Zen and the Lost Art of making Marmalade.

It’s January, and Seville oranges are making their brief appearance in the shops and on the market stalls.

Marmalade time!

marmalade on toast..

Oranges are not the only fruit when it comes to making marmalade , but they are the best,  and Spanish Seville Oranges are the Rolls Royce of marmalade oranges….

a bowl of seville oranges

Marmalade has a long and interesting history, the first recipe that has a similarity to marmalade as we know it today goes back to the sixteenth century.  Before that, the word marmalade, was more often associated with quince, as marmelo is the portuguese word for quince, and marmelada was  a form of quince paste or quince cheese.

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Making marmalade does need a meditative state of mind. It takes time.  It takes endless repetition.  It won’t be rushed. But it is definitely and undeniably, worth it.

The first thing to do is buy the seville oranges.  Now.  Don’t delay.  The season is short.  Look for organic ones, because non-organic orange peel can be dowsed liberally in pesticides which you don’t really want in your marmalade….

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Making Seville Orange Marmalade

You need:   

  • 2kgs. seville oranges
  • 2 organic…or at least unwaxed….lemons
  • approx. 2 kgs. sugar – (the sugar you use will effect the final flavour of the marmalade – I used unrefined light muscovado.  If I make a second batch I will use a darker sugar for a  warmer flavour).
  • a large jam pan – maslin pan
  • a large bowl
  • waxed discs
  • 8-10 jars with tight fitting lids (more than enough)
  • a square of unbleached muslin ( about 45cms. square)
  • Patience.  (about 6-7 hours worth but not all active….)

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2kgs. oranges is plenty for one batch. (7-8 jars).  You do need a big pan, a maslin pan is best),  if you only have a smaller pan, halve the quantities.

Wash the oranges and 2 lemons in water laced with a dash of cider vinegar.

Then, take a deep breath, make yourself comfortable, and peel the oranges (and lemons) one by one.

It’s important to take off just the peel, as thinly as possible, leaving the white dry pith on the orange.

When every orange (and lemon) is peeled, set them to one side, take another deep breath, and cut the peel into tiny slices.

slice the peel into thin strips : according to how you like your marmalade

Some people like the peel to be thick, some like it thin…. I’ll leave that with you…..

When the peel has all been sliced into pieces to your liking, place in a bowl and set aside.

  • Returning to the oranges, take a big bowl, and lay a large square of clean, unbleached muslin over the bowl so it drapes amply over the sides of the bowl.
  • One by one, and preferably by hand, squeeze the oranges (and lemons) into the bowl so the juice goes through the muslin.  Place the pith the pips and the rest of the squeezed orange in the muslin.
  • Repeat with each and every orange…….  🙂
  • Now, draw the corners and the edges of the muslin together, and tie tightly with a length of string, to form a bag from which all the pith and pips cannot escape.
  • Place the sliced peel, the orange juice, the muslin pith+pip bag and 3.5 litres of water (preferably filtered) in the maslin pan.
  • Place on a medium heat and slowly bring to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat to very low, no more than a gentle simmer, for 2-3 hours, until the peel  softens and becomes tender…. and without reducing the liquid more than necessary…..

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Open all the doors of your house, to allow the wonderful citrus fragrance to drift into every room.

Have a nice cup of tea and go do something else for a while…..

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  • When the peel is truly tender, lift the muslin bag into a sturdy colander and rest over the pan.  With a wooden spoon, set about squeezing all the juices in the bag into the marmalade liquid, until there is none left in the bag….
  • Discard the bag and its contents.
  • Measure the liquid you have (including peel).
  • At this point I had exactly 2 litres ….miraculously.
  • The reason I say miraculously is because now is the time to add sugar.
  • I used unrefined light muscovado.
  • The standard sugar /liquid measurement is: to use 500gm. of sugar to 500ml. of liquid.
  • Many use 450gms. of sugar to 500ml. liquid.
  • I prefer to reduce it a little more, because I love a bitter marmalade, and so I used 425gms. of sugar to 500ml. liquid.
  • As you can now tell, a little maths is required.  Which is why having exactly 2 litres of liquid is so useful.
  • So I added 425gms. x 4 of sugar. (There are 4 x 500ml. in 2 litres juice…)  So I needed 1700 gms. sugar.
  • Work out how much sugar you need.
  • Add the right amount of sugar to the marmalade juice, with the pan off the heat.  Stir in until combined.
  • Before we go any further, wash and sterilise your jars. (8-10 depending on size of course…).
  • I washed them thoroughly in very hot clean soapy water, rinsed them, and then placed them sideways on a clean baking tray in a pre-heated oven: Gas Mk2/ 150C.
  • The jars can stay in the oven until the marmalade is ready to transfer.  Hot marmalade must be transferred into hot jars, or they may crack, which would be a disaster….

Back to the marmalade….

  • Having discarded the pith and pip bag and removed the colander:
  • Put the maslin pan on a very low heat, and stir regularly until the sugar crystals have completely dissolved.
  • (If you have a jam thermometer, please feel free to use it, I have one, and I use it, but I trust the wrinkle test more….)
  • Once the sugar has dissolved, raise the heat, and allow the marmalade to come to a rolling boil.
  • Place three or four small clean plates in the refrigerator to use for the wrinkle test when the time comes…. ( more on this shortly….)
  • Let the marmalade boil vigorously for 15 mins.
  • If a foam forms, skim it gently off the surface and discard.

Wrinkle test:

  • After 15 mins, remove one of the small cold plates from the refrigerator  and with spoon, drop a few drops of the marmalade juice onto the plate.  *Switch off the heat under the marmalade while you do this.*
  • Return the plate to the fridge for a few minutes.
  • Then remove from the fridge and slide you finger through the drop.  If a wrinkle forms, then setting point has been reached.
  • If not, resume heating the marmalade.  Do a wrinkle test every minute or two.
  • Always switch off the heat while you do it, as it can go over very quickly and the marmalade will be too stiff.  Not nice.
  • I like a very soft set.
  • When you spot the first little wrinkles, celebrate 🙂  – and remove the marmalade from the heat.
  • Allow to cool for 15 mins. as this will stop the peel rising to the top when you transfer the marmalade to jars.
  • Sterilise a ladle, a heat-proof jug and a couple of dessert spoons in boiling water.
  • When the marmalade has rested for 15 mins. remove the jars from the oven and place them on a heat proof mat.
  • Ladle the marmalade into a sterilised jug and pour carefully into the jars leaving 1 cm. at the top.
  • There is bound to be a jar only half full…this will be the first one to be eaten…
  • Cover the surface of the hot marmalade with a waxed disc (wax side down) and then put the lid on the jar and tighten. Label and date.
  • Repeat with each jar of marmalade.

P.S. Don’t tell anyone you’ve made marmalade as they will want a jar…. 🙂

Like chutneys, marmalade will mellow in flavour over a few weeks …if you can wait that long.  I tend to open one jar almost immediately, and then leave the rest for a while.

Refrigerate once opened.

This marmalade will keep in a cool dark dry store cupboard for a year or so.

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Enjoy.

On toast.

With coffee.

Or tea.

May the art of making marmalade live on.

Peace.

.

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