Tag Archives | marmalade

Canning 101: How to Use a Thermometer to Achieve Set

three thermometers

We are currently smack dab in the middle of marmalade season. Though citrus is available all year round, it is both at its peak and most affordable during January, February, and March. Because of this, I’ve been getting a number of questions about marmalade making, in particular, the art of using a thermometer to determine when a batch of marmalade has reached its set point.

The reason this comes up more during marmalade season than other times of the year is that citrus is naturally high in pectin and so many marmalades can be made without the addition of any commercial pectin. The trick then becomes cooking the fruit and sugar combination to around 220 or 221 degrees F, which is known as sugar’s gel point.

When the sugar reaches that gel point, it undergoes a physical transformation and thickens. That increased thickness gives it the ability to bond with the natural pectin in the citrus and create a thick, spreadable marmalade.

thermometer probes

The issue that people are having is that they are finding a mismatch between the temperature that their thermometer is displaying and the consistency of the cooking marmalade. Typically, the marmalade appears far more cooked than the temperature on the thermometer read-out would indicate. The result is a burnt, overset preserve that is deeply frustrating, given how much work is involved in prepping a batch of marm.

There are two reasons that this can occur. One is that the thermometer is giving a faulty reading. The way you can test to determine whether your thermometer is reading accurately is to bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Once it starts rolling, insert the thermometer into the water. If you’re at sea level, it should read 212 degrees F. If you’re at higher elevations, that rolling boil will be achieved at lower temperatures. If the reading is wildly different from that which your elevation would indicate, get yourself a new thermometer.

thermometer probes with notes

The other reason that your thermometer might not be reading accurately is that is may not be be sufficiently covered with the cooking preserve. Every thermometer has a mark indicating how much the probe must be submerged in order to give a true reading. As you can see in the picture above, the three thermometers in my kitchen all need to be submerged to different depths in order to perform accurately.

If you’re making a small batch of marmalade, you sometimes run into a situation where there’s just not enough volume in the pot to fully submerge a traditional candy or deep frying thermometer (I often run into that problem with the left and center thermometers). In my case, I deal with that situation by using the Thermapen on the right or by using other methods to check my set.

Try the plate/saucer test or if it’s a truly small batch, use your eyes and ears. As it reaches the set point, marmalade will simmer more vigorously. As you stir, watch to see if it is leaving an open space for a moment after you pull your spoon through. That’s a sign of thickening as well.

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Canning 101: Tips For Making Good Marmalade

just part of my recent marmalade project

When I first started this blog, I was something of a marmalade novice. I dove into my first couple batches blindly and without doing much research. As a result, those initially attempts were pretty lousy – chewy, seriously lacking in any kind of unifying jelly and unnecessarily bitter. Not knowing any better, I wrote them up here and led a few dozen of you into marmalade disappointment.

Since then, four years have passed and I have at least three dozen batches of marmalade under my belt (boggles the mind a little, doesn’t it?). Since we’re still in the midst of citrus season, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned over the last few winters.

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).

blood oranges

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).

Style, Taste, and Texture

Once you’ve got your fruit in hand, you have to determine the style of marmalade you want to make. As far as I see it, there are three choices.

Whole Fruit – As you may have guessed, this method uses the whole darn piece of 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 (overnight, typically). 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 can be a plus. If you shy away from things like coffee, black tea, unsweetened chocolate, and dark beer, this style is not for you.

soaking blood oranges

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.

Citrus Jam – Okay, so this isn’t actually a marmalade at all because a citrus jam omits the zest of the fruit all together. Instead, you cut away the rind, section out the flesh and cook it down with sugar the way you’d do any other jam.

I wanted to mention it here because it can be a good solution when you’re confronted with citrus that has been sprayed during the growing process or if the flavor and texture of rind is more than you can handle. I wrote a recipe for grapefruit jam last year, but truly, the same technique could be applied to just about any variety of citrus (if you’re working with sweet oranges or mandarins, I’d recommend adding the flesh of one lemon for balance).

finished marm

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.

seeds and membranes

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 recently). 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).

Marmalade cover

For more information on homemade marmalade, I highly recommend Elizabeth Field’s lovely book, Marmalade (I wrote about it back in the fall). It’s an awesome resource and one I’ve really appreciated having in my kitchen. I’ve recently tried both her variations on Seville orange marmalade and will be sharing my thoughts on them soon!

