Marmalade. Bitter, orange, tangy, sweet, citrus, sticky sunshine on toast.
I love making preserves. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction in taking a troublesome glut of fruit or veg, and making something wonderful out of it. Preserves make up a huge percentage of my gifts to people, and I don’t think we’ve bought a jam, chutney, pickle or jelly in years!
Marmalade is a little bit different. Obviously I don’t have a glut of Seville oranges in my garden to contend with, but in January, the English preserve season is a way off yet, so this one starts the year off nicely and keeps my daughter happy. I should really double this recipe to keep us going all year; we start using our marmalade sparingly, like an expensive luxury, only to be indulged in on the weekends from about September… and by November we’ve usually run out. One batch at a time is enough though, with the time consuming and hand cramping task of all the orange peel shredding; by the time I’ve jarred up the first batch, I’m on to new projects and the marmalade is ‘done’. Maybe when my daughter is old enough to reliably shred orange peel into uniform thin slices with a paring knife, I’ll make a double batch.
I buy an organic ‘Marmalade kit’ from a veg box retailer for £5, which is decent value. The word ‘kit’ is a little grand for what is essentially a bag of oranges and lemons, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get the proper organic Seville fruit, which has the true bitter taste to make that signature marmalade flavour. The January season for Seville oranges is short and many supermarkets don’t stock them at all, so do a bit of research in your area. Also, buying organic is doubly important because you’ll be using the whole fruit, skins and all. The ‘kit’ omits the water, sugar, preserving pan, muslin, jars, and other bits and bobs to make a successful batch, but if you’re a novice these things are easy to come by and if you’re an experienced preserver then you’re good to go.
I’ve pretty much stolen this recipe from the Riverford YouTube video with a few minor adjustments. I’ve tried making marmalade to various recipes over the years, with different citrus fruit and they’ve all turned out a bit odd. One honey marmalade recipe went so wrong, it turned into a thick orange syrup… I jarred it up anyway and called it Karmalade, it was quite nice, but it wasn’t marmalade.
This recipe works, and is relatively straightforward. There is a certain amount of labour involved in making any marmalade and this recipe is the simplest I’ve found.
Makes 8-9lb of Marmalade, or about 4kg… or about 10 randomly sized jars!
- 1.5kg of Seville oranges (£5)
- 2 lemons
- 2.5l of water
- 2kg of granulated sugar* (£3.40)
- Paring knife and chopping board
- A large preserving pan
- Muslin and string
- Sterilised screw top jars
- A jam funnel (not essential, but definitely worth getting if you continue making preserves)
Start by preparing your large preserving pan by lining it with the muslin to catch your oranges. Peel the oranges with a knife, keeping the peel to one side, then cut the oranges in half and squeeze them into the pan. Drop what’s left of the oranges, pith and pips and all, into the pan too. You’ll end up with a muslin lined pan full of skinless oranges and juice. Do the same with the 2 lemons. Tie the muslin up with some string and tie the string to the handle of the pan to stop it from falling in, then pour 2.5 litres of water into the pan. The muslin bag, soaking in the juice, will contain all the essential bits of orange for releasing pectin into your marmalade, without this it just wont set. Now put the pan on a low heat and carefully begin to shred all the orange and lemon skin into small strips using the paring knife, add the beautifully shredded skin to the pan. That’s the hard graft over.
Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer with the occasional stir for around 2 hours. I like to wander into the kitchen now and then and poke the muslin bag with a wooden spoon to help the pectin on its way. At this stage, put a couple of saucers in the fridge to help test the setting point later.
After 2 hours, when the peel is tender, remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the juice out of it by putting it in a colander over the pan. Press as much of the sticky juice out as possible with a wooden spoon. Discard the bag, and now add the 2kg of sugar, stirring in carefully until dissolved.
Turn up the heat and boil rapidly now for 15 minutes. While that’s happening, pre-heat your oven to 140 degrees C, to sterilise your jars, put up to 12 clean jars in a roasting tin to make them easier to move about and put them in the hot oven. Put the lids in a bowl or pan ready to pour boiling water on to later.**
Now it’s time to test if your marmalade will set, dribble a small amount of the juice onto one of the cold saucers and put it back in the fridge (or freezer) for a minute. If the marmalade wrinkles when you push it with your finger then your marmalade has reached setting point, if not, and the juice is still a sticky liquid, keep boiling it and try again in 10 minutes. This can take up to an hour of testing so don’t worry if nothing seems to be happening at first.
When you’re happy with the set, remove the marmalade from the heat and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes, you can remove any scum from the top of the marmalade with a spoon at this stage. Boil the kettle during this time and pour boiling water over your lids to scold them. Remove your jars from the oven, and using a jam funnel and a ladle, fill them up to the neck with the hot sticky liquid. Screw on the lids and turn the jars upside down for 5 minutes to sterilise the lids.
Leave to cool and set for several hours, and store somewhere dry. Mine has lasted for the best part of a year before, I’m sure it would probably store much longer if we didn’t eat it first. It also makes an excellent gift, if you can bear to give it away.
This batch worked out at about 93p per jar, plus an afternoon’s labour, love, care, hope and pride… Which is an absolute bargain.
* White sugar will give you a beautifully clear marmalade, but I prefer using golden granulated, as it is less refined, and I’m a bit of a hippy like that… As Melanie Safka once sang ‘White should be beautiful, but mostly it’s not’.
** Some lucky folks with dish washers use them to sterilise jars. If you are one of those folks, you’ll probably know better than I do how to go about doing this.