I have blogged a couple of times about marmalade making, and the feelings of being daunted and intimidated at the prospect of turning those oranges into the finished product. However, I do it every year and come out the other side with my sanity intact and a store cupboard of beautiful marmalade to last the year, and some to give away (grudgingly).
It is actually a simple enough process, albeit a bit time-consuming. There are hundreds of recipes out there, but I have distilled it down to the one I reckon works best for me. The basis of the recipe is that you need twice the weight of sugar as oranges, and that the number of pounds of sugar should equal the number of pints of water. This works out at roughly 1.2l water to 1kg sugar. The peel needs to be boiled for a long time to soften it before the sugar is added, and the volume of water will reduce and this will tend to influence the length of time the marmalade takes to set.
The recipe I have used is from David and Rose Mabey’s Jams, Pickles and Chutneys, now sadly out of print and hard to come by (mine cost IR£3.17). Other good recipes I have used with success are from Delia Smith and Theodora Fitzgibbon, but I haven’t strayed far from them. My late mother used to mince the peel rather than cut it with a knife, and she soaked the peel overnight in water, but I find that that only prolongs the process to make it a 2-day affair.
3 lbs (1.4kg) Seville (Marmalade) Oranges
6lbs (2.8kg) Sugar
6 pints (3.4l) water
This will usually make 7 or 8 jars.
Wash the fruit and remove any stalks. Discard any soft skins. Cut the oranges and lemons in half (horizontally, as you would a grapefruit). Squeeze, preferably using a lemon squeezer, and put pips, juice and any loose pulp into a bowl. Use the handle of a teaspoon to go through the squeezed skins for any pips left behind and add these to the rest. Pour the pips and juice through a sieve, and put the juice in a preserving pan, and the stuff left behind (pips and pulp bits) into a piece of muslin tied with string. Add the water to the preserving pan.Add the pips in the muslin bag to the pan, tie to the handle and put the pan on the heat.
Next, cut up the peel to your desired size – I cut each half into about 10 strips and about 4 times across the other way. As you go, add these to the liquid in the pan. Bring the pan to the boil, and then simmer for a good long time to let the peel soften. This may take over an hour, but don’t boil hard as you will lose too much water. By the time the peel is soft enough, the volume of liquid shouldn’t have reduced by more than half.
At this stage, take out the muslin bag and set aside to cool a little. Gradually add the sugar, stirring to make sure it dissolves and doesn’t burn. Squeeze the bag of pips to remove as much jelly-like stuff as you can, putting this in the mixture as it adds valuable pectin. Bring the marmalade to the boil and continue at a fairly vigorous boil until setting point is reached. The usual terms and conditions apply, using a cool plate to place a small dollop of mixture to see will it produce a wrinkly skin.
When setting point is reached, leave to sit for 10 minutes or so, then give it a final stir and begin potting into sterilised and warm jars.
At this point, you can add whiskey or brandy. There are also plenty of other additives that can make your marmalade to your liking. Ginger tied up in the bag adds pungency, and coriander seeds in the bag can also spice it up. Darker marmalades are made using some dark treacle along with the sugar. Other fruits can also be used, but bear in mind that oranges other than Seville ones are sweeter and so the sugar balance might need to be altered.
Marmalade oranges have a short season in the shops, usually the first few weeks of the year, so you need to be quick off the mark.