Orange marmalade is made with a special kind of orange, traditionally known here in Britain as "Seville Oranges": they appear on the market in late January each year and are available only for a couple of weeks. They are very different from dessert orange varieties (you would not consider eating them raw!). In any case, I would not make marmalade from any ordinary dessert citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, whatever) in GB, as the skins will likely have been treated with unspeakable chemicals to prevent them from going mouldy in our climate. If you can get guaranteed untreated fruit, on the other hand, then by all means go ahead.
The recipe given here (in Imperial measurements) was adapted from one I got from my mother (who passed away peacefully in spring of 2006, just short of her 102nd birthday), and my original script is dated 20 Jan 1968.
Seville oranges, Sugar, Water.
For every 2 lb of oranges, use 5 lb of sugar and 5 (Imperial) pints of water. (USA readers may need to know that 5 Imperial pints are pretty close to 6 US pints).
Metric equivalents would be 1 kg oranges, 2.5 kg sugar, and 3 ltr water.
A simple squeezer is handy (thing with a fluted dome onto which you press the halves of fruit, and some kind of rack or gate in it that traps the pips/seeds). A container is needed for soaking: I use a small food-grade polythene bucket. Do not use clear plastics (some of them get attacked by the fruit) nor metal bowls for this; glazed earthenware is also not advised. For dealing with the peels, I shred a proportion with a sharp knife, and mince the rest in a "Spong" mincer; there are special peel slicers available that would do a neat job, but I don't find them necessary, and they clutter up the store cupboard for the rest of the year. A boilable bag (mine is nylon, from a home brew suppliers; the original recipe said "butter muslin", which would no doubt have been to hand in any well-appointed kitchen in earlier times, but isn't so common now).
For the actual boiling, a metal pan is fine: I use an aluminium "jam kettle" (English term) = "jelly pan" (Scots). Also sometimes referred to as a "maslin pan". The best weapon for stirring is a large wooden spoon.
I added this part when I realised from emails that some readers could not quite understand what was going on here, or were confused by my terminology. Let's take a look at the construction of an orange. The outer coat is what we call the "peel", it consists of a thick white skin with a thin outer orange-coloured layer: we are going to use all of this in the recipe. Inside of that outer peel, the fruit is made up of individual segments, the inside of which are flesh and juice, and also contain seeds (which in Britain we call "pips"). The flesh and juice is wanted in the recipe, but you certainly don't want those pips in your marmalade. The segments are enclosed in a kind of skin which, in order to avoid confusing it with the outer peel, I am now calling "membrane" in the text below. You can put that into the marmalade if you want (e.g by mincing it up), but many people find it makes the marmalade too bitter for their taste.
Jam sets by means of "pectin", which is contained in most kinds of fruit (a few fruits, e.g strawberries, don't have enough, but it's no problem with oranges). We're going to extract some more pectin from the pips and the membranes, which is why the recipe tells you to put those into a bag and boil them together with the fruit, up till the point where you are going to add sugar (see the Method for details).
Wash the fruit well, discarding any damaged parts. Halve the fruits, squeeze them, and put the juice into the bucket. The pips etc. that got retained in the gate of the squeezer, you put into the nylon bag. Use the bowl of a spoon to scrape the remaining membranes out of the peels, and add those to the nylon bag too, leaving just the peels to be dealt with in the next step.
Now I would shred about a third of the peels with a sharp knife, and mince the rest. Depending on how you like your marmalade, you could shred them all, or put them through a slicer, or mince them all. For shredding the peels by hand: slice each half-peel into three or four strips, then hold a few of the strips together and shred the whole bundle. Put the shredded/minced peels into the bucket along with the juice; tie up the nylon bag and put that in also. Add about half of the measured amount of cold water: (you can add more of it, if the bucket is big enough). Cover the bucket and leave it in a cool place at least overnight, or even for 24 hours. This soaking is an essential part of the recipe: the results won't be nearly as good if you try to omit it.
After the soaking, put the contents of the bucket, including the nylon bag of pips etc., into the jam kettle, and add the remainder of the measured amount of water. Bring carefully to the boil, and simmer gently for as long as is required to get the shredded peels tender. This is likely to take an hour or more of gentle simmering: a sample of peel should feel quite tender if rubbed between thumb and finger, and if sugar is added too soon, the peel can become leathery.
