January is the time of year to make marmalade. As I look outside at the cold snowy landscape what better way to embrace the short cold days of January than to spend a few hours in the kitchen make pots of glistening gold marmalade?
I inherited my preserving pan from my mum. I have vivid memories of mum making jams, marmalade and jellies in this pan. It wasn’t until I got married in 2011 that I re-discovered the pleasure of jam making. It was my mum who encouraged me in all things creative. She enrolled me in an art class and encouraged me to make things as presents. At School the one subject she insisted I took was Home Economics as she felt if I could cook a meal I was set up for life.
For my wedding Bridal-Favours I made Crab-apple Jelly in mums’ old preserving pan. I gathered the apples with my Uncle in the New Forest in the Autumn. It was my way of including mum in my wedding day.
It’s the slow process of marmalade-making which is pleasurable. It is much more economic to buy a jar from the local supermarket, but that’s not the point! The very process of marmalade making – juicing, cutting the skin into fine shreds, simmering the fruit slowly and then boiling fiercely while the whole house is filled with the rich bittersweet aroma of Seville oranges is just worth doing for the experience alone.
History of Marmalade
Marmalade is thought to have been invented in Scotland, in the port of Dundee in the late 18th century. A local victualler, James Keiller discovered a cargo of oranges being sold cheaply from a ship which was seeking harbour from a winter storm. The boat was on its way from Seville and due to the storm the oranges were already less fresh than they ought to have been. Thinking he could sell the oranges for profit in his shop, he bought the whole cargo, only to discover the oranges were bitter and therefore unsellable. His wife took the oranges home with the idea of making orange jam. The resulting “jam” was a success and became named Marmalade after Marmelos, a Portuguese word for a quince paste similar in texture to this new orange preserve. Marmalade is still produced today by the Keiller Company in Dundee.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Seville oranges have a much stronger and more sour taste than ordinary oranges and are therefore great for marmalade making as the sharp, bitter oranges conquer the sweetness of the sugar. Unlike sweet oranges, the pith of Seville oranges becomes transparent and glistening when cooked with sugar, resulting in a bright, sparkling preserve if you are lucky or skilled in the art of preserve making! The season for Seville oranges is short – they are only normally around for a few weeks in January.
1kg Seville oranges
1 unwaxed lemon
2kg Preserving Sugar
Wash the oranges and lemon thoroughly, then dry them in a clean tea towel. Pour 2 litres cold water into a large, wide pan or preserving pan. Squeeze the oranges and lemon and add the juice to the water. Reserve the pips and orange rind, but discard the squeezed lemon.
Cut the oranges in half again and, using a metal spoon, scrape the pith and pips into the centre of a large square of muslin. Tie the muslin with kitchen string to form a bag. Add to the pan and tie the ends of the string to the pan handle to make it easier to remove later.
Seville oranges have thick, rough skin so are not as beautiful as regular oranges. The flesh is tart and they are packed with seeds. Most of the pectin that sets marmalade is found in the pips and pith which is why the pips and pith are placed in a muslin bag and boiled with the marmalade. In this way as much pectin as possible is extracted which ensures a good set.
Cut the orange peel into strips – chunky for coarse cut and thinner for a fine shred. It is easier and quicker if you place 2 pieces on top of each other and slice with a sharp knife. Add to the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours, until the peel is very soft and the liquid reduced by about half. Cooking the peel until soft is important to release the pectin which helps the marmalade to set. Remove and discard the bag with the pips and pith, squeezing as much juice as possible back into the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. This was quite fun as it was all gooey. I ended getting my hands on the bag and squeezing it as much as I could. I then created quite a sticky mess all round the kitchen! Mr Smiles loved me!
Add the Preserving Sugar and stir over a low heat until it has dissolved. Preserving sugar has larger crystals which dissolve slowly. This minimises scum and hopefully results in a bright, clear marmalade.
Increase the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches setting point. This usually takes about 15 minutes but can take longer.
To test, remove the pan from the heat and spoon a little marmalade onto a chilled saucer. Allow to cool for a few seconds, then push with a finger. If the surface wrinkles it is ready. If not, boil for a further 5 minutes and test again. To be honest I forgot to chill a saucer so relied on guess work!
Leave the marmalade to settle for 20 minutes, then skim off any scum from the surface with a spoon. Apparently this part is quite important. Leaving the marmalade to stand for 20 minutes stops the peel from sinking in the finished product.
For an extra special marmalade I decided to be a bit inventive and added a good measure of Grand Marnier just before potting. Grand Marnier is made from a blend of Cognac brandy, distilled essence of bitter orange, and sugar so seemed an appropriate addition!
Stir the mixture and pour into warm, clean jars, using a jug. Place a waxed disk on top immediately. Cover when cold, then label and date.
I made two batches. The first batch is rather soft and syrupy. However I love the glistening bright translucent orange colour. It has fine peel suspended in the soft jelly. My second batch is more like darker Oxford-Style marmalade. Although this is firmer I think I over-bolied it. This one is a darker, opaque marmalade with thicker tougher chunks of peel. If you over-boil marmalade it looses the lovely tangy flavour.
So here it is my first ever marmalade ready for breakfast tomorrow:-