It happens once a year in the dead of January (and if you miss it, you’ll be kicking yourself until next year): Seville oranges, the bitter citrus fruit from Spain and California, have their short but delicious season. For those of us who love marmalade, it is our one chance to make it.
Although reasonable marmalade can be bought at the supermarket, it usually contains pectin, which gives it a firm, almost rubbery texture. Homemade is softer, less sweet and much more spreadable. I love the deeply satisfying feeling of making it from scratch—for my own use or to give away. Put up a batch on blustery day and feel how your heart warms.
Marmalade comes in many styles and varies in colour from dark orange to light; it can contain chunky peel or thin translucent slivers, and almost endless variations can be made from bitter and sweet oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit.
Slow cooking helps to extract the pectin from the pith and seeds. To see whether the oranges are soft enough,squeeze a piece of peel between your fingers and thumb. It should be squishy. Once the sugar has been added, the peel will not tenderize any further.
Fast boiling is the secret to a quick set. If the marmalade sets quickly, it will retain its bright colour and fresh flavour.
Have several saucers sitting in the refrigerator. Take the pot off the heat and place a spoonful of marmalade on a cold saucer for a few minutes. Push it with your finger—the side should crinkle. A candy thermometer will help to confirm the setting point (it should read 220°F).
SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE
This is my favourite marmalade, and it is a sad day when we run out. Marmalade is easier to make than other jams because it always sets. Seville oranges are full of pectin, a natural substance found in the pith, skin and seeds of many fruits. When pectin meets sugar and an acid, it naturally forms a jelly.
- 3 lb (1.5 kg) Seville oranges, rinsed
- 10 cups water
- Juice of 2 lemons (about ½ cup)
- 4 to 5 lb (2 to 2.25 kg) granulated sugar
Place oranges in a large pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until oranges are very soft. Turn oranges occasionally for even cooking.
Remove oranges from pot with a slotted spoon. Cool slightly, and then cut in half. Using a teaspoon, scrape seeds and flesh into a cheesecloth bag. Place bag in the orange liquid and simmer for 10 minutes to extract any additional pectin. Remove the bag and squeeze any extra juice back into the pot. Reserve liquid.
Cut halved oranges in half again. Use a teaspoon to scrape peel clean of bitter, squishy pith. Slice the scraped peel into thick or thin slices or dice.
Add sliced orange peel, lemon juice and sugar to pot and stir. (I like my marmalade tart, but if you like yours on the sweet side, add up to ½ cup extra sugar.) Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil briskly for 20 minutes, or until foam has subsided somewhat and bubbles look slightly viscous. Test every 5 minutes until the set is correct. Skim off any froth.
Remove pot from heat and let sit for 20 minutes before pouring into sterilized jars.
MAKES ABOUT 7 1-CUP (250 ML) JARS