I thought I’d missed Seville orange season this year. I’d been far too busy with the kids to get around to making any marmalade, and had already given my mother the upsetting news that she wouldn’t be getting any for Christmas.
But then, staring back at me from the shelves of Waitrose, in late March, was a lonely box of Seville oranges – I could scarcely believe my luck.
Once the New Year celebrations have died down, the next event on my annual calendar is marmalade season. If you haven’t tried making your own before, you absolutely must. Making preserves isn’t just for frugal old ladies – whilst it’s as cliché as can be, your own marmalade is going to be so much better than anything you can buy in a shop. It’s even better than Bonne Maman. Seriously.
So without any further ado, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
First things first, make sure your oranges are clean. I like to prize off the buttons, and then scrub them with a vegetable brush. I also like to wash my lemons at this point, mainly because it stops me forgetting to add them!
If you have any kind of electrical contraption to help you juice the fruit, I highly recommend you use it. You will need the peel intact though, so make sure you don’t use a juicer that destroys the whole fruit.
Cut through the middle of you oranges and lemons and extract every drop of juice you can. Strain the juice into your preserving pan, saving the pulp from the sieve, and set the orange peel aside, but discard the lemon peel.
You need to make sure your pan is large enough to avoid overflowing. This has only happened to me once, but it honestly took me about 30 minutes to clean all the burnt sugar from my hob and surfaces. And of course, the jam was ruined too. It’s probably best to buy a preserving pan if you don’t have one already; Maslin pans are perfect for the job. I am using a 28cm LeCreuset casserole pan, which is just large enough – I certainly wouldn’t use anything smaller.
Scrape up any pips from the juicing, and your pulp from the sieve, and place into a muslin bag. You could also use a large piece of cheese cloth, or even a pair of old (but clean!) tights. Essentially, you are constructing a giant teabag to hold all the discarded fruit parts, to extract the flavour and pectin while the peel is softening.
Using a teaspoon, scrape out the pulp from the inside of each orange half, and add it to the muslin bag. You need to make sure that you remove all of the pulp, and all the stringy pieces, but don’t worry about the white pith being quite thick. The pith will turn translucent once it has been softened, and a nice chunky peel is never a bad thing in a marmalade.
Once all your seeds, pulp and pith pieces are inside the muslin bag, tie it tightly and add it to your preserving pan, along with some cold water. Recipes typically call for between 2 and 2.5 litres of water, but the amount you need is completely dependant on the evaporation that takes place during your simmering of the peel. Deciding how much water to use is important because it will effect how long you need to boil the marmalade before it achieves a set later. You can only make an informed decision about this based on experience, unfortunately.
Your next job is to cut the peel, which could take you a good hour. I like to set myself up in the lounge, get myself a drink, and put on some good TV whilst I slice away. Today, I am having a frozen strawberry daiquiri and watching Nigella.
Cut each hemisphere in half, and cut the peel into slices. I like to slice in a fan shape, so that all the pieces of peel are of a good length, rather than some long, and some short. Do take care over the slicing of your peel, as it can make the difference between a good jar and a really special jar.
Some people prefer to pulse the peel in a food processor. This is obviously a lot quicker, but the peel won’t look anywhere near as nice, and your marmalade will looking cloudy, rather than clear. Put the sliced peek into the pan with the juice and muslin bag.
This is a great point to break in the recipe. I like to start in the evening, and then continue the next morning.
Heat the marmalade over a medium high heat until you see bubbles breaking the surface, then turn down the temperature until you get a gentle simmer, adjusting periodically if required. The peel needs to be simmered for 2 hours, or until it is tender. Do not cover the pan – you want water to evaporate.
In the last hour of simmering, prepare your equipment for sterilisation. My recipe fills 6 x 385ml jam jars. It’s important that the jam jars are sterile, and everything else that will touch the marmalade after you have turned off the heat. This includes your ladle and jam funnel, and also any spoons that you will be using to remove the scum from the surface of your marmalade. Wash everything in warm soapy water first (or put through the dishwasher), and rinse thoroughly.
Place everything you need to sterilise on a baking tray. Jam jars should be open and upright, lids should be face down on the baking sheet.
Place into a cold oven and then set the temperature for 140c, or 120c fan. You should always put glass in a cold oven – if you put glass into a hot oven, it could easily shatter. You jars will need at least 30 minutes to sterilise – always do this step before adding your sugar.
You will also want a magnet to help you lift the lids onto the jars. This will ensure that you don’t end up touching the inside of the jar lid. You could use a fridge magnet for this, although a horseshoe makes it easier. I also highly recommend getting hold of some oven gloves like mine. You can certainly do this with regular oven gloves, or even a tea towel for that matter, but since I picked up a pair I’ve found the process a lot easier and less daunting.
After 2 hours, the water should have reduced by about half. You can judge this by the tide marks on the side of the pan. The peel should be nice and soft.
