Tag Archives: preserving

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.


Marmalade Rescue

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, marmalade will not behave, and will be there, the next morning, sloshing around in its jars, like syrupy orange juice. All your boiling and squeezing, not to mention that sordid business with the chilled saucers, was for nought.

All is not lost. Here is the distillation of conversations with wise mothers, a gentleman whose marmalade regularly wins prizes, and desperate searches on Google.

To get a proper set, you need the following conditions:

  • pectin – Seville oranges are loaded with it, but you can’t tell how much – according to Sally Wise the levels drop as the oranges ripen and the longer they’re left on the shelf
  • acid – don’t forget the lemon juice – Dan Lepard recommends 50mL per 500g original weight of oranges
  • temperature – the liquid needs to hit 105°C
  • liquid – the pectin can gel only so much liquid – Dan Lepard recommends double the original weight of the oranges

Here’s what I do to rescue:

  1. buy some pectin from the supermarket – it comes powdered, in sachets
  2. decant the jars back into the pot (this is particularly humiliating, especially if you triumphantly labelled it)
  3. add the juice of another lemon
  4. stir in the pectin powder (easier said than done as it clumps and you may need to thrash the mix with a whisk)
  5. bring to the boil and either test for a set in the traditional manner, or use a thermometer to ensure it hits 105°C

There’s a good argument to just keep your sloppy marmalade: boiling it again means you lose more of that orange flavour, and you risk ending up with something that’s perfectly set, but doesn’t really taste of very much at all. The sloppy stuff may run off your toast, but is excellent in puddings, cakes, muffins, and as topping for crepes.

Mouldy Quinces

Oops. I’d forgotten about the six quinces on top of the cupboard, and they were looking a bit iffy.

Not to worry. Quinces are such vicious rock hard bastards, that they can be salvaged, and preserved for another day. After peeling and coring it turns out only one is properly rotten, and there’s about 700g of salvageable flesh.

Cut up into one inch pieces, the flesh is thrown into the stockpot, with 700mL water, and 100g of caster sugar. Doesn’t look very appealing, but brought to the boil, stirring to make sure the sugar has dissolved, and reduced to a simmer for an hour.

After an hour the pieces are soft, and slightly translucent. The flat smells wonderful.

Now, I reckon I’m going to use this stuff in about a week from now, so I wasn’t particularly stringent with the sterilisation; just swished the contents of a freshly boiled kettle around the Kilner jar, and that was it. The fruit gets put into the jar with a slotted spoon, and the jar gets a good shake so the contents are packed down.

I added another 150g of sugar to the remaining 300mL of liquid and brought to the boil. Although quinces are packed with pectin, there’s not enough in this stuff to make actual jelly, so it’s really just syrup I want. So that gets poured over the fruit and the jar is sealed.

Now awaiting its fate.

(If the quinces were less mouldy, I could have kept the skins and cores, and boiled them up, at which point there would certainly have been enough pectin in the liquid to set into jelly. But not this time.)

Marmalade IV

Much better this time. The oranges peeled first, and the peel shredded before plonking in pot, as per this procedure.

This time, however, the innards of the oranges were popped into a jug, water added to cover, and then blitzed into a rough pulp with a hand blender, which is one of my favourite kitchen gadgets. (I’d be less fond of it with children on the premises as there are no safety features whatsoever.)

Thence into the muslin, which had been damped first, so it could be tied into a ruthlessly tight knot. Note that it’s worth shopping around for your muslin: the Middle Class Retailer near my office sells a single 46cm square for five quid, whilst Nisbet’s sells a 1m × 10m piece for twenty pounds. That’s £20 and £2 per square metre, respectively. (Lakeland worked out at £6/m2 but it comes in 12″ squares, so hardly useful. They are, however, just about the only place that will sell you non posh jam jars.)

The finely shredded peel took only an hour to cook – crucial that it reaches the stage where it can easily be crushed by light pressure between your fingers.

The bag of innards was hoisted out, and popped into a jug with some cold water to cool it down. With the knot being firm I was able to simply hold it by the knot, and twist the bag, to get all the gooey slimey pectin out, which obligingly stuck to my hands, but could be washed off in the aforementioned jug. When I’d finished, the squeezed bag was barely bigger than a single one of the oranges I’d started with. Contents of jug then added for the second stage.

As usual for me, 1.5kg of caster sugar (to an original 1 kilo of Seville oranges) and the whole lot topped up to 3 litres. The usual boiling and waiting for “a set” followed.

Cooled for 15 mins and stirred so the peel would be more evenly distributed when finally popped into jars.

And now, having become almost as obsessive about marmalade as I once was about pastéis de nata, I shall sign off, biding you all a rousing Fat Tuesday, and a suitably mournful Lent.

Marmalade III

I’m slightly miffed as the season’s first batch of marmalade has failed to set, and is sloshing around those oh-so-carefully sterilised jars, as neither liquid nor something you could get out of the jar with a knife.

Why did it fail? A couple of reasons. It was done with the “whole orange method”, which seems superficially reasonable, except you can’t tell when the peel is properly cooked, and it wasn’t. Also, the squishy peel is much harder to shred. On top of that, I really didn’t cook the bag of pips and pith for sufficiently long, so there simply wasn’t enough pectin on hand.

