Marmalade Troubleshooting

Looking to better understand why your marmalade turned out the way it did? Let’s walk through some marmalade troubleshooting!

You’ve made your first batch of marmalade for the Mastery Challenge and it didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. Perhaps it was a little runnier that you wanted it to be. Or maybe it set up so firmly that you can barely slip the knife in. Did your batch yield a whole lot less than you thought it should? Let’s talk through some of these issues.

Let’s start at the top of the list. Your marmalade is sloshy rather than spreadable. When did you make the marmalade? It can sometimes take 24-48 hours for a batch to finish setting up. If your marm is still just an hour or two out of the canner and you’re worried about the set, walk away. Stop thinking about it for a little while. Check it again tomorrow.

So. You let the jars rest for a couple days and the marmalade still totally saucy. Next question. Did you follow a recipe or ratio? Marmalade is by its nature a high sugar preserve. When you reduce the sugar or use a natural sweetener, achieving set can be harder, because there may not be enough sugar present in the preserve to elevate the temperature to the 220F set point.

Did you check for set while the marmalade was cooking? Any time a recipe gives you a cooking time, it is only a general range. During cooking, you also need to be checking for signs of set. You do this by using the frozen plate test, watching how the marmalade sheets off the spatula, paying attention to how much it has reduced, and taking the temperature as it cooks.

What kind of pot did you cook the marmalade in? Like most sweet preserves, marmalades like to be cooked in low, wide pans. High sided pans with narrow openings will trap evaporating water and make it harder for the fruit to reduce. For small batches, try your biggest frying pan rather than a saucepan.

Let’s visit the other side of the coin. Do you feel like your marmalade is too firm? If it’s more candy than spread, chances are good that you overcooked it. If you were using a thermometer to monitor the cooking temperature and you never managed to get to 220F, but it bounces like a rubber ball, the thermometer might be to blame. If you think this is your problem, read this post.

Are you disappointed with your yield? Marmalade is labor intensive, so I understand how frustrating it can be when you yield less that you’d hoped. Know first that it’s totally normal for the same recipe to shift its yield about a cup in either direction every time you make it.

To help prevent short yields in the future, make sure that you’re monitoring the set, so that you can take the pot off the heat as soon as it becomes clear that your marmalade is going to set up. The longer you cook, the more product is evaporating away. Overcooked preserves yield less, so if you are a chronic underyielder, longer cook times could be your issue.

Other things that lead to short yields are reduced sugar, overzealous trimming (if you discard a goodly amount of your fruit while preparing it for cooking, you’re whittling down your yield), shorting your measurements, and aggressive tasting.

Let me know if you’ve had other issues as you worked through this first #fijchallenge. I’d be happy to do another one of these troubleshooting posts if you’re having issues I didn’t hit on here.

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29 Responses to Marmalade Troubleshooting

  1. 1
    Mary Laiuppa says:

    My marmalade will be off to a slow start if I get there at all.

    Seems my Mom’s Valencia orange tree is bereft of fruit. The navel has some but it’s not ripe yet and they use those oranges for fresh juice each morning so I am loathe to take them.

    Looks like I’ll be hitting the organic market next Wednesday to see if they have anything suitable.

  2. 2
    Diana says:

    Ha ha! I’m chuckling at “aggressive tasting” 🙂 Great phrase!

    I used my Meyer lemons on your blood orange marmalade recipe and with the overnight soak of the slices, two batches have turned out great! Well, I assume the second one did.

    I strained a little while I was pouring it through the jars so that my husband has a little bowl of jelly, because he doesn’t like the peel. That stuff is like sunshine on a piece of toast 🙂

    Thanks for the post–I always love troubleshooting posts b/c I rarely do things right every time 😉

  3. 3
    cyndie says:

    I want to order the lemons and oranges, but how much will a 7 lb box of meyers make? and how much will a tray of sevilles make?