Depending on how much water has evaporated, you may want to reduce your marmalade a little more, or even add some water.
My theory about marmalade, and indeed all preserves, is that you want to expose the sugar to as little heat as possible. Obviously you’re going to have to boil the sugar, but you don’t want to do this for a long time, otherwise you’ll lose all the flavours of the fruit and it will taste like cooked sugar.
As I understand it, the science of achieving a set is this:
Pectin is contained naturally in fruits, mainly in the outer skins. Harder fruits typically have more pectin, softer fruits typically have less pectin – this is why you often use ‘jam sugar’ with added pectin to set jams like strawberry. No such problems with oranges though.
Pectin will turn your fruit syrup into a set jam under the right conditions. It is a long molecule, and will form a web like structure through the marmalade that gives it the set, if it is forced to do so. Pectin doesn’t want to be by itself – it wants to be joined to the water, and it will only be forced to be alone when the water molecules find something else that they prefer to be with: sugar. That’s why boiling the marmalade gives you a set: Once all the ‘free’ water (that isn’t attached to a sugar molecule) has boiled away, you’re left with just the syrup and the pectin which has been ‘forced out’.
The decision to adjust the amount of water at this point, will depend entirely upon your hob, and on your experience. I usually base my decision on the tide marks on the side of my pan. If I feel like not enough water has evaporated, I might bring it up to a boil for another 5 minutes or so.
At this point you need to remove the muslin bag from the marmalade. Make sure you give it a good squeeze before you discard it, as it will be full of juices and pectin that you won’t want to waste. I like to take it out of the pan and leave it for 5 minutes to cool down first. Do try to extract all the goodness from the bag, but don’t risk splitting it – you don’t want it to break and the contents to fall back into the pan!
Now you’re ready for the exciting part! Dump all the sugar into the pan, and stir to help it dissolve. This will seem like a huge amount of sugar, I know – do not be alarmed! I would remind you that this is going to make 6 jars, and that you eat only a couple of tablespoons at a time. Do not be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar. You will not end up with a marmalade that contains less sugar. The only effect of reducing the sugar is that you will need to boil your marmalade for much longer to achieve a set, and it will taste like burnt caramel, rather than tart oranges.
Bring your marmalade to a full rolling boil. You will know you have reached this point when the boiling sugar syrup climbs scarily high in the pan, and you cannot see the surface of the liquid any more. I initially put the heat up to maximum to get the boil started, but then ease off as it gets close to the top of the pan. Whilst you want to evaporate the water rapidly, you don’t want things getting dangerously out of control.
Stir your marmalade periodically as it boils. There is a small danger that pieces of peel may burn on the bottom of the pan if you don’t move the marmalade at all.
I typically boil my marmalade for at least 5 minutes before I test it for set.
The simplest way to know when your jam is ready, is with a sugar thermometer. Once the temperature has reached 105c, the marmalade will set. I like to do things the old fashioned way though, and test for set manually. I think that even if I used a thermometer, I would still want to double check that I had a consistency I liked.
I actually prefer my set on the softer side, so I like to go slowly until it is just set. I like my marmalade so that it is viscous enough to be removed easily from the jar, but soft enough that it spreads easily and smoothly. I honestly feel that I get a better final product by relying on my instinct, rather than on my thermometer. It also feels more authentic somehow. I guess it’s just my preference.
To test for set manually, you’ll want to have a couple of saucers in your freezer. I usually do this while I am waiting for the muslin bag to cool enough to be squeezed. When you think your jam is close to setting point, remove the pan from the heat, and place a small amount of marmalade on the saucer. Wait for 2 full minutes, and then push your finger through marmalade, and watch how it behaves. You’ll want to look for wrinkling on the surface, and whether the marmalade floods back to fill the space that your finger left. In the pictures below, you can see that although it is starting to set, it’s not quite ready yet.
If you have not quite achieved the set you want, move the pan back on to the heat, and once returned to a rolling boil, set your timer for another 2 minutes and then test again.
At the next test, the wrinkles were larger and ‘climbed’ up over the tip of my finger. The marmalade softly moved back, but didn’t fill the channel that my finger made. To my mind, this is the perfect point to stop.
I have had people tell me that at this point my marmalade isn’t properly set. I beg to differ; I think that setting to this point gives you the most pleasant mouthfeel, but this is of course very much up to personal opinion. If in doubt, you may want to give the marmalade a couple more minutes on the heat.
When you are satisfied that the marmalade has reached setting point, remove completely from the heat, and skim any scum from the surface using your sterilised spoon from the oven. You want to remove as much as possible, scraping across the surface and scooping it out of the pan. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a couple of pieces of peel in order to make the marmalade as clear as possible.
Some people also like to stir in a nob of butter to help disperse any remaining impurities. If you decide to do this, it would be advisable to return the marmalade to the boil briefly, to reduce the risk of introducing bacteria.
