Me and marmalade are getting acquainted, and as we do, I’m finding myself inspired to share the marmalade making love around. (Sorry it’s coming a bit late for the Australian marmalade making season!)
1. Marmalades really prefer you use unwaxed fruit, and organic fruit is better than conventionally grown fruit, except when the fruit doesn’t taste as good. Organic fruit doesn’t always taste better than conventionally grown fruit. A sad truth. Use your best judgement. If the fruit isn’t organic, make sure you at least give it a really good scrub to make sure there are no pesticide residues on the skin.
2. Don’t be scared about all the sugar marmalades require. Unlike a lot of jams (see my hints and tips here), marmalades need sugar to taste right. All that high acid fruit and bitter rind would be a little unpleasant with a reduced sugar content, and so would the set. (Pectin only really works when the acid and sugar in a mixture get it on. If the acid far outweighs the sugar, you’ll most probably have setting issues.)
3. Marmalade is really a jelly with bits of rind in it. And you can use all kinds of fruits for the jelly part of a marmalade, not just citrus. Take for example, blood orange and strawberry or pear and lemon marmalade.
4. Jellies are made by cooking fruit for a really long time, which brings out all sorts of characters and flavour profiles that a short, fresh cooking would not. A long cook also intensifies flavours by reducing water content. All this complexifying and strengthening of flavour is necessary because marmalades have such a high sugar content. Without a good jelly, your marmalade will be all cloying sweetness with no real depth.
5. I always thought that to make jellies, you need a jelly bag. But you don’t! You can use a sieve to suspend the cooked solids over a bowl to drain. But don’t be tempted to press on the solids to speed up the drip- this will just cloud your jelly. Instead, let the fruit drip over night. The end product in the sieve will look kind of devastated.
It’s completely dead: void of all flavour, which is what you want- all that flavour is now in the bowl below. If the liquid looks a little cloudy, pour it through a very fine sieve, or a sieve lined with cheesecloth, to pick up any tiny solids that may have crept through.
6. Different citrus fruit skins need different initial treatments, depending on the toughness of the rind and the bitterness of the pith. This will range from presoaking in cold water, to parboiling, to both, in the really hard cases (like some grapefruits). This is what will end up varying your marmalade making time from 1 day to 3 days. If you’re using a recipe that doesn’t do some variation on the above, be a wee bit suspicious.
7. When you initially cook the rinds, you want them to be tender, but not falling apart. Too soft a rind makes marmalades taste mushy, but too tough a rinds makes marmalades taste, well, yuck. Keep an eye on this. The more marmalade you make, the better you’ll get at judging the point at which the rind is just right. Sure, you might muck up a few batches, but it’s all for the better for your long term marmalade making skills!
8. Not everyone owns a gorgeous copper preserving kettle. Or at least, not yet (I’m still saving up for mine). Just make sure that when you combine the jelly mixture and the rinds, you’re using a large, wide pot, and that the mixture barely makes it half way up the side. There’s nothing worse than a getting a marmalade on a rolling boil only to find it rolling right out of the pot and all over your stove!
9. That said, make sure you do reach a rolling boil with your marmalade making, and fast. The faster the better. You don’t want to spend excess time, at this stage, softly poaching your rinds to oblivion.
10. During the first stages of cooking, the marmalade will foam, a lot. Try not to stir. Stirring too much at this stage may cloud your jelly and mush your rinds. Try not to stir, that is, unless you’re about to experience a boil over, in which case, quickly take the whole pot off the heat and stir it very quickly to calm it down. Then get yourself a larger pot and start again.
11. Most marmalades will take at least 25 minutes to reach a setting point. But some won’t so don’t just turn on the timer and walk away. The longer the marmalade boils, the less foam it will have on top. The jelly will be covered in large bubbles, and then as it reduces and gets closer to being ready, it will get more glossy looking and the bubbles will start looking very small. Dip a spoon into the marmalade every 5 minutes or so and check for bubbles so you get a sense of how close you’re getting.
For a detailed description of testing the setting point, plus sterilising and filling jars, see my post on making Pear and Lemon Marmalade.