When the peels are properly tender, it's time to remove the bag of pips (allowing any liquid in the bag to drain back into the jam kettle: it contains pectin that helps the jam to set well); the contents of the bag will be discarded, and the bag laundered for future use.
Add the sugar into the jam kettle and bring back to the boil, stirring to make sure the sugar does not "catch" on the pan.
When the sugar is fully dissolved, bring the pan to a full rolling boil and keep it boiling (relaxing the heat only if the marmalade threatens to froth over). If a white scum forms on the surface, skim it off towards the end of the boiling time and discard it (this is quite normal); a little translucent foam is harmless and will clear itself. With experience one learns to recognize the developments, in terms of the appearance of the jam and the slightly sticky sound of the bubbling, but it's difficult to describe them: to gain experience, you just have to keep taking teaspoon-sized samples onto a cool plate and see what they do. It's difficult to predict how long this will take, but half an hour of brisk boiling would not be untypical. When the samples start to form a distinct "skin" on the test plate within a couple of minutes, the marmalade is "done" and should be taken off the heat. While still hot (this kills any mould spores that might be around), ladle it into jars.
Safety: Be careful - dropping hot jam onto your feet etc. could be a serious matter, so work safely. Wear sensible footwear. Use a ladle to fill the jars - when working with the quantities we're discussing here, don't try to lift and pour a full pan of hot marmalade. I tend to use a "pyrex" jug as a ladle, with a plate to catch the drips. Handle the jars and tighten the tops with oven gloves etc. while the marmalade is still hot.
Nowadays, (my mother would not have liked me to admit) I collect screw-top jars that had contained shop-bought jams, and re-use them with their screw tops, instead of using the traditional cellophane jampot covers. In my experience these screw tops can be re-used at least once, and maybe several times; if such re-used jars are available, there's no need to go looking for specialist preserving jars, which can add considerably to the cost of the hobby. So long as the screw-top is tightened while the marmalade is still good and hot, any mould spores which might have got in will be killed by the heat, and the screw-top will seal and form its own vacuum as it cools: modern screw-tops have a dimple which pops out again if the vacuum fails. If the dimple pops out soon after making the jam, then the screw top probably has a fault, or there was something stuck in the seal when you screwed it up: discard the screw top and use that jar of marmalade promptly. In my experience this is about the only time that seals occasionally fail: once the vacuum is established then it hardly ever fails in storage, and, given the chance (which doesn't happen often for me!) the jars would keep for several years in the normal store cupboard without spoiling.
(The same is true for all kinds of jam. For fruit bottling, on the other hand, I use proper Kilner jars or similar. If you're making marmalade for exhibition purposes, then of course you'll want to use the proper jars: I'm just a practical fellow making marmalade and other kinds of jam for domestic consumption.)
A correspondent remarks that if there's insufficient pectin for the amount of water used, then the resulting prolonged boiling tends to make the marmalade go syrupy, rather than properly setting to a jelly: this is because prolonged boiling converts the sugar to "invert sugar". That makes sense, though it hasn't happened to me when using the Seville-type oranges. If you want to use sweeter, dessert-type fruit then you need a larger proportion of fruit in the mix (reduce the amounts of water and sugar for a given quantity of fruit, obviously), and it's usually recommended to add lemon juice (suggested: juice of 2 lemons per kg) to enhance the pectin (see theory section above).
A few correspondents have written to say that their marmalade did not set at the first attempt, and what did I advise? It's hard to offer general advice to this question, because it depends on just why it hasn't set: see for example the situation in the preceding paragraph, about syrupy results due to over-boiling, which of course isn't going to get any better with a second boiling. Also, it has to be said that getting it to set first time is definitely better than stopping prematurely and then trying to correct the mistake by boiling again: twice-boiled jams and marmalades have a higher than usual likelihood of throwing sugar crystals while in store, and progressively turning into a kind of sugar candy instead of the clear jelly that's expected.
If you're new at this, you might want to try boiling a trial batch first (enough for just a few jars) so that you gain confidence in recognising what to look for in terms of the cold plate test, and other indications that the marmalade is ready to set. If you boiled a large batch and it didn't set, and you don't think it's been over-boiled, then maybe you want to try re-boiling. It might be worth trying re-boiling just part of the batch, to see how it goes. If it's successful, apply the same procedure to the rest: if not, see the next paragraph. It's up to you, really.