Once the marmalade is a clear as you can reasonably make it, leave it to cool for 20 minutes. You want the marmalade to thicken slightly before you put it into jars, so that the peel will be suspended evenly, rather than floating to the top.
When you are ready to put the marmalade into jars, remove your baking tray from the oven, and use the funnel to help you ladle in the hot marmalade. You’ll want to fill each jar almost to the top. I like to rest the funnel on the next jar while I put the lids on.
Use your magnet to pick up the jar lid, and place it carefully on top of your filled jar. Screw the lids on tightly, and set aside, before proceeding to the next jar. Having uncovered jars of hot marmalade standing around is not only dangerous, it also increases the risk of the jars being contaminated. I strongly suggest doing one jar at a time.
When all your jars are filled, leave them somewhere safe to cool to room temperature. They can then be moved to storage, but try not to upset the marmalade as you move it. The set will continue to improve over the next few days, and disturbing the marmalade is a mistake. Do not be tempted to tilt the jar about to see if it has set properly – this will only makes things worse!
Now you should have yourself 6 beautiful jars of bittersweet marmalade. If you hold a jar up to the light, you should see a clear amber jelly, swirled with generous amount of bitter peel – glorious!
If after a week or so the marmalade still seems to not be set, you have a few choices. You can just accept the fact that the marmalade is loose and enjoy it for what it is. You can use it as a sauce on ice-cream, or to make marmalade cake. Or you can empty the jars out into a pan and boil the marmalade up again, to achieve a better set. But if you followed all my guidance, you’d be very unlucky not to be successful.
That being said, you can’t get it right every time. And I certainly haven’t. Here are some of the marmalades that are in my cupboard right now:
The marmalade on the left has a very loose set. It’s got a great flavour, but just doesn’t hold it’s shape well; it’s not easy to get out of the jar. I’m saving this to use for marmalade cake, but if I didn’t have any other marmalade I would tip it back into a pan and boil it up again to improve the set.
The marmalade in the middle is exactly how I like my marmalade. It has a lovely light colour and it completely clear. It tastes fantastic and has a soft set – it holds its shape but is not rigid. This is just what I’m aiming for.
The marmalade on the right has the strongest set yet. Unfortunately, this marmalade has been overcooked, as you can tell from the opaque brown colour. It doesn’t taste that much of oranges; There’s still some nice bitterness, but it’s got a distinct taste of cooked sugar. This has happened because there was too much water in the pan when the sugar was added, meaning it had to be boiled for a longer time. I don’t know why I’ve kept this marmalade actually, I should probably throw it away.
So that’s it – that’s all the advice I have to offer. As with most things you make, a little trial and error is required. The crucial part of the process is the amount of water evaporated before the sugar is added. Once you’ve got that part sorted out, everything else will fall into place – getting your desired set should be easy.
I like to pile my marmalade up on some toasted sourdough. The strong flavours complement each other really well.
Seville Orange Marmalade
1kg Seville Oranges
2 lemons (or 75ml lemon juice)
2kg Granulated Sugar
Remove the buttons from the oranges and scrub them in warm water. Dry.
Cut around the middle of the oranges and juice. Add the lemon juice.
Collect the pith and pips of the oranges, and place into a muslin bag.
Using a teaspoon, carve out any loose stringy pith from each orange half and add to the muslin bag.
Fill your jam pan with 2.25l of water
Strain juice of oranges and lemons into the jam pan.
Add any pulp and pips from the sieve into the muslin bag and tie tightly.
Add muslin bag to the pan of water and juice.
Cut orange peel into strips (cutting the hemispheres in half first makes this easier).
Strips can be anywhere from wafer thin to about 3mm wide, but best to be consistent with your size.
Add peel to the jam pan and cover, leaving overnight.
Bring the pan up to a bubble and leave simmering for 2 hours
The peel should now be soft and the liquid reduced by about 1/2
Remove the muslin bag, squeezing out any extra liquid.
Place your jars and lids into a preheated oven at 140c (120c fan).
Add the sugar and stir slowly, allowing it to dissolve.
Once it has fully dissolved, turn the heat up to maximum and bring the jam to a rapid rolling boil.
Boil for 5-10 minutes before testing for set.
Remove the pan from the heat, and place a teaspoon of the jam on a cold plate.
After a couple of minutes, push the jam with your finger. If it wrinkles, and doesn’t flow back into the gap, you have achieved a set.
If not, return the pan to the heat for 2 more minutes and try again.
When the surface of the jam is still, remove any scum from around the edges.
Then give the jam a thorough stir, to disperse any remaining scum and to speed up cooling.
Leave for 10 minutes, until the peel is suspended in the jam, rather than floating on the surface.
Remove your sterile jars from the oven, remembering not to touch the inside.
Use a jam funnel and ladle to fill the jars, and place the lids on, remembering not to touch the inside. A magnet can help to lift the jar lids from your baking sheet.
Secure the lids and leave to cool.