Tuesday, February 05, 2013

How not to make marmalade

I had been so delighted at finding bitter oranges in an organic food shop the other week that I bought over 2kg (6lbs). It meant I would not have to trek down to the bitter orange festival in la Caunette 23/24 Feb, the only other place where they are sure to be available, thus pushing up the price of the oranges to luxury levels what with petrol etc.

I have already made marmalade (once), but being afflicted with a terrible memory, I couldn't remember how I'd done it or where I'd got the recipe from so had to start all over again. I seem to remember it didn't go altogether swimmingly then either, but I only had 4 oranges which made a frugal 2 pots so it didn't really matter.

Here is a master-class on how not to make 2lbs worth of marmalade.

1. Try and fit 6lbs of oranges into a Le Creuset pan that can take 2 at a push.
2. Find different marmalade recipes that give conflicting advice so that I don't know if I'm coming or going.
3. Take brief notes, get out calculator, decide to mix and match.
4. Start boiling oranges late in the afternoon.
5. Don't realise you have to put the lid on the pan (none of the recipes mention that little detail...) so that after 2 hours the oranges are still as hard as rock and the 4 original pints of water are now slightly less than a pint.
6. Put lid on pot.
7. Ring mother in a panic and get her recipe.
8. Fish out now soft oranges, put to one side, turn attention to making dinner.
9. Give up on marmalade for Day 1.
10. Take out jars from warming in the oven just in case I forget they're there and decide to bake a loaf at 240°C.
11. Day 2. Come home from work and top up orange juice in pan with 3 pints of water.
12. Cut oranges in half and scoop out insides into small pan.
13. Slice orange peel into nice chunks, chuck in big pan.
14. Boil up pith and pips for a good 10 mins.
15. Boil it a bit more for good measure.
16. Sieve pith into orange juice, beat the hell out of it.
17. Add lots of sugar to pan and boil.
Looks good, eh, not far off setting point. Looks can be deceptive...
18. Put saucers into freezer to await their moment of glory testing for that elusive 'setting point'.
19. Setting point doesn't arrive.
20. Twenty minutes, thirty minutes...
21. Setting point still not showing signs of making even a guest appearance.
22. Forty minutes. Saucers in and out of freezer.
23. Forty-five minutes. Enough. Setting point off on a weekend break evidently.
24. Take pan off heat and cover, leave to cool. Pray that setting point makes a late entry.
25. Pour cooled marmalade into jars. Fill 10 (TEN!) jars. Still no sight of setting point.
You can't see how runny it is, but believe me, it is!
26. Day 3. Setting point a distant memory. Post message on Facebook asking if anyone has tried taking remedial action on potted marmalade by putting it back into pan and adding powdered pectin.
27. Look up recipes that use runny marmalade...
28. Thank lucky stars I don't have a preserving pan and didn't muck up 6lbs of oranges!

Today I get word on Facebook that you can reboil it with some pectin. I have what they call here 'Vitpris' which is sachets of pectin. I have no idea how much I have to use, but I have poured the marmalade back into the pot, and the jars are back in the dishwasher as I write!

Fingers crossed... As I have another 4lbs to play with hopefully the next batch will not be such a pain in the pot. The only problem is, I'm running out of jam jars...! I didn't realise just how much marmalade you get out of 2kg of oranges!

Good thing we all love the stuff!


  1. What a saga!
    I missed making our own marmalade in France and only managed it once when we found sevilles in the garden of the hotel when on holiday in Tunisia.
    The manager let us have what we wanted in return for showing his chef how to make marmalade as their British customers always asked for it...
    Luckily the recipe was hard wired into my brain....

    1. That sounds an original holiday activity!

  2. I've just finished this year's batch -- bitter oranges from our own tree. I've long since given up waiting for the natural pectin to set its point. Store-bought pectin goes in right off. As does a generous amount of cointreau.

    I filled 15 jars, and it's LISHY!

    1. There speaks the voice of experience. The pectin worked, of course, but my troubles were not over because the marmalade kept boiling over onto the glass hob making instant caramelised marmalade!

      Obviously that batch was bewitched!

      It came out all right in the end, although I only have 9 jars worth now after the boiling over episodes. I really do need a preserving pan!

  3. Points 2 and 3 got me chuckling- I'm always fiddling around between recipes and get surprised when the result is disasterous. I love marmalade but am too weedy to try making it. I have a simple procedure:1. Go to shop 2.Buy 3. Eat.

    1. I grew up with my mother's marmalade and after that, the shop stuff really doesn't cut it. Unfortunately, marmalade pots are very heavy so I can't bring much back with me from the UK, so if I want the real McCoy I have to make my own.

      It shouldn't be anything like as difficult as I managed to make it!

  4. The end result is so pretty. I would have loads of calling of the mother in NZ that's for sure. I always rocket off and start making things without going through the instructions properly. Pectin - do you really need that. Doesn't it just magically set. (In fact I usually don't buy marmalade because its such a weakness I would end up eating a jar with toast in one sitting)

    1. You do need pectin if you don't do the pips/pith bit correctly, which I evidently didn't. That's where all the natural pectin is, but my mother did say that marmalade can be a bugger, so it's a good idea to have the powdered stuff to hand.

      They don't have those little waxed discs here that you put on top of the marmalade or jam to stop it going fuzzy. You have to melt some special paraffin and pour it over the top. Yet another pain in the arse! I must remember to buy some waxed discs next time I go to the UK.

      I had a look at the price of preserving pans yesterday - €37!! I'll have to look out for second-hand I reckon.

  5. I always use Vitpris when making jam,none of this boiling for hours and hours seeking the elusive `set`. The jam tastes fruitier too. If you look in the Vitpris box, there is a good recipe book which includes orange or lemon jam, seems to be marmalade under another name!

    1. Hi Richard, another Vitpris fan? Cool! I'll have a look in the box.

  6. Marmalade can be very temperamental, Sarah, so you have my sympathy. Mind you, runny marmalade is gorgeous poured over plain icecream. :-)

    1. If I'd only had a couple of pots it would have been okay, but I had 10 pots of the runny stuff! :)

      I did find a nice recipe in my Good Housekeeping cookery dictionary for Marmalade and Mace Bread (or was it cake?). I might make it anyway as it didn't specify runny marmalade was needed. :)

  7. I admire your perseverance Sarah - you obviously have staying power! If you did have a soft set (sounds so much better than runny doesn't it?) marmalade use it in a bread & butter pudding - gorgeous! Sharon

    1. I could, but I had 10 pots of the stuff and we don't eat that much bread and butter pudding! :)

      Anyway, it's sorted now. Seville oranges are far too precious to waste so I was determined the marmalade was not going to beat me!! :)

  8. Hilarious! Sounds much like my adventures in domesticity. I'm a great one for mixing and matching recipes too. It never works but I never learn!

    1. It's a very bad habit, isn't it!!

      I'll be sticking to Mary Stewart next time (probably...). :)

  9. "A soft set" sounds like a sexual failure.

  10. Oh I did laugh at this. I'm always mixing recipes and it's never a good idea.
    I make jam occasionally in a normal pan so never make more than a few jars at once. Have had good results with plums but made some raspberry jam last year and it's welded to the jar. I think I missed the setting point.

    1. I did that with mixed red fruit jam a couple of years ago. It's rock solid!

  11. So funny! That's why I never tried to make marmalade. I know that I suck at it!

    1. I certainly wouldn't recommend it as a stress-free way to spend an afternoon! I suppose you can get used to it though. :)


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