Okay, it might be a little late in the Seville Orange season to be taunting you with marmalade. Actually, it’s passed. But taunt I must. It’s just that good. After all, you can always ignore me now and come back next January and February armed with kilos of those marvellously golden-orange globes. I got so excited when I saw them in the market that I gathered them up by the armful. I think I made it home with around 4kgs, not to mention a few blood oranges and ruby red grapefruits for good measure.
I love making marmalade. I’ll just say that now – it will explain everything that is to come. There’s just something so soothing about peeling oranges. The bright, sunshine-scented oils mist in the air, making everything smell hopeful and happy – including me. When making the Seville batch, I wafted about on a orange-scented cloud for days. And then there’s the slow, meditative process of boiling, and stirring. It’s just the perfect activity for when it’s freezing cold, with flurries of snow outside the window, and you’ve got nowhere to be in the world, but home. Put on some good music, dim the lights a little so it’s cosy, and get to work. Personally, I listened to Charlie Parker with Strings and later had a vintage Drew Barrymore movie sesh while peeling and slicing these bad boys. It was good fun.
For those for whom peeling and slicing kilos of oranges doesn’t seem like fun, however, you can always take a shortcut and grate the peel in a food processor. But a little extra effort at this stage does give you a very elegant marmalade (I like long, thin strips of peel in mine) with a clear, jewel-like jelly. So grab a small, sharp knife (sharpen it beforehand – otherwise you’re just making it harder for yourself) and get to work!
Here are a few things I found out:
Scoring and peeling the whole Seville Oranges first makes the whole process much simpler. All you then need to do is slice the dry, fragrant peel – you don’t have to contend with a sticky, wet, pulpy mess, which some recipes have you doing. Just lightly push the tip of your knife into the stalk end and, while keeping the orange in contact with the chopping board (it’ll give you greater control so your knife doesn’t slip) run it all the way around the orange until you reach the stalk on the other side (e.g. from 12-6 if you’re looking at the orange top-down). Then move the knife over to 3 o’clock and do the same (3-9). Then flip the orange over and simply peel off the scored quarters of orange peel. It’s easier to do this from the bottom as there’s an easy entry point at the crux of the scoring. Once you get the hang of it (it’s easier to do than imagine, I assure you), it becomes quite hypnotic.
Put the naked oranges to one side and get to slicing the removed peel. Do this however you like – thick, thin, short, fat. It’s dealer’s choice. Then put the slices in the large cast-iron casserole dish (one that’s large enough to take all the peel, plus 2.5 litres of water) that you’re going to use to cook it tomorrow, or a large bowl if you’re going to cook it in a preserving pan. Personally, I put my peel in Big Bob (my 27cm Le Creuset), which is great for making marmalade – it has high enough sides, plus it’s great at retaining and controlling the heat. (And there’s a handy lid for when it needs to soak overnight – but that comes later).
Next, slice the oranges in half and squeeze all the juice through a sieve (to catch the all-important pips) into the pot with your peel.
Once all the oranges are squeezed, measure out 2.5 litres of water and pour that into the pan as well. You can put the sieve to one side, but don’t throw your seeds away! In fact, you should even scrape the bottom of the sieve for any extra drops of juice or pectin-y goodness. Afer all, the seeds are where so much of the pectin resides, which will ultimately help your marmalade get a good set.
Some people suggest you chop up the remaining orange flesh and put it in the pot with the peel. I’m not a fan of this – the final texture just isn’t for me. I like nothing but jelly and peel in the finished marmalade. Instead, I put all the orange pips and squeezed-out flesh onto a piece of muslin that I then tie really tight (and I mean tight – you don’t want to fish out escaped seeds from a hot marmalade later on) and pop it in the pot with the watery-peel mixture. That way you get all the flavour and pectin into your marmalade mixture, with none of the extra bits.
This mixture just soaks for 24 hours (put on the lid if you’re using a casserole dish, or cover it with clingfilm if you’re using a bowl). The long soak, plus the boil tomorrow, helps take the bite out of the bitterness. Take my advice (it was bitterly won) – don’t taste the mixture right now. It’s a sour shock to the taste buds!
The next day, the boiling and the making of actual marmalade begins…
A few things to keep in mind for this stage:
- You simmer the mixture (peel, water, muslin and juice) for an hour or two to soften the peel. Don’t add the sugar until your peel is soft and translucent. Sugar has a hardening effect – the minute it’s added, your peel won’t get any softer.