    • 3.1
      Marisa says:

      You should get two nice sized batches of marmalade from a seven pound box. A batch of marmalade made from three pounds of fruit should yield between nine and ten half pints. A tray of Seville oranges gives you about nine pounds to work with, and the yield should be around the same, if not a little more, than the meyer lemon version.

  4. 4
    Ani says:

    If anyone else is not down with the tremendous amount of sugar that marmalade requires, I would suggest Pomona low-sugar pectin. The set is a wee bit softer than sugar concentration, traditional pectin marmalade, but it keeps your marmalade on the tart/bitter side and allows you to cook your fruit down far less, which I prefer.

  5. 5
    Tiffany says:

    I can’t find Seville oranges is it ok to use organic juicing oranges?

  6. 6
    AnnaG says:

    Hi — I’m going to make a small batch of marmalade this weekend — not for the challenge … just for us! 🙂
    We live in the Colorado mountains at 9000 feet. Besides the usual timing adjustments that we make for altitude, do you know of any adjustments to the recipe/ratios that will need to be made?
    When I make other jams/preserves I just watch the thickness during cooking but I’ve never made marmalade before.
    Thanks!

    • 6.1
      AnnaG says:

      By timing adjustments, I mean processing it in the canner for longer. When I check thickness … it’s with the frozen plate … 🙂

      • Marisa says:

        You don’t have to make any adjustments beyond the ones you already make for processing time. As long as you’re using the plate test to check for set, you should be ok.

  7. 7
    Elizabeth says:

    I’d be curious about ways to re-purpose a marmalade that came out tasting too much like pith. I made a lime-tomatillo marmalade this summer and I believe the only thing I did wrong was add too much lime, and when I added sugar to compensate, it didn’t really improve matters 🙂

    • 7.1
      Marisa says:

      Try it as a glaze for meat. Stir it into a vinaigrette. You can use is anywhere that a sweet and savory addition would be welcome.

  8. 8

    This is a great post; I love that you’ve thought about what may go wrong before we do. I have a bunch of oranges that came as a gift; I’ve made orange-cello with. Some of them, but there are still a lot of them left in my fridge. Perhaps marmalade is the answer.

  9. 9

    My first – there will be a second – batch tasted great but did come out soft, even after 48 hours. I relied on the thermometer, skipped the frozen plate test, won’t again! But I did do one thing to follow the 1:1:1 ratio I haven’t seen detailed — my cooked fruit and peel (minus the pith which scraped off quite easily) weighed 350g so I used 350g of sugar and 350g of cooking liquid. Right? PS I love this challenge — it feels like the very early days of food blogging!

    • 9.1
      Alanna says:

      Marisa – is this the right way to use the 1:1:1 ratio? Thanks –

      • Marisa says:

        Typically, I start the ratio with whole, unprepared fruit. But if it worked for you as you did it and you’re happy with the way the marmalade turned out, then it’s fine!

  10. 10
    CW says:

    Do you have any suggestions about how to get it up to 220? Cover it? Higher Heat? I did 2 batches for the challenge, neither set which I was not too surprised by since I could not get them up to 220 and they had already cooked down quite a bit, I didn’t get the full 4 jars from either batch and didn’t want to cook them down more.

    • 10.1
      Marisa says:

      You need to take it to a rolling boil. If you’re not vigorously boiling it’s not going to get there. However, also know that temperature is not the only way to determine whether your marmalade is going to set up. Also use the plate test.

  11. 11
    Misty says:

    You inspired me to try something new and here I am ! Help!
    I hale from the PNW and was looking for some color! (lots of grey and white the last couple of months)! So I used a ruby red grapefruit, 3 blood oranges and one lemon. I used the 1:1:1 ratio and had all seeds, membranes and pith in a cheesecloth bag. I cooked for more than 45 minutes and the marmalade reduced by half. I held 220 for more than a minute.
    I have 6 jars of beautiful slosh.
    It has been 24 hours. Suggesions?

