Thursday, January 22, 2009


Every January it is Marmalade season. At least that's when the Seville marmalade oranges are available in the greengrocers. These oranges, from the Seville region in the south of Spain, are the best for marmalade as they have a thick skin with enough pips and pith (membrane) to provide the pectin to set the marmalade. They look wonderfully natural compared to the uniform eating oranges we see, which are often seedless and without blemish. In Africa and Asia we got used to oranges with greenish skins and odd shapes and sizes, and realised that much of the citrus fruit in Europe has been waxed and treated with some colourant to make it look "attractive" when in fact the natural colours are far nicer.

For the past few years I have bought about 5 kilos of Seville oranges each January, and made a batch to last the year. This gives enough for our own family as there are not too many marmalade or jam lovers in the house. Peanut butter and honey are preferred by our boys, which leaves me redundant on both counts in Ireland at any rate, although in Africa we became dab hands at homemade peanut butter. A real case of neccessity being the mother of invention, we had tons of wonderful local peanuts or groundnuts from the market and growing in our own shamba (garden), and we made peanut butter from roasted and shelled nuts, with the skins left on or winnowed off, both were good. We made the butter either by the labour intensive pestle and mortar grinding method, or the slightly higher tech method of the home food processor mincing attachment. The latter depended on electricity and if there was low power it was often inadequate; the joys of generator electricity are many - put on the oven or switch on an appliance and all the lights in the house dimmed!

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about marmalade. I mentioned days back on my Facebook profile that I was contemplating making marmalade, and it is only now a fait accompli. This is because it is a slow process that cannot be rushed if a good result it to be achieved. The recipe I use is a variation on one from the home of Seville oranges in Spain and comes with the oranges from the greengrocer, and a Darina Allen recipe, in that I use slightly higher water to orange ratio than the Spanish recipe calls for. This seems to work fine, though I bottle the marmalade aiming for a set that is not too hard as I prefer slightly softer marmalade, not a consistency that requires elbow grease to spread on the bread or toast! This sometimes results in the peel rising to the top of the jar, though I am sure this is possible to prevent but I don't yet know how.

(Any answers to this post's comment box below please!)
Handy Tip

It is also possible to use a pressure cooker for those readers of a certain vintage who know what I'm talking about! This certainly cuts down on the cooking time for softening the peel, though you must boil the mix with the sugar added in an open saucepan, large enough to allow for the mix to reach a rolling boil without boiling over and creating a stovetop disaster zone!

*If using a pressure cooker the water is reduced to half the quantity as there is no reduction as when boiling in an ordinary saucepan.

Ingredients (Yield = about 12-13 pounds/6kgs approx of marmalade)

4lbs/1.8kgs Seville oranges

2 lemons or limes (or both for more tangy flavour blends!)

8 pints/4.6litres water

sugar - 1lb/450gms per pint/600ml of mix after boiling to soften the fruit.

Preparing the fruit

1. Wash the oranges and lemons/limes, cut in half.
2. Squeeze the juice.

3. Scoop out the pith with a spoon and keep along with the pips.

4. Cut peel into slices, thick or thin as preferred.

(This is a bit tedious and I haven't found a way of doing it with a food processor slicer/dicer, so if anyone knows how, please share!)

5. Put pips and pith in a muslin bag and add to juice and water and peel in large bowl or saucepan and cover, for 24-48 hours in a cool place.

Cooking the marmalade
1. In a large saucepan, bring the mix to the boil and simmer until the peel is soft - 1-2 hours or less in a pressure cooker (* with less water - about half - added at stage 5 above.)

2. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze out all the liquid.

3. Measure 1lb/450gm sugar to every pint/600ml liquid and return to stove in large saucepan.
4. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then bring rapidly to boil.
5. Bring to a full rolling boil and cook until setting point is reached, skimming off any skin that forms (whitish froth that settles onto surface as a thick skin you can skim off with wooden/slotted spoon)
6. Setting point is when a little marmalade put on a cold plate and cooled wrinkles when touched with a finger, and the surface looks "set". I find this can take a half hour or more of rapid boiling with this quantity, though some cookbooks say it is 10-15 mins.

7. Have a quantity of warmed jam jars in the oven to sterilise. Remove to worktop - carefully!

8. Pot the marmalade - after it stops bubbling - into the warmed jars, cover immediately with either the original "popping" jar tops if you have them, or waxed discs and cellophane jamjar covers, or if you're a real Martha Stewart, proper rubber-seal Kilner-type jars!

The end result!

A dish of marmalade for the breakfast table

Handy Tip

It is best stored in a cool dark cupboard, and has a wonderful shelf life, good for at least a year in sealed jars. I use all types of jars, ideally with metal screwtops, as they have a popper that shows the jar is sealed, and you will hear it click with a pop as it depresses when the marmalade is cooling, and when you open a jar it should release the vacuum seal with a pop.

The yield from about 6lbs/2.5kg oranges
I make enough to share with friends, and bring some to work for colleagues to enjoy. If possible you could always bring it to your local farmer's market and set up a stall and quickly recoup your costs and make a nice profit.
I hope you enjoy the end result and don't be put off by the long preparatory process - it's minimal effort and maximum return as far as the total work involved is concerned!


FoodFunFarmLife said...

Your marmalade looks wonderful ! A lot of work but well worth it & as you say, it lasts a long time. Your Spanish oranges look nice, too. I know exactly what you mean about the African oranges - nothing much to look at with green skins, scars and blemishes but so delicious inside ! Locally made peanut butter can be found on all our shelves here, as you say, just ground peanuts & nothing else added (some brands have a little salt added, that's all). I love your description of the power surges and lights dimming when you switch a large appliance on. Nothing has changed much ;) Have a lovely weekend ....

FoodFunFarmLife said...

Catherine, hope that you had a lovely weekend & that it was not too cold ! I have given your blog an award, you can read about it on my blog post today !

Joyce said...

Hello, Catherine,
I am visiting you from Lynda's blog. Your marmalade looks truly delicious. Thank you for documenting the process. I look forward to visiting your blog again.

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the kind comments! It is really great to get feedback from other bloggers and I wish I had more time to post more recipes and book reviews - full of good intentions! I enjoy visiting your blogs and glad you enjoy this one. Joyce, the marnalade is very intense and has a lovely flavour, I made a batch with limes instead of lemons - just one or two - and it gives it such a subtly different flavour - give it a try.
Lynda - karibu tena! and thanks for the award - what do I do? do I have to forward one to someone else? Thanks for the posting tip - I got it on my site as you can see.