If you're stuck with a batch of unset marmalade, there are other options for using it. You could consider storing the unset marmalade separately, and using it for making sauces and puddings, where it doesn't matter that it hasn't set. Try for example "steamed marmalade pudding" in the English tradition (recipes on the web if you don't have your own). Or marmalade tarts; orange sauce for duck, or a sweeter version as a sauce for desserts; marmalade ice-cream; plenty of other uses in the recipe books where, by the time it's served, no-one will be able to tell that it wasn't set. Then have another try with fresh starting materials, to get the marmalade that you really wanted.
Correspondents have occasionally expressed surprise at the large amount of sugar used in the recipe in proportion to the amount of fruit (5:2). I should stress that this is specifically a recipe for bitter ("Seville") oranges, and I have seen published recipes in which the proportions of sugar range from 2:1 to even 3:1 (with appropriate adjustments to the amount of water). This particular recipe, as I say, calls for proportions of 5:2 and I've found it satisfactory. However, if you're making marmalade with other kinds of citrus fruit, particularly with sweet oranges, then I'm sure that different proportions would be needed: I've seen recipes for sweet orange marmalade where the proportions of sugar to fruit were 3:2. However, this page doesn't aim to be a recipe for sweet oranges, so I'll leave it at that.
Quite a number of people have emailed me asking if I have recipes for low-sugar or diabetic jams and marmalades. No, I'm sorry, I haven't. I've seen recipes in books, and web searches show a number of recipes out there on the web, but I personally have no experience of them, and have to admit that I'm unable to offer any kind of practical advice about them.
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A reader writing from the Rocky Mountains of the USA asked me about the effect of altitude on cooking time - well, in the UK, we are all sufficiently close to "sea level" that altitude isn't an issue as far as cooking recipes are concerned, so I cannot offer any practical advice on this. However, a correspondent later wrote, from 6,500 feet in Colorado, with the table shown alongside.
Several readers (not in the UK!) who have orange trees in their gardens or neighbourhood have written to me asking whether they can use the fruit in this recipe. I have to be honest here, and say I really don't know: I have no experience of fruit-bearing citrus trees in our own climate! So I'm afraid you'd be on your own if you want to try, at least with a small batch at first, to assess suitable proportions and the palatability of the result, and how successfully it sets.
On this point, an email correspondent writes:
Regarding those folks who want to try their home-grown citrus for marmalade: they can use their citrus if it has a similar sweet/sour balance to Seville oranges. Calamondin and Rangpur lime each make an excellent 'orange' marmalade. I think kumquat and citrangequat have an excellent flavor profile for marmalade, but their small size makes juicing/seeding difficult. Ripe Meyer lemon (a lemon/mandarin cross) makes a pleasant lemony marmalade. For other citrus, try a ratio of two parts sweet citrus to one part sour.
Quite a number of other folks have emailed me (chiefly from parts of the USA, and Australia) to say that it worked fine for them using fruit from the garden. There have been occasional incidents of folks saying they could not get it to set, so I go back to my previous suggestion, to make a test batch first and see how it works out. And especially so if they've never made jam or marmalade before, and so are not familiar with tests for setting.
I was phoned by a lady from Japanese TV, who wanted to ask me about
Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots and her marmalade recipe.
I don't know the answer, but certainly I have no reason to believe
that my own recipe is derived from such a source - sorry!
I am English, not Scots, and the recipe, which I got from
my mother, comes from England: I don't know its earlier origins, maybe
my mother got it from her mother, maybe from a book, I cannot be sure.
"Scotland's online heritage" comments on the Queen of Scots reference thus:
Its first appearance - in both Scotland and England - was in wooden boxes. A solid, sugary mass of marmelos (quinces), exported from Portugal, and first mentioned as 'marmelada' in port records at the end of the 15th century. This is what travelled with Mary Queen of Scots when she became seasick on the crossing from Calais to Scotland in 1561.
A favourite snack is a slice of one of the light English cheeses, such as Lancashire or Wensleydale, grilled on toast and with orange marmalade spread on top. Wholemeal toast, naturally ;-)
An email from the translator told me about an Italian translation of this recipe.
Original materials © Copyright 1994 - 2006 by A.J.Flavell