Marmalade Troubleshooting

January 13, 2017

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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64 thoughts on "Marmalade Troubleshooting"

  • 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.

  • 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 😉

  • 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?

    1. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

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

      1. 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.

  • 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

      1. 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!

  • 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.

    1. 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.

  • 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?

    1. 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.

  • 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

    1. 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • Thanks for this post! I’m making your Meyer Lemon Ginger Marmalade and as it approaches 220, it’s still pretty runny so the section about it taking time to set is super helpful.

  • I make 50 to 140 jars of four different marmalade’s every year with fresh grown limes lemons oranges and ruby grapefruit all turn out perfect and taste fantastic but some jars in each batch grow mould why only a few jars when all are stored in a cool cupboard space

  • Why does the fruit rise to the top leaving the jelly at the bottom of the jars?. This has never happened before.

    1. That happens when you haven’t cooked the marmalade long enough and the peel isn’t fully infused by the sugar.

  • I got my oranges ready and added the sugar. The recipe said to leave it overnight. Well, I forgot it, so it has been sitting for 24 hours. Is it still ok to use and finish making it into marmalade? (I didn’t cook it to 220 degrees yet).

  • My marmalade has turned out very cloudy, it’s my first time making it, it was disappointing. What did I do wrong

    1. Hmm. I’ve never had that happen before, so I’m not sure why it would have turned out cloudy. Perhaps there was too much pulp in the liquid? Did you change the amount of sugar or use a different sweetener?

    1. If you are okay with the slight caramelized flavor, then you can proceed as normal. Otherwise, try to scoop the marmalade off the top and leave the burnt portion in the pot.

  • Why did my marmalade get to 105.6 degrees C after only 3 minutes of a rolling boil but was not set. I thought 105 C was the setting point

    1. Was your thermometer touching the bottom of the pot? That could explain why the marmalade appeared to reach the set temperature so quickly. It might also be that your thermometer wasn’t functioning correctly. Because there’s no reasonable way for it to reach the set point that quickly.

  • I made a batch of calamondon marmalade and followed the recipe exactly but it became pretty thick. How can I rescue it. It has wonderful flavor.

  • Hello, today I am making a very small batch of marmalade with only one large orange. The recipe I am using uses 4 – how should I adjust the cooking times for this?

  • My batch has burnt I used a thermometer and could only get it to 220c by using the boost setting on my induction hob! Now it smell burnt and is lumpy

  • Many thanks for your information about rescuing unset marmalade. I followed your advice and now have 9 jars of successful, yummy marmalade.

  • I left the pips boiling too long and they got burnt. What do I do now to use “pectin” to thicken the marmalade?

    1. Try it without them and monitor the marmalade with a thermometer. If you stir regularly and watch the temp, you should still be able to get to the set point, even without the seeds etc.

  • Hi! I absolutely love this recipe!
    I did want to get your opinion though. I started with 5 lbs (11 navel oranges) and the only thing I did differently was use raw honey instead of sugar and only 2 cups of it. It yielded only 6 quarter pint jars. It took a little more than an hour (boiling most of the time) and then finally seemed to gel up and set nicely on the plate. I’m happy with how it turned out, but disappointed in the yield and wanted to know if there is something I could have done differently to get more out of it. Thank you!

    1. The volume of sugar is a huge part of the yield, both because of its own mass and because it helps the fruit reach the set point more quickly. The way jams and marmalades set is that as you boil, you cook the water out of the product and increase the sugar concentration. As the sugar concentration increases, the cooking temperature starts to rise. The temperature increases to around 220F, which is the point at which sugar starts to form a gel. As it gels, it bonds with the pectin in the fruit and creates the set. You took a bunch of the sugar out of the situation (honey still contains sugar) and so it had to cook much longer to reach the concentration necessary to achieve the temperature elevation necessary to achieve set. The only way you could do what you did and have a higher yield is if you employ a low methoxyl pectin like Pomona’s Pectin. It uses calcium to bond with the pectin rather than sugar.

  • Help! My lime marmalade is setting in the pan during the 15 minute resting period before bottling.
    I tried stirring it but that just breaks up the jelly and I’m left with what you would have if you stirred a set jello-lots of set lumps!
    What do you suggest?

  • Why is my lime marmalade brown and now the rind is chewy again. Also kinda bitter. I will use it up anyway but was looking for a more clear ish jelly

  • I made marmalade for the very first time made as recipe said but it is very sweet it has set well can I re boil n add water ?🤷‍♀️

    1. I would leave it alone. If you reboil it with additional water, it probably won’t continue to hold a set.

  • I’ve bottled my marmalade but when I opened it was too thick, can I take it out of the jars and thin it and re bottle it in the same jars without re re sterilising the jars.

    1. You’d need to reheat the marmalade and resterilize/reprocess everything. Otherwise you risk spoilage.

  • Thank you for all the above advice. My problem is that made lemon marmalade in August – its now tasting pretty alcoholic! Is that caused by not sterilising the jars for long enough or what .Many thanks