For more years than we care to remember my other half, Hugh has made the best jam and marmalade you have ever tasted. He once gave a jar of his Japonica quince jelly to my London cousin, a chef, who ate it half teaspoon by half teaspoon over a space of some months, and wouldn’t let anyone else share it. I’ll give you that recipe in the Australian Autumn. But now it’s Spring and here’s another secret – Hugh’s recipe for marmalade. Written by him. Warning: he’s a scientist!
Most people of taste recognise that Seville oranges make the best marmalade because of their balanced combination of sour and bitter flavours. Botanically, Seville oranges are a separate species of Citrus , C. aurantium L. (meaning named by Linnaeus, no less, the father of modern taxonomy.) They are typically about the size of a small Navel orange, with similar coloured skin, but very distinctly flattened top and bottom. (Beware if you do a web search for Seville orange you will find many references to a much smaller Citrus fruit with knobbly skin; this is the US Seville orange, which is quite different – botanically a variety of C. aurantium.)
In Australia, Seville oranges have a relatively short season, from mid July to mid September. You will not normally find them in a supermarket, but will be able to get them at a good specialist fruit and vegetable market or shop
A web search will also throw up all sorts of tediously elaborate recipes, which read as if intended to put off the home maker. In my opinion, none of this is necessary. All you need is Seville oranges, sugar and water, Plus you need to make two decisions about what you like:
- Do you like your marmalade to be a dense mass of fruit, or do you prefer more clear orange jelly with pieces for fruit (mainly rind) embedded in the jelly?
- Do you like the fruit to be cut thick or thin?
As you can tell from my choice of language, I prefer more jelly. I also prefer the fruit cut thin, even though this means more work cutting up the fruit. So here is how I make this sort of Seville orange marmalade.
- Buy your Seville oranges and note how much they weigh in total.
- Take one third of the oranges (the ones with the fewest skin blemishes), cut them in half along the “equator”, and pick out the many pips you will see in each half with the tip of a small, sharp knife.
- Thinly slice the fruit. This is the slow and tedious part. I use a mandolin on the 0.75 mm thickness setting to do most of the work, and finish the last pieces with a knife, but a large, very sharp knife (and basic knife skills) are just as good.
- Put the sliced fruit in a pan, cover with water ( just cover) and boil.
- In the meanwhile, juice the other two thirds of the oranges.
- Pour the juice into the pan when the fruit has been boiling for 10-15 minutes.
- Bring back to the boil and then check a piece of cooked rind for softness. It may well be soft enough to your taste; if not, keep boiling until it is, which should only be a few more minutes.
- Add sugar. The quantity is also a matter of taste, but I usually find about two thirds of the original weight of the oranges is about right; this will be roughly equal to the weight of fruit and juice you have used, excluding the shells of the juiced oranges.
- Stir constantly (to stop sticking on the bottom) while it comes back to the boil. Lots of jam recipes tell you to pre-heat the sugar in the oven, but I have never found this necessary, provided you keep stirring the bottom of the pan.
- When the sugar is completely dissolved, the marmalade should be done, but to make sure, as with any jam, it is a good idea to test for setting. I use a rather unsophisticated approach: spoon a bit of jam onto a saucer and put in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up cooling. Tilt it to see if it wrinkles, and does not flow. If it runs off the saucer it’s not ready and you must have put in too much water at the start, but all you need to do is keep gently boiling, while stirring, for a few more minutes. Note that all citrus naturally contain lots of pectin, so you never need to add pectin to make marmalade, unlike, say, strawberry or apricot jam.
- After letting the marmalade cool down for 10 minutes or so, ladle into heated jars. I usually use a small jug.I normally put the jars in the cold oven while the jam is finishing its cooking, and set the temperature to 80 C, and leave until the jars are heated through. I have been using this setting for decades and have never had a broken jar.
- I always use jars with screw down lids, some people use cellophane tops, but as long as your lids are clean they fine, the jam tends to dry out with the cellophane tops as they are permeable to water vapour.
- Enjoy your marmalade.