When it comes to making marmalade, you are either a whole-fruiter or a juicer it seems. Whole fruiters boil the fruit before scraping out pips, pith and pulp and then slice up the peel. Juicers attack the fruit first, doing all the above once they’ve juiced their oranges.
Having read through a number of versions of both approaches I think they probably come out neck and neck in terms of time and faff; I doubt you could tell the difference in a taste test*. So although you will no doubt have someone telling you emphatically that their method is best, it just comes down to a matter of whether or not you prefer to slice your peel before it has been boiled or afterwards, when it is softer, but also stickier.
I find mucking about with hot, sticky fruit a pain, so I juice my oranges and lemons, then quarter the ‘shells’ and scrape out the pips and pith and finally, with a sharp knife, shred the peel. This is quite time-consuming and, if the knife isn’t sharp enough, it can hurt too.
This year, however, I had a moment of divine inspiration when I looked up from my slicing and spied the kitchen scissors. The rest of the pile of peel was cut into neat little matchsticks in no time at all. Why I hadn’t thought of this before I’ll never know, but really, it has transformed marmalade making for me.
1) I collect jam jars throughout the year, washing them in the dishwasher as I go. If I think they’ve been sitting around too long I tend to put them all in the dishwasher at the start of my marmalade session so that they are clean and ready to use around halfway through the simmering stage. I then put the oven on its lowest setting and stand the jars upside down on the racks. Depending how far along in the process I am, I sometimes put the sugar in the oven at this point too – though warming the sugar is not necessary.
2) I don’t have a jam thermometer so I test my ‘set’ with a cold saucer. Once I’ve got my jars in the dishwasher, I put a couple of saucers in the freezer so that they are really, really icy by the time I want to check how my marmalade is doing.
Seville Orange Marmalade (from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course with quantities doubled)
Ingredients: 4lbs /1.8kg Seville oranges; 8 pints/4.5 litres water; 2 lemons; 8lbs/3.6kg granulated sugar** (warmed – I like to do this, but I doubt that it’s really necessary); 1tsp butter (again, not sure that I always bother with this, it help’s clarify the mixture, but it’s not a disaster if you don’t bother or you forget)
1) Measure the water into the pan along with the juice from all the oranges and lemons. Place all the pips and pulp in a muslin placed over a bowl or wide-mouthed jug to keep everything in place as it fills up.
2) Next, cut the orange and lemon halves into half again — quarters, really — and with a sharp knife scrape out the rest of the pith, pips and pulp and put it in the muslin. Incidentally, I never bother tying the muslin bag to the pan handle, it bobs about and is easily fished out when you need to. You don’t need to be too obsessive about the pith as much of it will dissolve during the boiling stage, just get as much as will come away easily.
3) Next, slice up the peel to create the shreds which are characteristic of English marmalade — thick or thin according to taste. This can be time-consuming as the peel is tough so a sharp knife is key. Better still, use kitchen scissors!
4) Tip the shredded peel into the pan with the water and juice and bring it all to simmering point and then turn the heat down so that it simmers gently for around 2 hours, or until the peel is soft enough to mash with a fork or squish between your fingers. (Towards the end of this process I put the sugar in the bottom of the oven).
5) At this point remove the muslin from the pan and set it aside to cool. I place mine in a sieve over a bowl so that the juice and pectin can start to drain out. When the bag is cool enough to handle you need to squeeze it in order to release as much pectin as possible. Delia suggests pressing it between two saucers. I tend to twist the top as tightly as I can, round and round, so the soft pulp and pith strains against the muslin and then I scrape at the surface with a spatula. It is oddly satisfying watching the pale jelly-like substance ooze out. Once you have all that you can get (or that you can be bothered to get), add it to the pan and stir it in.
6) Now whack up the heat and get everything to a rolling boil, and then set the timer for 15 minutes. I tend to stir the mixture occasionally to make sure that none of the peel gets stuck to the bottom of the pan and burns (this has happened to me before and I ended up having to ditch half the batch).
I find that the time my marmalade takes to reach setting point varies quite dramatically and is probably affected by the quantity of fruit I have used and also by how much pectin I’ve managed to squeeze out of the muslin bag. The last time I made marmalade I had a set after 15 minutes, this time it was closer to thirty minutes. The key is to check at regular ten minute intervals after the first fifteen minutes, taking the pan off the heat each time while you spoon a little of the marmalade onto one of the saucers from the freezer. Put the saucer in the fridge for a few minutes so that the marmalade can cool and then test it by pushing slightly with your finger. If the splodge of marmalade has formed a thin skin which wrinkles when pushed it’s reached setting point. And this is why it is important to take the pan off the heat when you test: you could find that the five minutes spent waiting for your sample to cool is all it takes for your marmalade to go from soft and spreadable to solid rubber. I know this from bitter experience.
7) So, you’ve reached setting point. Turn off the heat and get your jars out of the oven. This is also the moment when you can stir in a little butter if the mix looks a little scummy. It does seem to do the trick, but I don’t always have any scum and even if I do I often forget this stage. You can make yourself a cup of tea at this point (or pour yourself a glass of wine), as it is worth waiting five minutes or so before ladling the marmalade into the jars — apparently this stops the fruit rising to the top, a problem I had with a batch of lime marmalade. I kept turning the jars over in the hope of redistributing the peel!
8) Be warned, bottling the marmalade is always sticky and messy. I tend to put my jars on a large tray, which I place on the stove top as close as possible to the pan. I do have a funnel somewhere, but always end up using a smallish ladle instead.
9) Once the jars have been filled, place wax discs on the marmalade and screw the lids on while hot. I use a damp tea towel for this or a wad of damp kitchen roll: it makes it easier to handle the hot jars whilst also cleaning off any sticky drips.
And that’s it. It might seem complicated, but really it isn’t, it’s just time-consuming. But on a cold January day, making marmalade is the perfect excuse to stay indoors. It is also worth noting that you can pause production between the two main stages — A) cooking the fruit (whole or shredded), and B) adding the sugar and boiling to setting point.
And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. I have added Chloe’s brandy and Ruth’s Vodka to my list, which also includes a Seville orange Ice-cream and a bitter orange curd. I’ll also try make another batch of marmalade using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe, here, which features Demerara sugar and whisky (the Seville orange meringue pie looks good too). And I expect I’ll pop a kilo of oranges in the freezer just in case.
For now though, I am off to make a chocolate cake with one of my very old jars of marmalade and I also have plans for marmalade bread and butter pudding with vanilla sugar, as suggested by Sue.
* some swear that the taste in the whole fruit method is more complex, though how this can be when both methods make use of the entire fruit just in different states, is a mystery.
** sugar – much debate about what you can and can’t use. The generally accepted rule is that you should use granulated sugar for marmalade. Of course a quick look online threw up a number of recipes which stipulate Demerara sugar and also Muscavado.
I don’t bother with jam sugar which has added pectin, I don’t think pectin is ever an issue with Seville oranges and lemons. I don’t tend to bother with it when making jam either.