- If you warm the sugar in the oven first à la Diana Henry’s method (just in a big tray or dish – around 150C for 10 mins or so – don’t forget about it, give it the occasional stir so you don’t get lumps), it will speed up the dissolving process. Remember – you want all your sugar to be completely dissolved before you bring it up to the boil.
- Don’t stir the mixture too much once it’s boiling, it will lower the temperature. Just let it do its thing.
- Be patient. Once it’s boiling, some marmalades will set after 15 minutes. But others could take much longer. One of mine took 45 minutes – but that did get a very strong set (I was over-correcting from an earlier loose set, methinks). Typically 20-30 minutes is about right. But the amount of pectin in oranges varies, so just watch and wait. The typical setting point is 104C, but that doesn’t necessary mean it’s done. Do the wrinkle test as often as you think it needs. Once the marmalade starts to look heavy and glossy (and it’s hit the setting point), I start testing – maybe every 10 minutes or so.
- Wrinkle test: Put a small saucer in the freezer when you start boiling the marmalade. When you want to test, drip a bit of marmalade onto the cold saucer and put it in the fridge. If, after 2-3 mins, it wrinkles when you push it, then it’s ready. If not, keep the marmalade going and test again later.
- Top tip: if it’s getting close to being ready, take the marmalade off the heat while you do your test, otherwise you might get a firmer set than you’d like.
- Make sure everything you use in jarring the marmalade is clean, clean, clean. This Riverford guide is really useful. Use whichever jarring/sterilising method makes you feel most comfortable. This time around I’ve been experimenting with the inversion method: fill the (hot) jars with the (hot) marmalade and screw on each lid as you go. Then flip upside down for a few hours until cool. I did get an air gap at the bottom for one batch (which is fine, if not 100% aesthically pleasing for Type A marmaladers), but the seal was great!
And enjoy the process. There are things to remember, to be sure, but it’s a great experience and makes a really kick-ass marmalade. There’s always going to be a bit of trial and error when doing something new. So have fun! You can always make another batch.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater and the Wednesday Chef.
1.3kg Seville Oranges
2kg granulated sugar *
Square of muslin and string to tie it up
Cast iron pan or preserving pan
Clean jam jars**
Funnel (this makes it so much easier, although it’s not essential)
* You can put up to 2.6kg of sugar in this recipe – traditional recipes do in fact use equal amounts of fruit and sugar – but I like to be able to taste the actual fruit. I agree with the Wednesday Chef that 2.6kg makes it almost tooth-achingly sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, by all means, stick to tradition! If not, stick with me (and the Wednesday Chef), kid. If I were being cautious, I’d suggest you have the extra sugar to hand, just in case you want to add it. After all, some fruits can be much more bitter than others.
**This recipe made 12 x 8oz jars perfectly. But I also had enough leftover to fill one big ol’ jar, ready to put straight in the fridge. You’re always going to have one jar that’s not completely full – since you won’t get a seal on this, annoint this one “the first jar you eat” and stash it in the fridge, ready for tomorrow’s breakfast.
- Wash and dry your oranges. Score and peel them, setting the now naked oranges to one side and slicing the peel however you see fit.
- Put the slices in a large pot. Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out the juice, setting a sieve over the pot to catch the pips.
- Put the squeezed-out orange flesh and the pips in a muslin bag. Tie this up tightly and put in the pot with your sliced peel.
- Pour over 2.5l water. Cover the pan (with a lid or cling film) and leave to soak for 24 hours.
- Bring the pot up to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the peel for anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or two – however long it takes to get the peel soft and translucent. Meanwhile, warm your sugar in a low oven for 10 mins or so.
- When the peel is tender, remove the muslin bag (squeezing out as much liquid as possible when it’s cool enough to handle – or do as I do and squeeze the bag with kitchen tongs). Then add the warmed sugar to the pot and stir to dissolve.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the setting point is reached – check using temperature and the wrinkle test.
- Pour the marmalade into your sterilised, hot jars (hot marmalade needs hot jars), seal immediately.
This should keep up to 12 months in a cool, dark space. It’s a delicious, sunshine-tasting marmalade that’s great on hot buttered toast.
Incidentally, I’ve been haunted by the idea of a grapefruit and vanilla marmalade for a few weeks now; its moment is coming. Watch this space!