How to Make Marmalade for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

January 3, 2017(updated on January 10, 2019)

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 often use Local Harvest to find 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).


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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30 thoughts on "How to Make Marmalade for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge"

  • I’ve been marmalading lately. Last weekend was orange marmalade, and this coming weekend is going to be kumquat. So this post was just was I was thinking.

  • I don’t have a problem with marmalade not setting — quite the opposite, it usually gets too hard. Am I just cooking it too long? I tried monitoring the temperature and it never reached the 220 F mark but still set up very hard. Orange marmalade seems to be the most challenging for me — I’ve tried a lemon squash marmalade and ginger lime marmalade with more spreadable results.

    1. Just tonight I used the SWEET ORANGE MARMALADE recipe from the book, Marmalade by Elizabeth fields and had the same problem as Faith noted (never getting to the 220 and then coming out thick like tar). Also, it seemed way too sweet. The only thing different I did in the recipe is use cara cara oranges, and a meyer lemon. Thank you for any insight you may have. I have had this problem before too with other marmalade recipes.

      1. If your marmalade is coming out thick like tar, it probably is getting to 220 degrees and your thermometer is to blame for not giving you an accurate reading. In this case, try using other methods to determine set. I’m working on a blog post, detailing the pitfalls that you might run into when you make marmalade.

        1. Thanks – I ditched the thermometer with the ginger lime and just did the plate test, starting much earlier than I thought it would be ready – it came out very nice, so I probably am cooking the orange way too long. Ok out to the store to pick up oranges for another go this weekend.

  • I have already made my signature 3 Lemon marmalade, (Yuzu, Meyer and Lisbon) as I have trees in 5 gallon pots in my yard. I just bought some limequats and picked some Meyers from my backyard. I’m going to adapt another recipe from The Blue Chair cook book as I’ve had much luck with this in the past. I’m so happy to have happened upon this challenge and I can’t wait to see what amazing things we all make!

  • I have been obsessively researching all types of marmelade for this challenge. I really, really want to find some kumquats for my first try! Here’s to hoping they can be found in my urban jungle. Thanks for this fun, motivating challenge!

      1. I’m in Melbourne, Australia, and we have a 37 C (99 F) degree today, but I got up early and made kumquat marmalade.

        I found your great site (thanks so much Marisa and everyone) because I noticed some bubbles after I sealed the jars. I’m no longer concerned about that.

        These are very late season kumquats – the last on the tree. The are grown using organic methods in a community garden I belong to, so I hate to waste them. And it is pretty special marmalade. The sweetness is in the skin, and bitterness is in the juice, so you can control the bitter/sweet ratio using that principle as well as the amount of sugar you use.

        I use the ratio of one kilogram prepared fruit to three-quarters of a kilogram sugar. I don’t use water. It sets very easily and rapidly – need to check at about 15-18 minutes. It is thick marmalade – sits in a teaspoon nicely – but not so thick that you can’t easily spread. I quickly cold plate test it as soon a I feel it start to thicken in the pot and hot-bottle it.

        After washing the fruit, I halve them and roughly cut out their centre pith (most of the seeds) over a strainer in a bowl. I also squeeze them of juice over the strainer (and more seeds) and then finely slice them. When I’ve done all the kumquats, I push through whatever is in the fine strainer. The resultant liquid I then add to the sliced kumquats and that gives me the weight I work with to determine the sugar amount. I fish out of the strainer the larger seeds and tie them in a muslin cloth and add that once I start cooking.

        I like to prepare and cook the fruit the day I pick it. The essential oils in citrus fruits are volatile, and I want to keep as much of the ‘zestiness’ as I can. Sometime I do the prep at a leisurely pace the day before, add the sugar and let it sit covered in the fridge overnight. If I do it in advance, I let he pips sit in a small bowl of the juice before putting in muslin bag ready for cooking, and tipping the remaining pectin-rich juice into the marmalade pot.

        I hope you find some kumquats Sheila.

