesn’t do it for me, but I wanted something with some sour bite.
David Lebowitz was talking on Twitter about his forays into marmalade this year. He ended up with callouses and half a nail on one fingernail (awwww) I thought to myself.. that seems like hard work. But he did mention that he squeezed the juice and added later.
My mum I remembered, used to boil the oranges whole first and then chop them later. But the getting out of the pips was a terrible messy thing, and I remember her swearing and complaining about the stickiness. I might be a messy cook, but I like to keep my hands clean so that was probably not right. (UPDATE: I found a way round the stickiness.... quarter the oranges after pressure cooking them, and scoop the middle mush into a bowl, pips and all. Add a cup or two of water, and swish around and leave it to one side whilst you slice up the now soft and easily cut rind. Then pour the resulting mix into a sieve. Push the pulp through the sieve, leaving the membranes and pips behind. Add the pulp to the bowl with the rind, add the water and refrigerate overnight.)
There had to be a middle way.
Also what about quantities? Delia Smith in her Cookery Course says that she found it much easier to make small quantities as it cooked so much more quickly and came to a really fast set. And there are only two of us, so I don't want to drown in marmalade.
I scoured my recipe books. Most of the recipes seemed fairly standard, but in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book
I found a very interesting variation, a Seville Orange marmalade made over 3 days. And I liked the look of the marmalade in my Time Life Good Cook Preserving book. So I thought I would blend the two and add in bits from my various foraging for tips on the internet.
Now I am not a good person at following a recipe. At best, I find that I use it as a guideline to quantities and methods, a broad view of what an item should be. At worst I follow about one word in twenty. I suppose I settled for one word in five. Multiplied by two recipes. So perhaps one word in ten on aggregate. And this is what I eventually came up with.
Day 1 , the cutting up of the oranges
I had a bag of Seville oranges I had found in the cheaps section in Sainsbury's. Too much for one go I thought. So half that bag. Jane Grigson's recipe called for half a lemon, so yes, that too. I halved them and squeezed the juice out, keeping the pips separate in a little bowl.
Now to cut them up.
Remembering David's ouch noises about poor thumbs, I wanted to keep the cutting as simple as possible. I didn't want the peel to slip and slide either. I wanted nice fine peel. One of the recipes suggested cutting away the ends of the orange (the thickest part of the pith) and discarding. That done, I was left with circular pieces, which I could cut into quarters and flatten onto the cutting board. Much easier than trying to cut them as a rounded orange. Also, it helps that I quite like the pithy bit on a slice of marmalade peel, cooked well it has a lovely sharp toothsome quality I wanted to keep. So no scraping of the insides, they were cut up with all their pithy innards intact. Any larger pieces of membrane I pulled away, but basically that all went in too. All the shreds went into a glass bowl. The pips and membranes were encased in a little muslin bag and added to the glass bowl as well.
Water to soak next. Time Life suggested 1500 ml, (too much it felt to me) Jane Grigson 500 ml (not enough, it didn't cover the peel) so like Goldilocks I settled on the middle way and topped the water until it just covered the peel, about 700 ml in the end.
That's it for day one. All covered and into the fridge.
Day 2 - the cooking of the peel.
Easy day this. The contents of the glass bowl go into a largish pan, and brought to a simmer. Then simmer for at least an hour until a piece of peel will squash easily onto the side, or you bite it and it is slightly softer than you want it to end up (it will firm up a bit when you boil it with the sugar). Take it off the heat let it cool down, back into the bowl and back into the fridge.
Day 3 - the marmalade proper.
The recipes all vary as to the amount of sugar to use. Some seem to want to use twice the weight of the original fruit in sugar, some much less. The original weight of my fruit didn't match up to the recipes in any event, I wasn't going to be faffy and start cutting bits off my oranges to make them fit the weights needed. I certainly couldn't see Mrs Bridges doing that in Upstairs Downstairs, so I wasn't going to do it either...
But the proportion is the thing. Most preserves need roughly the same weight of sugar as the fruit/water. so I ditched volume and weighed the peel with the water and the orange juice that I saved on day 1, and that I added back in now. That was the weight of the sugar I needed.
I decided to use preserving sugar, no pectin, that wasn't going to be needed with citrus fruit especially with the long 2 day soak, but the large crystals are supposed to give a clearer preserve. I weighed the right amount, and set it to heat in the oven for 5 minutes to help it to melt quickly. Meanwhile I put the orange peel mix back in the saucepan and warmed it slowly . By the time it was quite warm but not simmering the sugar was warm, so the sugar went in and I made sure it was really well melted before allowing the mix to start to bubble (this prevents the marmalade from being gritty with undissolved sugar crystals, and helps to prevent it from crystallising later).
Then bring to a rolling boil, and start to time your boil. I started to test after 15 minutes, took about 25 for this first batch before I was confident it was wrinkly enough, but I think it would have fine after the 15 as it did stiffen up quite a bit when it cooled down. In all the books and recipes they go on about scum and adding bits of butter, and not skimming and so on. Well, maybe it was the preserving sugar but I didn't have any scum at all.
A tip here: the books do not mention stirring the mix. I was worried that it would crystallise if I mixed it too much as it was boiling so I left it alone. But a rolling boil for 15 minutes meant that the bottom of the mix caramelised a bit and was dramatically hotter than the rest of the mix. So when I stirred it at the end to mix the peel in, it erupted like molten lava. I stepped back pretty sharply and no harm was done, but it was salutary. DO give it a stir during the boiling to distribute the heat , not all the time, just now and again. And don't mistake a rolling boil for a vicious fast boil. When I made this the 2nd time, a slower fast simmer was fine, and made for a brighter lighter marmalade.
In the meantime, I heated up my clean jars in the oven and boiled the lids in a pan of water, then let the marmalade sit for about 5 mins, gave it a good stir and ladled into the jars, sealing them down whilst hot to create a vacuum under the lids.
And very good it is too. Even my mum likes it better than hers!