    • 11.1
      Marisa says:

      Put one of the jars in the fridge and see what that does to the texture. If it firms it up, then you should be fine. If it doesn’t, you can either open up the jars and cook it some more, or you can use it as a glaze for various things. Even runny, it will have useful applications.

  12. 12
    Barbara Munro says:

    Hi Marisa,
    I did a triple citrus using the whole fruit method. I was a bit confused when scraping out the pulp and handling the skins.
    1) When I.scraped out the pulp, the membranes came with it. Separating them from the pulp was impossible after scraping so I couldn’t put them in my pith and seed bag.
    2) The pith and rind was pretty soft so separating them.was difficult. I scraped the pith from the rinds to make my rind pieces.
    3) Before I thought to scrape the pith from the rinds I had already cut my ruby red grapefruit rinds so the pith was on them.
    With the membranes being mixed with the pulp, I decided to press it through a mesh sieve. The mix ended up tasting pretty good with a sweet start that ended with a bit of sour. Pretty good transition in taste, but my process problems bother me. Any input appreciated.
    Thanks

    • 12.1
      Marisa says:

      Barbara, the membranes should come with the pulp. In the whole fruit method, they are included in with the pulp, as they’ve cooked down and softened. You don’t use a pith or seed back with the whole fruit method in which you’ve cooked the fruit ahead of time. If you look at the whole fruit method I outlined here, you’ll notice that all I do is separate out the seeds and discard them. There’s no mention of a pith or seed bag.

  13. 13

    […] Remove jars from your canner & allow them to completely cool, untouched. If you used 2-piece lids, remove the bands and test the seal. If you used the single piece lids, check to see that the button is down.  Store them in a cool place out of direct light. Refrigerate or freeze any unsealed jars.If you’ve got nice grapefruits that are marmalade-worthy, be sure to check out the posts for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge for the month of January! It was all marmalade, all the time! I’m pretty confident that you’d find the answer to just about any marmalade question in amazing posts like this one on Marmalade Troubleshooting. […]

  14. 14
    Cyndie Bailey says:

    I’m a little late on making the marmalade, but am doing so today. I want to add amaretto to the recipe. How much should I add to ensure a flavoring? Do i need to reduce the water amount or just add at the end?

  15. 15
    Julia Nelson says:

    I was given a batch of lovely fruit (oranges and lemons) by a friend in Calif. Circumstances intervened and I was unable to get to it for marmalade but instead I prepared it by slicing and seeding. Then I froze it. I have plenty of time and sugar now but am uncertain how to proceed. Any suggestions?

  16. 16

    […] If you’re a citrus lover like I am, you’ll understand the allure of marmalade. Making marmalade is a sensory experience that should not be missed. Your kitchen will smell clean and bright and I swear all that bubbling sugar will chase any winter gloom away. I’m sharpening my preserving skills by embarking on the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. Each month the group will preserve or pickle using a different skill. I’m looking forward to trying new techniques and broadening my preserving skills. January is marmalade making. […]

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Remove jars from your canner & allow them to completely cool, untouched. If you used 2-piece lids, remove the bands and test the seal. If you used the single piece lids, check to see that the button is down.  Store them in a cool place out of direct light. Refrigerate or freeze any unsealed jars.If you’ve got nice grapefruits that are marmalade-worthy, be sure to check out the posts for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge for the month of January! It was all marmalade, all the time! I’m pretty confident that you’d find the answer to just about any marmalade question in amazing posts like this one on Marmalade Troubleshooting. […]

  2. A Modern Way to Marmalade | East of Eden Cooking - February 27, 2017

    […] If you’re a citrus lover like I am, you’ll understand the allure of marmalade. Making marmalade is a sensory experience that should not be missed. Your kitchen will smell clean and bright and I swear all that bubbling sugar will chase any winter gloom away. I’m sharpening my preserving skills by embarking on the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. Each month the group will preserve or pickle using a different skill. I’m looking forward to trying new techniques and broadening my preserving skills. January is marmalade making. […]

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