Marmalade Season

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
I knew about marmalade long before I tasted it. My mother used the word "marmalade" to explain to her piano students how to count out triplets in 6/8 time signature. 

"Mar-ma-lade, mar-ma-lade, mar-ma-lade."

But never having heard very nice things about the taste of marmalade (it was bitter, they told me) I stuck with my sweet, fruity, Sure-Jell thickened jams for years after learning its existence. Occasionally, I'd glance at the Smuckers Orange marmalade on the grocery store shelves and wonder what the heck jam made out of citrus tasted like.

I found out at a London breakfast table where, in the basement dining room of a bed and breakfast, I discovered orange marmalade was the only preserve available to spread on my toast. I spread a tentative blob on a corner of toast and apprehensively took a bite. It was bitter, but then sweet, and actually quite refreshing. There was something very nice about how the bitter citrus peel in the marmalade blended with the creamy, sweet butter spread across a crispy, nearly room temperature piece of whole grain toast.

I stopped fearing marmalade after that first taste and actually came to look forward to finding it at the breakfast table for the rest of that week. But back Stateside, I felt no desire to keep a jar of marmalade in the fridge. There was something awfully romantic about smearing orange marmalade on your toast to start off a day of touring London and honestly, I wasn't sure it would taste as good back home.    

I never thought of making my own marmalade until last year when I noticed a recipe for orange marmalade on the Sure-Jell packet. Then I discovered Marisa McCellan's recipe for three citrus marmalade last January and I knew I had to try it.

In the midst of January, when I'm pretty sure nothing will ever grow again, it's lovely to fill your home with the smell of citrus. It reminds me of far off places - both places where the sun shines and citrus trees grow, and also the orangeries of England where the well-to-do kept potted citrus plants centuries ago. (Fyi: the orangery at Kensington Palace is now a lovely little tea house if you're ever in Kensington and fancying a pot of tea and slice of Victoria Sponge Cake.) I highly recommend making marmalade on days where the temperature's not predicted to rise past zero. It's a wonderful escape.
Three-Citrus Marmalade made with lemons, navel oranges, and white grapefruit
Making marmalade's quite the process - plan on it taking more time then seems humanly possible. It's best to use organic fruit since you use the peels and you really don't want nasty chemicals (or wax) in your marmalade. First you wash your fruit and peel it. The peeled fruit must be supremed (where you remove all of the fruit from its membranes) and the seeds removed. The diced peels get simmered for a half hour or so until they're tender and then peels get combined with sugar, the citrus fruit and juice, and some of the water  from cooking the peels. Then just boil that all until it reaches the gelling point and can it. Simple enough, but last Wednesday I started making marmalade at noon and didn't finish up until 8 at night. (There were some interruptions, I'll admit, such as climbing on top of the roof to melt out the bathroom vent.)
I've been anticipating this year's marmalade for a while now because the marmalade I made last January was gone by May and because I had a beautiful new maslin pan to test out. The maslin pan is specially designed for making jam and marmalade. It has a handle, a pour spout, and a thick bottom to evenly distribute the heat.

My lucky marmalade got to take two trips through the maslin pan because someone wasn't patient enough when waiting for the marmalade to hit the set point and the first go around I canned what was essentially citrus syrup. (Lesson learned.)

Speaking of which, does anyone have any tips about when to stop cooking marmalade to achieve the proper set? Last year's batch was most definitely overcooked (as in it was a couple steps away from being hard candy) but still edible. This year's did end up setting quite nicely, but I feel like my marmalade doesn't reach a set I like until it's sustaining 224 F. (It should set at 220F.) Anyone? Anyone? The saucer test doesn't seem to work for me. I feel like I could drop little dabs of the cooked marmalade onto frozen saucers until the cows come home and I still can't tell exactly what the marmalade's consistency will be once it's completely cooled.

Despite the frustrations, I'm so happy to have marmalade back in my pantry. I still like it best on buttered (but slightly cooled) toast, but you can also throw a dollop in with sauteed chicken, soy sauce, ginger and Sriracha to make an orange chicken stir-fry. If I can find tangerines, I may be trying out a tangerine vanilla marmalade in the near future from Elizabeth Field's Marmalade book. Apparently I've become something of a marmalade nut.

Do you like the taste of marmalade?


  1. Ada, I love marmelade. But then the Central European description of marmelade is so very different. All jmas are called marmelade independent of the fruit it is made of. Only jelly is called Gelee as it doesnt hold pulp or fruit pieces but is solely made of fruit juice. MY favorite however are the French "preserves" using whole fruits.
    And I so love orange marmelade. And yours looks so delish. Making it holds a scent which takes me back to my time in Spain and France. Wonderful ingredient to make orange-glazed chicken. I even use it for my sorbets. Or a Popsicle in Summer. Great stuff to have in the pantry. Paula

  2. Do I like marmalade? Yes indeed! Love the stuff. Makes me feel like an adult, as no other little person (or big for that matter) in this household likes the stuff so it's all for me, me, me.
    I usually make it once a year, and lime and cumquat is my all time favourite :-)

  3. Ahh this is very helpful! Now I can't wait until we get our organic citrus fruit share from our CSA in December and January!


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