‘…and after dipping a paw into an open jar of marmalade by his bed in order to make sure everything really was all right, he closed his eyes again.’
Paddington Treasury, Michael Bond
Marmalade. You either like it, or you don’t. I’m in the ‘don’t’ camp whilst both Anthony and Paddington Bear are in the ‘do’ camp. Personal taste is a funny thing. I enjoy sharp and bitter flavours and wouldn’t say no to a mouth puckering Campari or G&T. Anthony is the exact opposite. He can’t stand those flavours yet he adores marmalade with its distinctive bitter taste from the peel and pith. I put these very specific tastes down to childhood. We weren’t really a marmalade household but Anthony grew up with lashings of marmalade on bread and toast as his Dad was English. As to Paddington, I’m uncertain. Do bears from darkest Peru have much exposure to citrus jams in their formative years?
Why then, did I find myself a few weeks ago cutting up oranges for marmalade? I had previously received a haul of grapefruit and had thought about making marmalade but each recipe I read seemed too complicated or assumed some level of expertise. So, we juiced and drank them instead. A gift of an enormous box of blood oranges from Redbelly Citrus spurred me on to do some more research and try my hand at making marmalade. Redbelly is a company owned by third generation farmers from the Riverina, the Mancini family. They are tireless promoters of blood oranges and Australian citrus, keen to have all Australians and overseas consumers enjoy their wonderful product. At the start of the season the oranges are less sweet and I think almost have a savoury quality to them. Their juice is of course, blood red.
To Soak or Not To Soak?
Considering I’ve never made jam (though I do regularly make chutney), I have a surprising number of preserving and jam making books on my shelves. Of course each has a different opinion about preparation of fruit for marmalade. The biggest seems to be around soaking the fruit before cooking. Some suggest chopping and soaking the fruit for up to 24 hrs to assist in softening the pith and peel, mellowing the bitterness and shortening cooking time. Others think this is old kitchen lore and is not required so don’t include this step. As I had time on my side and, the pith and peel on blood oranges are quite thick, I chose to soak. The fruit looked fabulous on the chopping board before I soaked it. An absolute rainbow that really showed off the brilliant hues of the blood oranges. I had hoped for a ruby red marmalade but instead, it is bright orange, the colour of a Sicilian sunset. A nod to the Arancia Rossa di Sicilia (Red Orange of Sicily) and the heritage of the Mancinis.
In the end I used a simple recipe from ‘Home Preserving & Bottling’ by Gladys Mann, 1979. The original recipe used Seville oranges which are very high in pectin and full of seeds which also include pectin. I was concerned whether blood oranges would have enough pectin to set the jam, particularly as they are virtually seedless. I substituted a grapefruit (which is high in pectin) for a lemon to assist with setting but still hovered anxiously throughout the cook, wondering if it would set. I needn’t have been concerned. It’s a lovely consistency. I would also only make half the recipe which is a much more sensible amount but I thought I better stick to the recipe as best I could the first time around. Thankyou to my lovely model, Alice – Anthony’s childhood bear, who was happy to have her fee paid in marmalade.
Blood Orange Marmalade
- 6 x blood oranges
- 1 x lemon
- 1 x grapefruit (or 2 x grapefruit & no lemon)
- 2.25 litres water
- 2.75 kg sugar
- Halve and quarter all fruit then cut the quarters into fine slices. Reserve any seeds and the centre pith from all fruit.
- Place sliced fruit and any juice in a large bowl (or bowls) and cover with 2 litres of the water (divide water between bowls if necessary). Cover and soak for approximately 24hrs. occasionally gently press fruit in bowl below the surface of the water.
- Place seeds and pith in a small bowl and cover with remaining .25l water and soak for the same time as the fruit.
- The next day, place pith and seeds in a small muslin bag or tie into a new kitchen cloth (Chux). Add water from seeds to the saucepan and hang the bag or cloth with seeds from side of the pan or from a wooden spoon laid across pan so it’s submerged in the water.
- Simmer the fruit until the liquid has reduced by half and the peel is tender. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Towards the end of the simmering time, gently warm sugar in a couple of flat baking dishes in the oven at 100c for 10 minutes (this allows the sugar to dissolve quicker in the jam and allows it to return to the boil rapidly).
- Remove the bags of pith and seeds and squeeze it against the side of the pan to press out any extra juice.
- Add the heated sugar gradually to the simmering liquid, stirring regularly to dissolve. The liquid must not boil until all of the sugar is dissolved.
- Bring to the boil and keep at a rolling boil for 10 – 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan so the mixture doesn’t boil over.
- Test to check if the jam is set (a small blob in a sauce of cold water should wrinkle, not dissolve). Remember, this is a home made marmalade so it will not set thick and firm like the rubbery commercial jams that are full of pectin and sometimes even gelatine.
- If required, boil marmalade for a further few minutes then stand for a few minutes to cool slightly.
- Stir marmalade to distribute peel and then spoon or pour marmalade into hot sterilised jars (see below).
- Cover whilst still hot with cellophane circle and rubber band and then place lid on top
Makes: A Lot! approx 10 x 500ml jars
- Remember my words on the setting consistency of this jam. It is spoonable, not a thick, solid set jam. With enough citrus pith and seeds your marmalade will almost certainly set so don’t be overly concerned if it is runny when you stop cooking.
There are three ways to sterilise jars for jam and chutney making. The first is the traditional method, the next two are for we 21st century cooks on the run.
- Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Rinse in hot water and place upside down on racks in an oven heated to 120c. You can line the racks with newspaper or baking parchment before placing on the jars if you wish. Heats jars for 20 minutes. They are now ready for use. Do not place cold jam into hot jars or they may crack and break.
- Place clean jars and lids in your dishwasher and run the dishwasher on a high temperature setting. Use the jars hot from the dishwasher to fill with jam. It does not need to be the full wash so if you have a rinse cycle of 15 minutes or so, you can use this.
- Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Rinse in hot water and place wet jars with water shaken off in the microwave, mouth up. Microwave on high for 30 – 45 seconds (no longer than 1 minute). Fill hot jars with hot jam.