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Beautiful Cookbooks: Marmalade

Marmalade cover

Last fall, when I was still trying to pick myself up from the blow of being laid off from my job, I got a email from my editor at Running Press. She was working on a marmalade project and wanted to know if I’d be interested in making a sampling of recipes from book for the photo shoot. My need for work, coupled with the fact that I was very much excited to see a world of new-to-me marmalades, meant that I said yes within moments of receiving her note.

before you start

In early January, I spent about two weeks digging deep into the world of marmalades. I simmered, sliced, grated, and jarred up 12 recipes from the book. I went crazy trying to find yuzu, passionfruit, and Seville oranges in Philadelphia. Without question, I got far more than my daily recommended dose of vitamin C during that period.

blood orange marmalade

Now, many months later, Marmalade is here and it is gorgeous. Written by food writer and marmalade obsessive Elizabeth Field and photographed by award winning food blogger and photographer Helene Dujardin, this book is a pleasure to hold and use. It contains a variety of marmalades (sweet, savory, citrus, and beyond), as well meals that can incorporate these spreads and baked goods that can serve as vehicle for them.

quince paste

Of course, I get particular pleasure flipping through this book, because nearly every preserve and spread pictured is something I made in my own kitchen. It’s ridiculously satisfying to look at the photos and recall the flavors and aromas of each recipe.

I’m also happy to have this volume in my hands, because while I made a dozen of the recipes it contains, I didn’t actually get to keep any of them. I’m very much looking forward to revisit the Tangerine and Vanilla Marmalade, as well as the “In the Pink” variety made from ruby red grapefruit.

red onion marmalade

Recently, I queried my Twitter followers, asking what they were looking for in a preserving book. An internet acquaintance of mine said that she was looking for something that would allow her to push her preserving skills and move beyond the basic “Canning 101″ recipes that are so readily found. Happily (at least, if she likes marmalade), this is a book that might serve her well. While it’s plenty accessible for new canners, there’s also plenty here that will satisfy those looking to broaden their canning.

dragon fruit variations

I’m afraid that I’m responsible for this variation on the Passionfruit Marmalade recipe in this book. When I tested these recipes, I marched up and down the length and breadth of Philadelphia, trying to find passionfruit. I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to source in January.

Instead of admitting defeat, I created a version that used dragon fruit, in the hopes that it might trick the camera. It didn’t, but instead of tossing that batch, the powers that be decided to add a variation to the book, in order to make the photo work. I was greatly relieved that my efforts weren’t wasted. It’s also fun to see the small impact I had on this delightful book.

Thanks to Running Press and my editor Kristen, I have a copy of this sweet little book to give away. Here’s how to enter.

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share some tidbit about marmalade in your life. Do you like it? Hate it? Have you made it? Constantly on the search for Seville oranges? Whatever your story, I want to read it.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, November 10, 2012. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog over the weekend.
  3. Giveaway open to all.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post. I do not accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Running Press gave me two copies of this book, one to review and one to give away. Despite this, my opinions remain entirely my own. 

Marmalades From the Archives

just part of my recent marmalade project

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working flat out on a project for my publisher. Sometime next year, they’re going to be releasing a book dedicated to marmalades and so I’ve been testing a dozen of the recipes and making them look pretty for the upcoming photo shoot.

This means that I’ve been up to my elbows in citrus and yet don’t have a single thing to share with you folks. So let’s take a look at some of the marms I’ve posted in the past.

Small Batch Kumquat Marmalade. Yes, I realize I just posted this one last week. I didn’t want it to feel left out.

Cranberry Marmalade. Though the cranberry-based holidays are over, if you love tart and tangy spreads, this one is for you.

Three-Citrus Marmalade. This recipe represents the technique I use for the bulk of my marmalades these days. It yields deep but not too bitter preserve.

Honey Lemon Marmalade. I love the flavor that this recipe yields, though I think that if I were to make this one again, I’d double the water and let it cook a little longer, so that the lemon gets a chance to soften more.

There are two other marmalade recipes deep in the archives of this site, but honestly, they were made in my very beginning marmalade days and I’ve discovered that those recipes just don’t work as well as the ones above.

What’s your favorite marmalade recipe?

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