I’m wondering what possessed me to make some marmalade, other than the undeniable onset of middle age. Not really my area of expertise, so I’ve had to consult the Cookery Pantheon. Pomiane is reticent and defers to the English housewife, and Eliza Acton intriguingly calls it “Scotch” marmalade. (This will also be “scotch” marmalade, but for a different reason.)

The pot. Some people probably have jam pans. I don’t, so am just using my second largest stockpot. What you want is a wide pan, so the liquid will reduce easily, with a heavy base, so the heat is evenly distributed, and nothing burns. (The inside of mine is also discretely marked with a number and an arrow for each litre.)

Safety first, kids. You will be working with liquid that is not only hotter than boiling water, but will retain its heat and stick to your skin. Make sure the pot is reasonably deep to avoid the possibility of boiling over.

Grim warnings aside, here’s what I used to make just over two litres of finished product.

  • 1kg Seville oranges – the bitter nâranj of Persian cooking (sweet oranges don’t turn up until the 16th century, brought back from China by the Portuguese) – these are in the shops from mid Jan to early Feb – the Iranian shops at the fat west end of Kensington High St may have them later
  • 1.5kg sugar (I’m using 1.4kg of preserving sugar plus 100g Muscovado, preserving sugar should dissolve more easily and result in less scum – that’s the theory anyway) – have an extra half a kilo on standby
  • 2.5 litres water
  • 2 lemons (I used a single giant one)

Wash the fruit thoroughly – Blessed Eliza suggests rasping it but I don’t think this is necessary.

Peel the oranges, retaining the peel – easiest way is to score them from top to bottom as though you were going to cut them into four segments.

Balance a metal sieve/strainer on top of the pot and spread a square of muslin into/over it. Squeeze each orange over this, so the juices go into the pot, and the seeds get caught in the muslin. Screech when the juice squirts in your eye. Drop the grisly remains of each orange into the muslin when you’re done.

The lemon is there for the acid – so you just need its juice.

Tie the muslin into a bag, and give it a good squeeze over the pot to get the remaining juice out. You’ll notice that it oozes a bit of slime. This is pectin, and will help the stuff to set.

Whilst the pot’s coming to the boil, finely slice the orange peel, and add to the pot. Quickest way to do this is to stack the quarters of peel four deep and slice laterally. Add these, and the muslin bag to the pot.

Once the pot finally comes to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. This is a good opportunity to wash your jam jars.

(This is a rather marvellous part of the process: the kitchen, and then the house, will start to smell of Summer. Which on a cold rainy day can only be a Good Thing.)

Once the two hours are up, the peel should be translucent, and easily crushed between your thumb and forefinger, and the liquid may have reduced by half. (Obviously if the liquid is reducing too fast, top up.) At this point I have 1.5 litres, top it up if you have less. (The gradations on the inside of the pot are indispensible.)

Remove the muslin bag to a bowl. When cooled enough to handle, squeeze all the juice and goo out of this and into the pot. The two hours’ simmering will have encouraged a lot of the pectin to dissolve out of the pith and seeds, so don’t be surprised at how much comes out. If this feels like wrestling a treacherous slimy alien monster, you’re doing it right.

Turn the heat up to medium, start stirring in the sugar, and keep stirring until it has dissolved. Have a taste – careful! it’s hot! – and see what you think. If the oranges are particularly savage you may need your reserve half kilo. A fruit:sugar ratio of 1:2 is quite respectable – if you were making this using normal oranges you’d want a 1:1 ratio.

Pop some china saucers in the freezer. Also, get the oven going at about 120ºC, and put the jam jars in it to sterilise them. (Alternatively, if you have a dishwasher, do them on the hot cycle.)

Bring the pot to as murderous a boil as you can manage, occasionally skimming scum if it surfaces. After fifteen minutes, remove a teaspoon of the mix, place it on one of your chilled saucers, and return to the freezer. It should form a skin in a couple of minutes. To test, run your fingernail lightly over the top. If the skin wrinkles, you’re done. If not, keep performing the test every five minutes until it does.

Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes. Turn the oven off, but leave the jars in it.

Stir the pot to distribute the peel and then pour into the jars. Easier said than done, and I’d recommend spending a few quid on a metal jam funnel. (The marmalade will still be hot enough to melt a plastic funnel at this point.)

A wee dram? No, not you. The marmalade. I bottled half of it, and then stirred in three tablespoons (45mL) of whiskey, before the bottling the remainder. A small amount into a bowl and straight into the fridge for – ahem! – testing.

Label and enjoy.

The whiskey and muscovado sugar are optional, of course. Some people put grated ginger in the muslin bag, and others add spices. Neither sounds appealing to me, but good luck if it floats yer boat.


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