    1. Unfortunately, sweetening marmalades entirely with honey doesn’t work well. You need the sugar to help create the set.

  • I got a *little* extra cash as a gift this year, so I’m hoping to invest in a jam/preserving pan! Perfect timing with the challenge! At first, I assumed copper, but after some research it looks like a stainless steel Maslin pan will be the way to go since lots of things I do are acidic. Would you agree? Do you have recommendations? The two I’ve seen are Lee Valley and Demeyere. They look generally similar, but are pretty different in price ($89 v. $189 (although I’d have a 20% coupon on the latter)).

    Thoughts? Anyone?

      1. I’m getting this pan from Amazon (amazon smile, actually)

        It’s granite ware and cost 30 bucks. I looked into copper as well, and decided against it. I’m going to take a look at the really expensive ones that you’ve mentioned, and the one at Williams Sonoma, but I think I’ll opt for the granite ware one. 16 quarts, nice and wide, and the right price for my budget.

  • I don’t do Facebook so I won’t be able to see it.

    My Mother expressed an interest in orange marmalade. I’ll see how many oranges they have left, if any. They have trees.

    I want to do something with cardmom. And maybe some booze added.

  • Marisa,

    Oh your marmalade is so beautiful. Mine always turns out too bitter. Although I’ve never bought any so I don’t know what its supposed to taste like. Ha!


    1. Marmalade is typically pretty bitter. I’d suggest you start with a batch of cut rind marmalade, as it tends to be a bit letter bitter than versions using the whole fruit.

  • Fail safe method to set marmalade: After cooking down the fruit, I let it cool and stand overnight. Cook again. If it’s not setting, strain the peel and pulp out from the liquid, set aside, and cook down the liquid, hard. Let it cool and see if it sets. Cook down again if need be. Add back in the peel and pulp, heat it up, proceed with filling jars etc. I don’t use a thermometer at all — frozen plate or eyeball it. I have no problems with setting.

    I don’t do any overnite soaks before cooking, as some recipes state — I prep my fruit, add sugar and any spices (candied ginger is my fave), cook it, then cool etc as described above. I started making marmalade and other preserves/jams this way because I usually have to do my preserving in the evenings. Sometimes I have to stick it in the freezer and come back to it a few days or weeks later. No problems with set, flavor, etc.

    BTW I got a chinois for xmas and it is the *best* preserving tool I have — perfect for straining preserves. (Great for making stock, too) Recommend it highly.

  • Hi Marisa, I was hoping to use the cut rind method for my marmalade. Do I still use the same ratio of 1:1:1. Your 3 citrus recipe seems to have a different ratio. I’m using Seville oranges. – thanks

    1. The cut rind marmalade doesn’t work with that ratio, because you are omitted a portion of the fruit. I’d suggest you adapt the 3 citrus recipe.

  • I’ve made kumquat marmalade and it hasn’t set. I cut the kumquats in half and scoop out the centers. they are boiled with 2 cups of water & 2 peeled lemons for 45 minutes. Next I cut the skins (rinds) in strips and cover with water and boil for 1 minute drain and set aside. I save this liquid for other uses. The lemon and pulp mixture is pressed thru a ricer and the resulting 4 1/2 cups is mixed with 3 1/4 cups sugar and kumquat rinds and boiled for 1 minute. Off heat a 3oz. pkg of liquid pectin is added. What would you say is causing the marmalade not to set. Thanks Kathie:)

    1. You didn’t cook it long enough to elevate the temperature of the sugar to the set point. It needs to reach at least 220F to set.

  • Thanks, this is great. I’ve just made my first batch of mandarin marmalade and it’s looking a little slushy but also disappointingly brown and opaque – I think it got a bit burnt as I was having trouble getting it to set (I had to run out to buy some pectin towards the end) the saucepan is black at the bottom but it tastes fine – I guess I will have to rename it “mandarin chutney” or ‘caramelised mandarin jam’!