I have made marmalade a number of times, with some notable successes as well as notable failures. I have had everything from a dark brown orange syrup to a set so thick you could bounce things off it. No one seems to have the same recipe, and several of them flat-out contradict each other. Nigel Slater, in the Kitchen Diaries II, at least acknowledges that every marmalade maker has their own peculiarities and that none of them can agree.
Marmalade making requires getting three things right: enough pectin in the mixture to create a gel; a balance of sugar, acid and pectin that will enable the gel to set at room temperature; and cooking the peel through enough to make it edible and not too chewy. There are a huge number of routes that you can take to get to this end result, and most regular marmalade-makers will have a preferred route, as well as desired result. Some are aiming for a tawny, caramel-tinged, dark marmalade with hearty chunks; others a light, clear jelly with threads of peel through it.
My real conversion to marmalade making was discovering June Taylor’s approach. Although recipes from her are frustratingly hard to track down, her handmade approach and attention to detail have produced stellar results when I have tried them – a softly set bright orange jelly with an amazing fresh flavour. This comes (I think) from a much lower-than-normal amount of sugar in her recipes, as well as a time consuming process which involves segmenting the fruit, and removing the membranes into a bag with the pips, so they can contribute pectin, but not cloud the jelly.
With marmalade, you have to balance the simplicity of making it with your satisfaction with the end result. How far are you willing to go? If you’re ready to make your own marmalade, we can safely assume you’re willing to go quite a long way, but segmenting each orange is a very different amount of active effort needed, compared to boiling the fruit whole and then chopping it all up. But for me, it comes down to how happy I will be with the end result. I am almost incapable of throwing away food that I have spent large chunks or time or money preparing, so if I end up with 5 jars of not-very-good marmalade, I know from experience that they will sit in the cupboard for a long, long time while I reluctantly work my way through them. If they are not great, I won’t want to give them away either, making their stay in the cupboard even longer.
I would rather spend an extra half hour on preparation to end up with a sparkling result that I’m incredibly proud of and can’t wait to share with other people. That, to me, is a much better reward for my time than a few jars of dark and muddy orange-flavoured jam.
Having tried a tangerine and grapefruit recipe before, with good results, I decided to try and work out what a June Taylor-style Seville orange marmalade recipe might look like. This was a tricky task, as she doesn’t make Seville orange marmalade at all – it’s one of very few citrus fruits that you never see in California. So I read through quite a few alternative approaches, as well as some blog entries that had also attempted to replicate her approach, to see if I could come up with something appropriate.
I started with her recipe for Thick cut orange marmalade, published in the San Francisco Chronicle. However, as this was a recipe for the thinner-skinned, juicier sweet oranges, I felt that I would need to modify it somewhat. One of the things I particularly liked about the tangerine and grapefruit recipe is that you get to slice across the segments, creating juicy chunks of citrus flesh with peel attached, which survive into the finished jam. However, doing this for all the oranges seemed like it would both take too long and leave me with way too much peel in the final result. I have tried making marmalade with whole oranges before (the method where you boil them whole, and then chop them) and have found that with the thick peels, you get far too much peel for my liking.
So I took a hybrid approach, slicing one lemon and one blood orange in segments with the skin on, and removing the peel before segmenting for the Seville oranges. As I did this, I removed the (copious) pips and, on Dan Lepard’s advice, popped them straight into a small dish of water. By the time I had finished the fruit preparation, this little bowl had gelled solid, demonstrating just how much pectin there is in those pips.
The final fiddly thing I did was to take the pieces of orange peel, and blanch them. I’m sure this stage is not essential, but I thought it worth doing for two reasons: one, when making candied peels, you are almost always asked to blanch the peel, sometimes repeatedly, to ‘remove bitterness’. I thought the same thing might apply here. It would also give them a headstart on softening, making it easy to slice them, and ensuring that I could cook the rest of the mixture for a fairly short period – something that’s important if you want to preserve a fresh, citrus flavour rather than aiming for a caramel one. So these were blanched, drained, about half of them sliced finely and added to the fruit. I kept the rest back to make candied peel with.
Recipe: Seville orange marmalade
This does make a rather acidic marmalade – something to really wake you up. If you are partial to chewing pieces of candied orange peel, it should be right up your street. If you prefer a sweeter marmalade, you may want to increase the sugar.
- 1.5 kg Seville oranges (I ordered mine from Riverford organics)
- 1 lemon
- 1 blood orange (not essential – I happened to have one leftover)
- 1.7kg of fruit in all
- 600ml water
- 750g granulated sugar
Segment the blood orange and the lemon, with the skin on and slice thinly.
Top and tail the seville oranges. Slice off the peel taking as little pith with it as possible. Then slice off the pith, exposing the flesh. Collect the strips of pith in the muslin. Segment the Seville oranges, removing the pips into a small bowl of water as you go. Squeeze any juice from the membranes that are left into the same bowl as the segments and the sliced segments, and then add the membranes to the muslin with the pith.
Take the strips of peel and cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, and then drain and cool.
Slice about half of them into thin strips and add to the juice and segments.
The next day, wash your jam jars thoroughly (or put them in the dishwasher) and then place into a 110C degree oven to keep warm. Wash the lids at the same time, but leave them out of the oven.
Add the pips to the muslin, and their soaking water to the fruit in a preserving pan. Tie the muslin up with string and suspend it in the pan. Bring everything to a boil for about half an hour, to make sure the peel is really tender. It should be possible to mash it between finger and thumb. Take off the heat and remove the muslin bag. When it is cool enough to handle (after about 30 minutes), squeeze it out to release the pectin and add into the pan of fruit. You need to squeeze and massage this for a good few minutes to extract as much pectin as possible. This takes some time, but is strangely satisfying.
When you have squeezed out all the pectin you can, add a candy thermometer to the pot, add the sugar and bring back to a boil. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved (it will stop making a scratchy noise on the pan as you stir) and then let it bubble quite fast until it reaches 105C on the thermometer, then test for a set.
Pour the whole lot immediately into a Pyrex jug, and then into the hot jars. Using a tea towel, screw on the lids and inverted each jar for five minutes before returning them to the right way up to finish cooling. This helps to ensure the lids and surface are sterilised and prevents anything growing on the surface.