There are few fragrances more disarming than the almost tangible scent of making marmalade drifting through the house. And with all the citrus falling from trees at the moment, it would be a sin not to jar some of it for later!
Have no fear!
Jamming can be daunting. “So much work!” “Will it set?”
Citrus is full of pectin, which makes it set easily. The pectin is in the white pith, which is bitter-tasting. This is why traditional marmalade has bitterness alongside the sweetness of the sugar – Seville orange marmalade being the king of the genre. It all combines to give that unmatchable breakfast treat of marmalade on toast.
I’m also a fan of not-too-much work, so I’ve pared my technique down into the laziest marmalade-making possible. And you know what? It works great.
It’s all in the technique (the easy-peasy recipe with sugar)
You’ll need…Plenty of fruit – say, at least 10 sizeable grapefruit or an equivalent volume of other citrus (except lemons – their pith is too bitter for this recipe) The juice of one or two lemons (or cheat and use bottled juice. I won’t tell anyone) Sugar proportionate to the quantity of fruit – more on this in a moment (I’ll come to the sugar alternatives later) A small knob of butter (optional) Two days in a row when you can spend an hour or so with your marmalade Some glass jars with good clean lids – old ones are okay if in good nick A large, heavy-bottomed saucepan
Day 1 (or early in the morning on day 2 if you forgot to start yesterday!):
- Put a saucer in the freezer. Don’t ask questions, just do it.
- Prepare the fruit. This means dissecting the citrus into its components: waxy rind, pips and pith, juice. The easiest way is to take a potato peeler to the waxy rind (NB organic citrus is best – the skin can harbour nasty chemicals in the sprayed kind). You only need about half the rind, so choose the prettiest fruit. The rest of the rind can be discarded.
- Juice fruit that’s left. I just squeeze them by hand, then filter out the pips.
- Throw away the pips and pith. I know, I said it was the pith that makes it set. However, you’ve almost definitely got enough white pith just on the back of your waxy rind. (If you’re super-keen, you can put the pith and pips in a knot of cheesecloth and boil it with your marmalade, then squeeze out all the liquid pectin. This is a safe, but labour-intensive approach.)
- Now blitz the rind in the food processor with some juice to help it along. (Labour-intensive equivalent: cut it into tiny strips by hand. Pretty, but it all tastes the same, and you’ll probably get blisters.)
- On day one, you don’t add any sugar. Just boil the juice and rind together for 5 minutes. Let cool, then store in a sealed container in the fridge overnight. (NB hygiene is more important than usual when canning anything because it’s got to last awhile.)
- Look at the quantity of juice/rind mixture you have. You’re going to need 50% – 100% of that volume in sugar. For really tart fruit, you’ll need close to the same volume as the fruit mix. For sweet oranges, it’ll be a lot less. My grapefruit were sweet and ripe so I used two-thirds of the volume of fruit. If you’re not sure, put a bit in, then taste for sweetness. If it’s right, it’ll taste amazing.
- Put your fruit mix and sugar in the most solid, heavy-bottomed saucepan you can find. Honestly – you’ll thank me later. Oh, and it should be big too – your mix should only fill it up to a quarter full. You don’t want to be spat on by boiling marmalade, no siree!
- Stir, and turn the heat up to high.
- Marmalade makers talk about getting a rolling boil. You’ll recognise this when you see it. It’s when enough liquid evaporates off and the sugar caramelises a bit so the mixture is quite sticky. Keep the temperature high until you can see this happening. Stir frequently.
- You may get ‘scum’ on the surface. This isn’t really a problem, but you can skim it off if you want.
- While your marmalade is boiling, sterilise your jars with boiling water (or a dishwasher). This will help your marmalade keep well and be safe to eat when you open it. Don’t do what I once did and put boiling water in cold jars – they break. Put them in hot tap water first, then proceed to boiling water phase. Sterilise the lids too. Try not to touch them from this point on.
- You can’t tell by looking at boiling marmalade if it’s cooked enough to set or not. It will still be quite runny while it’s hot. So when your marmalade has thickened a bit (sometimes as quick as 10 minutes), grab your saucer from the freezer and drop a droplet of marmalade on it. When the marmalade is ready, it’ll form a skin immediately. If it’s not, it’ll be runny on the saucer. If that’s the case, put your saucer back in the freezer and boil for another bit.
- When your marmalade is ready, add the knob of butter if using. This clears any ‘scum’ from the surface.
- Bring your jars nice and close and start filling them while the marmalade is still piping hot. Ideally, you don’t want to get marmalade on the rim or the thread of the jar – this can make them not sterile. (You can get special funnels for filling jam jars with hot jam. I just took a knife to a normal plastic funnel to achieve a wide-necked funnel. This is much easier than using a ladle.) Try to gauge it so you fill up all your jars almost to the top (start by filling big jars and finish with small ones). Lots of air means your marmalade won’t last as long.
- Close the jars immediately. If you’re using bought jars, follow the instructions for achieving a vacuum seal.
And that’s it!
So what about the no-sugar version?
For your convenience, I did another Stevia experiment. I’m tasting the pain, so you don’t have to…
I split my Day 1 mix into two saucepans.
To the left one I added roughly two cups of brown sugar. To the right one I added two tablespoons of green Stevia.
The left pot (with the sugar) came quickly to a rolling boil. The right pot (with the Stevia) developed an evil-looking green scum and remained runny.
I tasted the marmalade. The sugared marmalade tasted divine. The Stevia’d marmalade tasted sweet enough, but bitter at the same time. Not terrible, but not right either.
I tried the saucer test. The sugared marmalade was almost ready. The Stevia’d marmalade was just gross-looking and super-runny.
It was at this point that I realised the Stevia-lade was never going to come right. I decided to try and salvage it by building a good marmalade around it. I added freshly squeezed orange juice (was out of grapefruit!) and an appropriate amount of sugar, about doubling the quantity of marmalade. It then behaved normally, and was eventually jarred.
But it does have a rather odd coffee colour.
I haven’t tried it on toast yet, but it tastes quite nice and I think it’ll set. Watch this space.