I still hold firmly to the belief that one is not adequately educated or skilled to useful purpose until you have mastered the art of making marmalade. Marmalade is neither jam nor jelly, but rather (the way I prefer making it) a chunky fruit preserve. Winter is citrus season, so this is the time you lay in a good stock of marmalade to see you through summer. Valuable as home-made gifts, and far preferable to a bottle of cheap red plonk when visiting friends.
All citrus are fair game for marmalade. Traditionally many prefer a mix of one lemon to three oranges. The smaller virtually seedless Valencia (sweet) or seeded Seville (bitter sweet) oranges are preferable to the larger, pithier seedless Navels. For a sweeter marmalade you can use Valencias, prized as a source of stable orange juice which does not become sour when kept (unlike the less stable juice of the Navel orange). But the marmalade afficionado prefers the tarter taste of the Seville orange which also has better setting quality because of its higher pectin content.
Adding a lemon or two will give a sharper, bitter-sweet tang. Adding a grapefruit gives marmalade a distinctive taste and lighter yellow colour. If you don’t like the chunks and just want the jelly, then strain the boiled fruit through a thin cloth (authentic cheesecloth – or kaasdoek – is best) before adding the sugar.
The following recipe has been developed through trial and error over the years and it works every time. As with most of our recipes I have stripped it down to the bare essentials – the stuff that works. Once you get it right, then you can ring in the changes (just jelly, or a few thin strips of peel, for example).
This recipe uses four citrus fruits and makes just over 3 bottles (350ml, 500g size, honey-jars) of marmalade.
You will need: 1 litre of chopped fruit (3 medium oranges and 1 medium lemon; or 6 of the smaller Valencia oranges), 1 litre (4 cups) of white sugar, 4 litres of water.
This is a simple marmalade recipe that works well, especially if you are using Valencia oranges with or without a lemon. Lots of pips! Pips are rich in pectin and there is also some pectin in the pith. The pectin is activated by the overnight soaking.
Preparation of fruit and soaking overnight: Cut off the thick tops and tails and then cut the fruit in half long ways. Taking a half fruit, face down, cut it in half again (also long ways) and then holding the two quarters together, thinly slice.
Slice all the fruit, place in a bowl (including the pips) with three litres of water. Cover bowl with a plate and leave to soak overnight until the next day.
Making the marmalade the next day: Boil quickly for an hour to an hour and a half to soften the fruit and reduce the water by several litres (you must boil off at least two litres of water). This gives an al dente chewy peel. For a softer peel add a further litre of water before boiling and boil off three litres of water.
After the peel is suitably softened (you should be able to easily push a matchstick through a piece of peel), add 1 litre of sugar (4 cups – you usually use a cup of sugar for each cup of fruit you cut up in the beginning), stir using a wooden spoon and bring back to the boil and then turn down the ring to let it simmer for another hour or so. This is the time to fish out the pips as the seed testa turns a tawny orange and is easily visible as it floats to the top. You have to boil off sufficient of the remaining water until the mixture reaches setting point. Time this takes could be shorter or longer depending on size of pot – water boils off more quickly in a wider pot with a larger surface area.
As the mix thickens it will foam up a little briefly, forming some scum at the side of the pot. Don’t remove the scum, just stir it back into the mix.
Setting test: Test for setting by chilling a bit of the marmalade syrup from the pot. Either put a quarter spoon full on a chilled plate in the freezer and then push with your finger after five minutes. If it wrinkles and threads when you lift your finger it is ready. Or by dripping a few drops of jam in cold water on a plate (a block of ice in the water helps). It is approaching setting when the jam in cold water does not immediately dissolve (as it does at the syrup stage), but leaves a clean path when you draw your finger through it. It is closer to setting when you can draw a thin thread from the marmalade immediately you put it in the cold water. It is ready when you pour a few drops of syrup in the water and part seems to float to the top and a thicker thread forms when you touch the blob and lift your finger.
Bottle it straight away: Pour the marmalade into a large heat-proof jug and using a ladle or small beaker fill the bottles to within a few millimeters of the top. Makes three and a half bottles if there is sufficient pectin. Wipe the bottle with a clean damp cloth, especially around the rim. Screw on the lid tightly. Using a marker pen either write directly on the lid (or on some masking tape stuck on the lid) indicating date, month and year. I also indicate what fruit mix I used (2L 2O for example).
Some people pour melted candle-wax on top to protect the jam from mould. A bit pointless since the wax shrinks from the sides when it sets solid. Better is soaking a pre-cut disk of wax paper in brandy and placing that on top of the marmalade before sealing the jar. Adds a bit of zing to the first few spoonsful! Both are unnecessary, however, if the bottle is clean and you screw on the lid firmly when the marmalade is still hot (hold the jar with a cloth – it really is hot!).