My first bitter attempts at marmalade put me off making it for 6 years. It was a lime marmalade, and it was very, very bad. The long hiatus says something about my persistence in the face of bad tastes (I don’t have any… persistence, that is), and something about marmalade: only ever follow the recipes of someone who really knows what they’re doing.
Rachel Saunders, founder of The Blue Chair Fruit Company and author of a jam making bible of the same name, is my current guru. It was only after experiencing the precision and beauty of her stone fruit jams that I dared to consider marmalades again. And I’m so glad I did. Her marmalades slap me in the face with a ray of sunshine. Their jellies, sometimes surprisingly made from non-citrus fruit, like strawberries or pear, are matched with the perfect rind for their temperament. Blood oranges for strawberries, lisbon lemons for pear. Don’t you just read those fruits together and get a mouth longing for their taste? I do.
Rachel Saunder’s pear and lemon marmalade is one of the best marmalades I’ve ever tasted. Like a lot of her recipes, it hides just a touch of something surprising that deepens the flavour profile. This one has cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Not that you’d notice them individually. The predominant experience is of pear, in all its liquid beauty: sweetness tempered by the yellow gold bitterness of lisbon lemon.
Pear and Lemon Marmalade
- 1kg (2lbs 5oz) very ripe pears
- 800g (1lbs 12oz) Lisbon lemons, seeded, cut crosswise in half, quartered lengthwise and sliced 3-4mm thin (Rachel calls this ‘medium thin’)
- 1.6kg (3lbs 10oz) white cane sugar
- 100-120g (4oz) extra, freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice (equalling 1-2 extra lemons)
- 1 short piece of cinnamon stick (very fresh Ceylon is the best)
- 4 cloves
- 6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed open in a mortar and pestle so their seeds are freed
Cut the pears with their skin and seeds, into quarters (if they are small) or eighths (if they are big). Place all the pieces into a large pot, giving them just enough room to fit in a very snug, dense layer. Add enough cold water that the pieces are free to bob about a little, and put them on the stove over a high heat. Bring to the boil, cover, and then keep cooking them at a lively simmer until they are very soft and the liquid around them is syrupy. This will take between 2 and 3 hours. If the water is boiling away and threatening to leave the pears exposed, add a little more water. Stir them every half hour and make sure to maintain a happy simmer.
Once the pear mixture is soft and syrupy, strain the pears through a medium to fine stainless steel mesh strainer suspended over a heatproof, non-reactive bowl of some kind. Cover the whole lot with cling film and place in the fridge to drip overnight.
While this is going on, precook the lemon slices.
Place the slices into a large, wide, non-reactive pot (preferably 11-12 quart or litre capacity), and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil over high heat, and then simmer gently for 5 minutes, to blanch the slices. Drain immediately, through a medium meshed stainless steel sieve, discarding the liquid. Return the slices to the same pot and cover with 2-3 cm (1 in) of cold water, again. Bring to the boil, decrease the heat to a lively simmer, and cook for 30-4o minutes, or until the rind is very tender and the liquid substantially reduced. Remove the pot from the heat, cover the pot with a tightly fitting lid and let the whole thing sit at room temperature overnight.
Place 5 teaspoons and a saucer in the freezer, in readiness for a set test.
Preheat your oven to 100C (212F). Clean all your jars and place them upright on a tray in the oven. Place all the lids, seals and clips (if using a clip system, otherwise just lids) into a small bowl, fill your kettle with water and bring to boil in readiness for sterilising.
Remove the plastic wrap from the pears. They will look dry and lifeless. Discard them.
Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve or through cheesecloth, to remove any solids that have crept through overnight. You can strain them straight into the pot holding the lemon slices, if you like.
Add the sugar to the pot of pear juice and lemons, and stir in the extra lemon juice. Put the spices in a fine meshed, stainless steel tea infuser and add this to the pot. Make sure it’s well latched and submerged.
Heat the pot as fast and hard as you can to reach a strong boil. The mixture will foam, but if your pot is large enough, don’t fear- just leave it be and boil vigorously like this for at least 30 minutes. Don’t stir the mixture unless you have to (as in, you think it might overflow or burn).
The mixture will stop foaming eventually, and look quite clear, with large bubbles in the boil.
As the mixture reduces its water content and gets closer to setting point, it will become more glossy, with lots of tiny tiny bubbles. This will be easier to see when you turn off the heat and test the setting point.
Do this when you’ve either a) boiled the mixture for 30minutes or b) get the feeling you’re getting close to the setting point (this feeling will develop the more marmalade experience you get).
To test the setting point
Make sure to turn off the heat so the marmalade doesn’t overcook while you’re testing. Take a frozen spoon and the saucer from the freezer, and with another unfrozen spoon, scoop a bit of the marmalade, with a little rind, into the frozen spoon and quickly place the whole lot back in the freezer. You want to make sure that the mixture cools down to room temperature- not colder than that, or hotter. This could take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, depending on your freezer and how often you’ve opened it to test the set!
After a very small length of time, pull the saucer out and place the spoon’s back on your skin somewhere. If it feels cold, start again with some new marmalade and another frozen spoon. If it feels warm, put it back into the freezer, quickly! If it feels just right, test the set.
To do this, tip the spoon at a 60 degree angle. Does the marmalade slide straight off the spoon onto the saucer in a long drip? It’s not ready. Keep cooking and test again in 3-5 minutes.
Does the marmalade attempt a very slow fall off the spoon in a ‘sheet’? When you press the marmalade with your finger, does the top surface of the marmalade look like a jelly? It’s ready! Leave the pot off the heat, don’t stir it, and get ready to bottle.
Bring the kettle of water back to the boil and pour the contents over the bowl of lids, seals and funnel. Pull the jars from the oven and let them cool ever so slightly. You don’t want them to scald your jam when you funnel it in.
Take this time to skim away any scum that might be on the surface of the jam, with a wide, stainless steel spoon. When you’re done and the marmalade has sat for 10 minutes, set up the tray of jars next to the pot and ladle a small amount through the funnel and into a jar. If it scalds, let the jars cool a little longer. Fill the rest of this jar and let it sit for a few minutes. If the pieces of rind start rising to the surface, you’ll need to let the pot of marmalade sit for another 5 minutes or so. If they don’t start rising, quickly fill all the bottles to within 1cm (1/3in) of the top of the jars and seal. Return the whole tray with filled jars to the oven for another 10 minutes to seal the jars. Finally, cool the tray of jars on the bench completely before storing in a cool, dark place.