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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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