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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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How to Make Small Batch Marmalade

Are you participating in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge? This small batch marmalade recipe is just the thing to get you started!

small batch marmalade yields just four half pints - Food in Jars

Okay folks. Let’s walk through how to make a batch of marmalade. I’m using a small batch as an example for this post, because marmalade is an energy-intensive preserve and so making a relatively petite batch makes it feel a little less overwhelming.

one pound Seville oranges for small batch marmalade - Food in Jars

Whether you’re making a small batch or a large one, marmalade making uses a ratio of 1:1:1. The easiest way to calculate that and ensure that the ingredients stay in consistent relationship to one another is measure by weight. In this batch, I used 1 pound of Seville oranges (about 2 1/2 oranges), 1 pound of sugar (2 cups), and 1 pound of the orange cooking water (also known as 2 cups).

simmered Seville oranges for small batch marmalade - Food in Jars

Place the fruit in a saucepan with a lid and add water. Use more than you’ll need to account for evaporation. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until the oranges are completely tender and collapse in on themselves (this typically takes between 45-55 minutes).

Turn off the heat and let the oranges cool completely.

tender orange insides for small batch marmalade - Food in Jars

Once the oranges are cool enough to handle, remove them from the pot (remembering to save the cooking water). Position a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. Cut an orange in half. Hold one half over the sieve and use a spoon to scoop out the interior of the orange into the sieve. Search the pulp in the sieve for any seeds.

Once you’re sure it is seed-free, put the pulp into the bowl with the juices. Repeat this with all the orange halves.

sliced Seville oranges for small batch marmalade - Food in Jars

Once all the pulp is in the bowl, it’s time to slice the rinds. Cut each rind half into 4 wedges and then cut those wedges into thin strips. You can cut them as thinly or thickly as you desire. Once all the rind wedges have been sliced, you can either add them to the bowl with the pulp or send them on to the pot in which you will cook the marmalade.

simmering small batch marmalade - Food in Jars

Combine the reserved cooking water with the orange rind slices, orange pulp, and sugar in a saucepan. You’ll notice that I changed saucepans halfway through the making of this batch. I did this because I realized that I was not going to have enough volume in the wider pot to give me a true reading on an instant read thermometer (there’s more detail on using a thermometer to achieve set in this post).

small batch marmalade in jars - Food in Jars

The reason marmalade sets up so well is that the sugar elevates in temperature as you boil the contents of the pot. As it elevates, the sugar begins to thicken and it creates a bond with the natural pectins in the fruit. The fact that oranges also contain a goodly amount of acid also helps with the set.

finished small batch marmalade close - Food in Jars

Once you’ve determined that your marmalade is finished, funnel it into clean, hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (don’t know how to do the boiling water bath process? Read this post). When the time is up, remove the jars from the canner and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool.

When the jars have cooled enough that you can comfortable handle them, check the seals (more details on checking seals here). Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.

I hope this post helps you feel a little more comfortable with the process of making marmalade. Oh, and one last thing. If you’re struggling to find Seville oranges, using a combination of juicing oranges and lemons creates a similar flavor profile.

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How to Make Marmalade for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

Tips, tricks, insights, and resources that should help show you how to make marmalade for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge.

Welcome to everyone who has signed up to participate in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge! For this first month, we’re going to focus in on marmalade and how to make it.

First, let’s define our terms. The word marmalade can stretch to mean a whole number of jams, reductions, and sauces, but for our purposes, I’m going to use the word marmalade to mean a sweetened citrus preserve that consists of bits of peel, suspended in jelly. It uses the entire fruit (or, at least, darned near all of it). You can include other fruit in your marmalade, but citrus should make up at least half of the total volume of fruit in your finished batch.

As you choose the marmalade recipe you’re going to make for this challenge, pick something that you and your household will enjoy. I am not prescribing a single recipe or approach for this challenge and instead am charging you to pick something you like (or at least, you think you might enjoy).

Choosing Your Fruit

Any time you use the exterior of a lemon, orange or grapefruit, your best choice is unsprayed fruit. For those of you who live down south, this may mean begging or trading for a friend or neighbor’s backyard fruit. For those of us up north, more often, this means buying through a reputable orchardist who grows using organic practices. Some grocery stores have gotten wise and stock organic specialty citrus this time of year. Buy from them, if you can.

If you have the privilege of hand-picking the citrus you’re using to make marmalade, choose fruit that feels heavy for its size and that seems fairly unmarred (not always possible with homegrown fruit, but small bumps and scrapes can always be cut away during prep).

Another option is ordering by mail. I adore Karen Morss and her Lemon Ladies Orchard for Meyer lemons and often buy bitter Seville oranges through The Orange Shop.

