Cure winter’s gloomy days with sunny citrus marmalade
I fell in love with marmalade when very young. Probably because it combined two of my favorite things; oranges and English culture. That’s what happens when you are a child who reads too many stories about queens getting their heads lopped off and lovesick damsels roaming the moors. My head was filled, not with visions of sugar plums, but with thatched-roofed cottages and tea with crumpets.
If you are going to enjoy crumpets you need a bitter-sweet marmalade. Some clotted cream would be nice too.
What is Marmalade?
Marmalade is a soft spread, much like jam, jelly or other preserves. While jams are a muddle of fruit and sugar, and jellies are gelled juices, marmalade is actually shredded citrus peel floating in jelly. Sometimes additional fruits are added, but citrus peel suspended in jelly is marmalade’s backbone.
Although modern marmalade is an English concoction, its roots stretch back to ancient Greece and the honey/quince mixture that we call membrillo. In fact, the word “marmalade” comes from the Portuguese word for quince paste. You can find my recipe for Membrillo here.
Winter can be long and grey in Northern Europe, so along the way the English started importing bright Seville oranges from Spain. Seville oranges aren’t like the huge, sweet navels that we know and love here in the U.S. They are rather small, knobbly, and bitter. Undaunted, around 1790 a crafty Scotsman found a way to make those tough skins tender. Ever since, Brits have fully embraced a softer version of quince paste, or in this case, orange marmalade. In 1981 the EEC decided that all marmalades must contain some citrus.
There are two basic marmalade methods.
- Whole Fruit Marmalade: This type is basically fruit simmered in water, then shredded and cooked with sugar. This method is fairly quick and straightforward.
- Jelly Marmalade: Here the fruit is juiced and then shredded. The citrus pith and seeds are wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth and added to the cooking liquid. This increases the amount of pectin available and helps ensure a nice set. The jelly method is more time consuming, but the end result is a beautifully clear jelly with defined strips of floating peel.
There’s much more to marmalade than oranges. Think of any kind of citrus and you can make marmalade. Blood oranges? Marmalade. Meyer Lemons? Marmalade. Pink Grapefruit? Marmalade. Kumquats? Persian Limes? Tangerines? Marmalade, marmalade, marmalade.
You can find a couple of recipes on this site:
Last month Food in Jars did a Marmalade Mastery Challenge and received over 600 marmalade entries. You can find the listing here, but beware – you may get marmalade envy!
Marmalade Making Tips
- Use organic fruit if at all possible. However, if you can’t find organic citrus you can still make marmalade. Be sure to scrub the citrus to remove the waxy coating.
- Citrus peel can be cut into fairly wide pieces, shredded finely, or anything in between. It’s depends on personal preference. Do keep in mind that you will be spreading the finished marmalade on toast, etc. so may not want really thick pieces.
- Just like homemade jam, homemade marmalade will yield a softer set than purchased marmalade. I personally prefer the softer set, but if you like a harder gel, use a recipe that also calls for powdered pectin.
- Make sure that the citrus peel is soft before adding the sugar, or it will remain tough, no matter how long it is cooked.
- Softening the citrus peel in water reduces its bitterness. We use a similar technique when making candied orange peel for the same reason.
- Marmalade lends itself to all kinds of flavor additions. You can find recipes using Earl Grey Tea, or Limoncello, Ginger, Vanilla, Rose water, and even Rosemary.
- Sarah Randell, author of Marmalade, A Bittersweet Cookbook, recommends letting the cooked marmalade settle for 15 minutes before putting it into jars. This will let the peel distribute evenly and not all fall to the bottom of the jar. This step probably isn’t necessary when making whole fruit marmalade, but should be helpful with the jelly method. I have not tried this tip yet, but will with my next batch.
Have fun with your next batch of marmalade! And the one after that, and the one after that, and the one………..