As the marmalade making season gathers momentum, I’ve noticed a rush of new recipes, frequently different to the ones I favour. In 1986 when I first made marmalade, I had access to a limited amount of information; a few cookery books, often containing only one marmalade recipe. Since then, a tsunami of information online, in books and magazines, has been published, much of it paying scant regard to preservation as a science and not just a branch of cookery.

Fruit

PicCitrus fruit, especially Seville oranges are synonymous with marmalade. With their unique, bitter flavour and limited availability they make the king of marmalades. For the best quality I prefer organic fruit. Lemons, Limes and Grapefruit feature in many recipes. Some recipes suggest removing the pith from citrus fruit.

Removing the pith from Sevilles and Grapefruits is unnecessary as their pith turns translucent when cooked. Pith is a valuable source of pectin, vital for a good set. If you discard the pith and pips ( also a good source of pectin) your marmalade is less likely to set.

Marmalade – Recipes

A marmalade with true fruit flavour, a bright colour, tender peel and a gelled consistency calls for a balanced recipe. The best ones have double the weight of sugar to citrus fruit and sufficient water to soften the peel, preferably 2.25 litres for each 1kg of fruit. Recipes with equal quantities of sugar to fruit, or reduced sugar, too little or too much water will produce marmalades with uncharacteristic consistencies and disappointing flavours. With good quality fruit my recipes do not taste sweet!

Sugar

Fruit, pectin, acid and sugar in the right proportions produce the characteristic gel in marmalade. They determine the consistency which should be spreadable rather than stiff or glutinous. I’ve noticed a trend for caster sugar, best kept for cakes! I use Tate and Lyle’s granulated cane sugar, as it gives a great colour and set. I have tried using granulated beet sugar, but it did not give the same brilliant results. Preserving sugar has large crystals which dissolve easily and so helps, particularly if you have problems with your marmalade sticking to the bottom of your pan.

Pans

Preserving pans are often advertised as jam pans or maslin pans. They are not suitable for marmalade as they are generally un-lidded. My pan is a 6 litre stainless steel stockpot, and I use it for all my preserves. Lids manage the gentle simmering stage. If the water is driven off too quickly ( in an open pan) the peel may not be cooked enough before the sugar is added. Tough, chewy peel is unpleasant and loses marks in competitions.

Boiling to a set

To get a set, a rolling boil, not a simmer is essential. A rolling boil should look like foamy cola all over the surface of the pan, and if you stir it, the appearance remains the same. A small batch ( 2.25kg of marmalade) should set in under 8 minutes. Recipes advising a boil for a number of hours, once the sugar has been dissolved are clearly wrong; the pan and the marmalade is likely to be ruined. Prolonged boiling will turn your marmalade into caramelised syrup. Popular ways to test for a set involve graduated thermometers or cold plates. I prefer the flake test. Dip a large spoon into the pan and scoop out a spoonful. Lift the spoon above the pan and turn it horizontally. If the marmalade has reached setting point it will drip then hang on the side of the spoon like a webbed foot.

Scum

As the marmalade cools in the pan and a skin forms, scum often settles on the surface, but mainly around the edge. It should be easy to remove and discard with a metal spoon. Adding butter to the pan at any stage during cooking will introduce a buttery flavour. Tasting buttery marmalade is unpleasant.

Jars and Lids

In recent years, the range of glass jars has expanded, but for me, there is only one type of jar and lid suitable for marmalade. When a lid is screwed on to a full jar of hot marmalade, as it cools, a vacuum is created between the surface of the marmalade and the underside of the lid. This is the seal, and should allow the marmalade to keep for at least a year. 
If the marmalade is not sealed, or ( a common misunderstanding) a waxed disc and a lid are used, bacteria and moisture may get into the jar causing mould to develop. I notice this frequently, when judging competitions. Any recipe which suggests inverting the jar once lidded and/ or leaving the jars upright to cool and set, before sealing with a lid, is best avoided. By inverting the jar, marmalade will stick to the underside of the lid and can cause mould to develop. If the jar is left to cool before tightening the lid, a vacuum seal will not be created.

If you do not create an effective seal, all the hard work making the marmalade may be spoilt in storage.

Links

Recipes for Marmalade

Jars and lids