However, it’s very tasty, and can still be used for cooking: in between the layers in bread and butter pudding, filling pancakes, or maybe one of these.

Once more unto the breach.

Vodka Cherries

Remember the leftover cherries from the clafoutis? Six months in a jar with cheap vodka has transformed them into terribly decadent party snacks. Four out of five punters loved ’em, but the other 20% said they were disgusting.

I used around 400g of stoned cherries, 25g flaked almonds, and 4 tablespoons of caster sugar, plus enough vodka to cover. Needs at least a week, but can probably keep indefinitely.

Serve chilled, with the almond flakes. People like to nibble them.


Most of the time, I use this space on WordPress to keep notes, which can later be used to jog my memory, or at least accurately populate a shopping list. And then sometimes, it seems to encourage me to do foolish things that take time and make mess. This is one of those foolish things, but as foolish things go, it’s damned tasty.

You will need a copy of Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, for therein are many wonderful things, including this. The quinces came from The Creaky Shed. They were very furry (a polite way of saying a bit mouldy) so needed a good wash and scrub.

They need to be hacked up, and this requires a certain amount of caution as they are hard and slippery. In the end a large serrated bread knife seemed to do the trick. You can see how rapidly they discoloured.

Icky bits discarded, and thence into the pot.

They need to be brought to the boil, and simmered until soft. This may take an hour. It may take three. So far so good. This isn’t too hard, you think. This isn’t too messy or demanding, you think. Now, you’ve got to push those stewed quinces through a sieve. This is a lot of work, and the results look like baby food, or possibly something else baby related.

In the end, 1.5 kilos of quinces, minus icky bits, yielded 864 grams of pulp. Back into the pot with an equal weight of sugar.

And feel slightly scared as it starts to resemble lava. Regular stirring to avoid burning on the bottom. If you need to destroy The One Ring, now is your chance.

Finally, heave it into a dish, lined with baking paper.

After an overnight stay in the oven at 50°C (central heating turned off) it comes out darker.

And then finally sliced up, with the baking paper left on the underneath. Mrs Grigson reckons it ought to keep six months in an airtight container, but somehow I don’t think it will survive to the other side of Christmas.

Onions in Vinegar

Nigel Slater very usefully points out that if you soak onions in vinegar and salt before putting them in a salad, they become mellow.

Even better, if you don’t need to use the whole onion in a salad for two, you can leave the remains in the vinegar, in the fridge, and it will keep for at least a week.

And it will become tastier and tastier and tastier.

Red onions, red wine vinegar and a tiny sprinkle of sea salt.

I wonder if I make a whole jar, with some molasses and mustard seeds as well?

Onion Marmalade

It’s fashionable to refer to this stuff as “onion marmalade” or “onion jam”. “Relish”, “chutney”, or “goop” might be closer. This is great for serving with pâté, cheese or sausages.

In a decent sized frypan, melt 25g butter, and add 1 tbsp mustard seeds. You can also add a pinch of chilli flakes, and/or a whole clove of garlic, peeled and squished but not chopped, which you remove after five mins. Fry gently for about a minute, and then add 500g brown onions, peeled, halved and sliced, well, not finely, but not roughly either. Red onions are good for this as well. Oh, and a pinch of salt.

Fry on a medium heat, moving the onion around until it’s soft and starting to colour. This will take around five minutes. Easier to manipulate the onion with a pair of barbecue tongs.

Once that’s done, add 75mL water and 50g muscovado sugar. This will start boiling almost immediately – reduce the heat so it’s gently burbling to itself, and cover. Leave for 20 mins, stirring occasionally. Be vigilant – if all the water evaporates the sugar will burn.

Now, add 150ml red wine, and 75ml wine or cider vinegar. Bring this  back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. It’ll probably take twenty minutes for the liquid to reduce by half. To test whether it’s done, stick a wooden spoon or spatula into the pan, and drag it along the bottom, to create a trench. Does the liquid immediately rush in to fill the gap? Not done. Does the liquid hesitate slightly, before rushing in? Better. Is the liquid a little reluctant? Done!

Pop this into a clean jar, seal, and leave in the cupboard for about 24 hours before serving. This gives it chance to mellow and mature, as it doesn’t taste very nice the second it has been made. If your jar has been vigorously sterilised, as per jam making, then it will keep for months.

Marmalade II

Found a kilo of Seville oranges in the freezer which I’d forgotten about so made the final batch of marmalade for the season. Did it slightly differently, with the end result being softer, paler, cloudier, and much more orange flavoured.

Oranges were washed and put whole into 2 litres of water, brought to the boil, and simmered for two hours, and then left to cool. Oranges fished out (water retained of course!) and sliced in half. The insides had detached from the peel, and shrivelled slightly, so were easily detached with a metal spoon and tossed into a bowl lined with a two foot square of muslin. The peel was then easily shredded.

The pot, meanwhile, was heated up again, and 1.5kg white sugar dissolved, and the whole lot topped up to 3 litres. Shredded peel returned to pot, along with the juice of two lemons. The muslin was tied into a bag and added as well, after a vigorous squeeze to get all that lovely slimey pectin into the pot.

Once boiling, it took about fifteen minutes to get a set, and yielded 2.5 litres of finished product.