Marmalade 2014

This collection of notes already contains four posts on the weighty matter of marmalade. Four conflicting posts enumerating my frustrations and joys. This year, having made three batches in a row, I think I’ve arrived at a method that is  satisfactory, and keeps the work and mess to a minimum. No muslin, and the marmalade contains everything but the pips.

Here is The New Improved Method. You will need:

  • 8 “one pound” jam jars (they’re called “one pound” but are roughly 300mL in capacity)
  • 1kg Seville oranges (round up, if they’re loose then beware of imitations dropped in by ignorant or malevolent shoppers, the real ones have thick squidgy skin)
  • 2 lemons (aiming for 100mL of juice)
  • 1.5kg caster sugar (you could go for up to 2kg, and adulterate with 50g of Muscovado)

Twist off the little buttons on the base of the oranges and give them a good wash and scrub, as the skins are good at collecting dirt, especially the bits around the buttons. Slice the oranges in half through their equators; not top to bottom. Balance a sieve on top of a large bowl and squeeze the juice of the orange halves into the bowl, so the pips land in the sieve. Most of the pips will come out, but you’ll need to tease out the remainder with a metal teaspoon.

Finely slice up the peel, picking out the remaining seeds as you go. I find the easiest way to do this is to fold each squeezed half down the middle. Slice all the way through, including the connective tissue and any remaining flesh. You don’t need to discard this as it will dissolve during cooking. Add the peel to the juice, and top up with 1.5L of water, and cover the bowl. Put the pips into a small bowl (or large teacup) and cover with water. Leave both for at least 24 hours, and 48 won’t hurt. Refrigeration not necessary.

The following day, tip the peel, juice and water into a large pot. Stainless steel and internal gradations are both good qualities for this pot. (There is a specialised utensil called a Maslin Pan, should you find this becoming an obsession.) Use a pot that can take at least six litres, as it can get frisky and you don’t want it to boil over. Safety first: this stuff is hot (hotter than boiling water) and will stick to your skin.

Grab the teacup where you’ve soaked the pips. They will have exuded most of their pectin, and the water will have turned to jelly. Upend this onto a sieve over the pot, and give it a good shake to get the jelly into the pot. A splash of water from a freshly boiled kettle will help dislodge. You can then chuck the pips away: no need for that piece of muslin. (If you’re putting on a show you can tie the pips into a square of muslin and plonk them in.)

Top the pot up with cold water to two litres, bring it to the boil, and then reduce to a very gently bubbling simmer. After an hour, fish out a piece of peel, cool under cold water, and check that it can be easily crushed between your fingers. In the unlikely event it won’t, then just keep going, checking every half an hour. It will be translucent by this stage. (Remove the muslin bag of pips if you’ve left them in.)

Add the lemon juice, and then top up with cold water to three litres.

We’re now ready for the sugar. I find that if I add it in one go, it tends to clump, so I stir and pour slowly. Stir gently, leaving the heat low, until the sugar has dissolved.

Turn up the heat as high as you dare, and get the stuff going, uncovered, at a rolling boil. You don’t want it to escape, but it can be as frisky as you like. Any stray pips will surface at this point, as may some scum. Skim both. Do not leave it unattended: perch on a stool with a cup of tea and a good book. It will need to be stirred every few minutes, to make sure it doesn’t stick on the bottom. It will froth viciously when you do this, so be prepared.

Now would be a good time to put your washed jars and lids into the oven (gas 2, 120°C) to sterilise. If you have a particularly brutal dishwasher, then make the necessary arrangements. Also, put half a dozen saucers into the freezer.

After half an hour of boiling you can start testing for “a set”. Precisely when this happens is dependent on how much pectin is in the oranges. Take a saucer out of the freezer, place a teaspoon of mixture (no peel) on it, pop it in the fridge and wait for two minutes. Take it out and run your fingernail over the surface: if the skin wrinkles, you’re ready. If not, keep repeating the test every ten minutes. A sugar thermometer will be useful, and will tell you it’s ready when it hits 105C. Also, the contents of the pot will shows signs of becoming shiny and gluey. Don’t forget to stir every so often. If it burns on the bottom you’ve got a right mess to clean up and nothing to show for your labours.

Once you have a set, turn the heat off, and leave it for 15 minutes. Then, give it a stir to distribute the peel, and maybe add a tablespoon or three of whiskey. Ladle it carefully into your hot jars. This is more easily said than done. Putting the pot in the sink, and having the jars lined up on one side is helps, and investing a few quid in a jam funnel will save an awful lot of wastage.

Finally, using a teatowel or something similar to protect your hands, put the lids on the jars. These now need to be parked somewhere at room temperature. The lids will sometimes loosen, so after an hour, gently tighten them. It should now be left undisturbed for 24 hours; do not refrigerate.

The following day, give a jar the gentlest of shakes, to see if it has set. If it’s sloshing around, see my notes on marmalade rescue. If it’s almost set, then leave it for another 48 hours and check again. Sometimes the lids loosen, so gently tighten them up again if necessary.

It can now be stored in a cool dark place for twelve months. It won’t go off after that, since there’s too much sugar, but it will certainly become less interesting. It’s never happened to me, but sometimes the sterilisation will go wrong, and it will go mouldy, so use your common sense if it looks or smells wrong.


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