Once you’ve got your fruit in hand, you have to determine the style of marmalade you want to make.

Style, Taste, and Texture

Whole Fruit – As you may have guessed, this method uses the whole citrus. Traditionally, it’s made with one part fruit, one part sugar, and one part water (by weight).

When tackling a whole fruit marmalade, the fruit has to be significantly softened before you add the sugar and begin the marmalade cooking process. This can be done by boiling the whole fruit (and chopping once cool), or by slicing the fruit into small pieces and then soaking for a period of time (this is a good example of that approach). In either case, you can choose whether you cut the rind into chunks, bits or slivers (this depends entirely on your texture preference).

Because this method includes the pith of the fruit, it is typically the most bitter of the all the marmalade varieties. If you like bitter flavors, this is a plus. If you shy away from things like coffee, black tea, minimally sweetened chocolate, and dark beer, this style is not for you.

Cut Rind – In this method, you slice away the outer zest for use in the marmalade, cut away the pith and then either segment or juice the inner flesh (much like what’s documented in this post). When making marmalades in this fashion, I like to cut the zest into very fine ribbons, so that they nearly melt into the jelly.

This is a good starter marmalade, because the absence of the pith means that it is less bitter than the whole fruit version. However, because citrus pith contains so much pectin, this variety can be a little more troublesome when it comes time to set, particularly if you’ve not saved and bundled up your pith in a pectin boosting bundle of seeds and membrane.

Ensuring Set

As is true with other jams and jellies, you’ll get the best and most consistent set from a small batch of marmalade (no more than three to four pounds of fruit to start with) made in a low, wide pan. In most cases, adding commercial pectin to marmalades (and citrus jams) is unnecessary. The amount of acid and pectin that is naturally in citrus should offer enough to get your preserve to gel.

When you make a whole fruit marmalade, often there’s not much extra that you need to do to extract the pectin from the fruit because the only bit you discard is the seeds (and after you’ve simmered them inside the fruit for an hour or two).

In batches of cut rind marmalade, I like to save all the seeds, pith and membrane, bundle it all up in a length of cheesecloth and leave it with the fruit through the soaking and cooking stages. If you can do so without burning your fingers, squeeze that pectin bundle well over the cooking pot before discarding it.

There are some exceptions. If you’re working with hybrid fruit like blood oranges or cara cara oranges, they are often seed-free and have very thin layers of pith. I will sometimes stash lemon seeds in my freezer and bundle them up for marmalades made with these low pectin varieties, in order to help with the set. I am also not above adding a tablespoon of powdered pectin to a batch of marmalade that seems to be struggling.

In most cases, recipes for marmalade will tell you to cook it to 220 degrees F in order to achieve set. This often works, but there are rare cases where a marmalade resists setting, even when cooked to 222F or higher (Kaela wrote about just such an experience). I find that it’s important to test for set at least two ways when making marmalade, to double check your work as it were. I always monitor the temperature and use the frozen plate test (detailed here).

Resources

There are a number of marmalade recipes in my books that would make able starting points (the Strawberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade in Preserving by the Pint is a particularly nice one). I also recommend the following books.

Marmalade: Sweet and Savory Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste by Elizabeth Field (I made a number of recipes from this book for the photo shoot and know it to be reliable and easy to work with.)

Marmalade: A Bittersweet Cookbook by Sarah Randell (This book is an import from England and truly, no one knows marmalade better than the Brits.)

The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders (Rachel is the proprietor of The Blue Chair Fruit Company and knows her way around a lemon. If you want to see how she does it, her Craftsy class is a good investment of time and resources.)

Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber by Christine Ferber (First published in English 15 years ago, this book is a fundamental volume in my library.)

Some of my favorite bloggers also have a deep backlist of marmalade recipes, ripe for the picking. I suggest checking out Local Kitchen, Hitchhiking to Heaven, Autumn Makes and Does, Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, Doris and Jilly Cook, Punk Domestics, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, Cakewalk and Linda Ziedrich.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll have a recipe up showing you how to make a small batch of whole fruit Seville orange marmalade.

Oh, and one last thing. I’ll be doing a Facebook Live video on Thursday night (January 5, 2017) from 9-10 pm Eastern Time to answer all your marmalade questions!

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Homemade Low Sugar Concord Grape Jelly

Homemade, low sugar Concord grape jelly is a fun one to have in the pantry and makes the most delicious nut butter sandwich imaginable!

Concord grapes for Concord grape jelly

I was certain that I was going to miss the Concord grape season this year. I spent most of September away from Philadelphia and while I did plenty of canning while out in Portland, I didn’t manage to get any grapes.

Concord grapes in a colander for Concord grape jelly

Now, it’s easy enough to get good quality Concord grape juice any time of year for jelly making (and I tell you how to do exactly that in my first cookbook). But I do so like to make it straight from the grapes when I can, because there’s nothing like the fragrance and flavor of fresh Concord grapes.

simmered Concord grapes for Concord grape jelly

A couple weekends ago, I spent the morning demonstrating how to make honey-sweetened jam at the Antietam Valley Farmers Market. When I was done with my demo, I made a quick circuit to pick up a few things for the week and one of the vendors had three quarts of Concord grapes left. They all came home with me.

Concord grape pulp in a food mill for Concord grape jelly

This preserve is halfway between a jelly and a jam. Instead of simply extracting the juice from the grapes, I simmer them and then push them through a food mill, so that I can get as much pulp as possible into my finished product.

Just remember. Concord grapes stain like crazy, so wear dark colors or your least favorite apron when making this. And if you have marble countertops, take care!

Concord grape jelly in Lock Eat jars

This is a lower sugar grape jelly that you often find (I used a ratio of 4 parts juice to 1 part sugar). I’ve got a similar preserve in Naturally Sweet Food in Jars that is sweetened with maple sugar, if you want to avoid the refined stuff entirely.

I like this version because the flavor of the grapes is the one that it spotlights, and there’s nothing better on piece of peanut butter toast than a smear of grapey goodness.

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Honey Sweetened Gingery Peach Butter

This naturally sweetened gingery peach butter is fragrant, flavorful, and brightly hued. It’s great stirred into yogurt or eaten directly from the jar with a spoon.

close up of gingery peach butter

A couple weeks ago, the annual box of peaches and nectarines arrived from the folks at the Washington State Fruit Commission. This is the seventh summer I’ve been part of their Canbassador program. I always enjoy the challenge of finding new and delicious ways to preserve all that goodness.

quartered peaches for gingery peach butter

This year, I’ve made four different preserves. Today, I’m sharing a recipe for Gingery Peach Butter. Tomorrow, I’ll have a batch of Peach Habanero Hot Sauce. Next week, you’ll see recipes for Nectarine Conserve and Nectarine Ketchup.

pressure cooked peaches for gingery peach butter

I’ve got a new trick to tell you for prepping peaches. For this preserve, instead of peeling them, I gave them their initial cook in a pressure cooker (an Instant Pot, to be exact). The added heat and pressure helped break the skins down. That made it possible to blend the skins into the pulp for a perfectly smooth puree.

pureed peaches for gingery peach butter

Now, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make this preserve. But in that case, you might want to peel the peaches to ensure a lush, smooth texture.

cooked gingery peach butter

Once your peaches are pureed, you add just a little bit of honey and three heaping tablespoons of grated ginger and cook it down. Wanting to retain a softer texture and brighter color, I didn’t take this one as far down as I sometimes do. That makes it’s a lighter spread, better for drizzling over pancakes and stirring into yogurt.

five pints of gingery peach butter

How have you been preserving your peaches this summer? Continue Reading →

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White Nectarine Jam with Rose Water

This simple, low sugar white nectarine jam uses a splash of rose water at the end of cooking to give it a hint of floral flavor. Try it stirred into yogurt!

White nectarine jam in jars

A couple weeks back, I got an email from one of my regular fruit dealers, asking if I might be interested in a half bushel of white nectarine seconds. Despite the fact that white nectarines need a bit of extra consideration in preserving (they’re lower in acid than their yellow counterparts), I said yes. Because they are transcendently good nectarines.

box of white nectarines

When I was in grad school and on a very tight budget, I’d go to the farmers market each week with $20 to spend on produce. If I was careful, I could get just enough to see me through the week. When these nectarines were in season, I would allocate one-quarter of my budget to spend on them. I would ration them throughout the week, so that I could have a taste of sweetness every day.

white nectarine jam beginning

So to have nearly 25 pounds of nectarines that had once been a major treat? I was all in. I’ve spent much of the last couple weeks working with these nectarines. I combined them with plums for a mixed fruit jam. I’ve pureed them down and made fruit leather with them. And I’ve also turned them into a pure white nectarine jam. This is a jam with plenty of lemon juice to make up for their lower acidity and a tiny bit of rose water, to emphasize the nectarine’s floral nature.

white nectarine jam end

As with all seconds, these needed a little careful knife work to prep for the jam. My rule of thumb when working with seconds is to cut away anything that looks particularly gross, but not to obsess too much over every single shallow bruise. Whenever I’m in doubt, I give it a good sniff. If the bruised part smells fresh and fruity, I use it. If it smells boozy and weirdly off, it gets thrown out.

white nectarine jam square image

The finished white nectarine jam retains a rosy color that I just love. This is one that I’m particularly careful about storing out of direct sunlight, so as to retain that pink hue for as long as I can.

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