Day 29: Secrets to a Good Marmalade

I love a good homemade marmalade – not the overly sweet, artificially flavored junk you find in the grocery store. No. I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness homemade marmalade where the citrus flavor pops the minute it hits your tongue.

Yeah…THAT.

Just as the flavor of a homegrown tomato cannot compare to the grocery store version, so too is it with homemade marmalade.

Many people think that making marmalade is too hard or even scary. But it really is not difficult – especially if you understand a few of the tricks. Here’s the scoop on how to make great marmalade and I’ve included a simple, yet delicious recipe to get you started.

Now, I should start out by stating up front that although marmalade is not difficult or complicated…it CAN BE a bit more time consuming than your average jam. And that is why some people don’t like to make it. I know that for me, setting aside time for a batch of marmalade can be very hard to carve out of my weekend. But this fact only makes homemade marmalade all the more precious in in my book.

Delicious seasonal citrus + a devoted chunk of time = LOVE in a jar!

Trust me. Once you make a batch and taste it, you will only give jars out to the most special people in your life. The rest you will hoard for yourself!

Tips and Tricks of Making Marmalade

1) Organic

Traditional marmalades include the peel of the citrus used. For this reason, it is important that you use organic or homegrown fruit. Some states (not California) even allow the outside of the peel to be coated with a colored dye that is NOT food safe. Why you ask? Because they do not consider the peel to be edible and therefore feel it is okay. By choosing organic produce, you avoid the dye. But you still need to wash the fruit with warm water and a vegetable brush because many fruits are coated in a wax. Plus, it is a good idea to get off any dirt, grime or even organic sprays that may have been used on the fruit before harvest.

2) Texture

One of the characteristics of a “good” marmalade is that the peel bits are soft in texture when you bite into them. If the mixture is not cooked long enough, the peel remains tough and feels like a mistake rather than a delicious morsel. This is where many canners panic. But no need! There are many methods to achieving a soft peel, but the one I feel is a “sure thing” every time is to soak the peel over night. Just follow your recipe’s instructions for how to cut the rind (in strips, chopped, etc). And then even if it says to start the marmalade immediately – Don’t. Instead, warm the peel in warm water and let the mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The benefit of this two-fold: First it allows you to break the recipe up into two chunks rather than one giant marathon session and second, the soaking softens the rind without worrying about how long to cook it.

And here’s another handy hint about the rind: Once you add the sugar to the mixture, the peel will no longer soften. So if it is still tough as nails…keep cooking it a bit longer before you add the sugar in your recipe.

3) Gel


Unlike most other jams, a traditional marmalade is not made with the addition of commercial pectin. Yes, there are mixture “marmalades” made by combining other fruits with the citrus and yes in some of those cases a recipe may call for pectin. But if you are making a traditional recipe, no pectin is needed. This is because the rind and the seeds of citrus have a ton of pectin. You may notice that some marmalade recipes even call for you to tie up all the seeds and pith in a cheesecloth bag and boil it with the fruit. That is to release the pectin, so be sure to do it when asked to.

4) Equipment

Aside from all the typical canning equipment (jars, waterbath canner, etc), it is best to have a heavy bottomed pan to prevent burning and you will need a candy thermometer. Yes, you can judge the temperature using the “spoon test” or even the “wrinkle test” but it can seem tricky to newbies – plus, I never trust myself completely and feel better knowing “for sure”. A candy thermometer takes all the guess work out of it. You will thank me later. And make sure it is a candy thermometer – not a meat thermometer which will not have small enough increments to read accurately.

5) Before ladling into jars

Another common problem is the rind sinking to the bottom of every jar. To prevent this, wait about 3-5 minutes after you turn off the heat BEFORE ladling into the jars. The marmalade will thicken and less of the rind will sink. Works like a charm!

Traditional Orange Marmalade

This recipe is simple, yet delicious and a great “first timer” recipe to try. It comes from the Cooperative Extension Office at the University of GA. Nothing fancy here, just 100% yumminess in a jar. Note: By pulp, I mean the meat of the fruit minus the seeds and peel.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups thinly sliced orange peel (about 6 large oranges)
  • 4 cups orange pulp, cut up (about 6 large oranges)
  • 1 cup lemon pulp, cut up (about 2 lemons)
  • 6 cups of water
  • Approximately 6 cups of sugar (see note 3 below)

Day One:

Add water to all the fruit and peel in saucepan. Heat to simmer and then simmer for 5 minutes. Cover, cool and then place in the refrigerator over night.

Day Two:

1) In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the fruit and water mixture until the peel is tender (about 1 hour).

2) Meanwhile, sterilize your canning jars.

3) NOTE: At this point you measure the fruit and water mixture. For every one cup of mixture you add 1 cup of sugar. You need equal parts sugar to mixture. Then continue on with your recipe.

4) Over medium heat, bring the fruit/sugar mixture up to boiling – stirring constantly. Cook rapidly to the jellying point (220 degrees F on a candy thermometer). It usually takes about 25 minutes to get to this point.

5) Turn off heat and wait 3-5 minutes while you get your jars ready to fill.

6) Ladle hot marmalade into hot jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process for 5 minutes in a waterbath canner.

7) Check seals when cool and label.

 This post is part of the 31 Days of Living Homegrown. Sign up for my newsletter (weekly or monthly) so you don’t miss any of the inspiration and resources I will be sharing for living local, fresh and homegrown!

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About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.)

{ 16 comments… add one }

  • Debbie April 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve had a couple disappointments in making marmalade and I’m encouraged with your clear directions and tips. I’m going to try it again! I love marmalade and I think I know where I went wrong. Thank you!

    Reply edit
  • TeresaR April 10, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Yummy! A friend of mine has been making marmalade to sell and I bought some from her, but I really need to make my own. Thanks for a terrific tutorial!

    Reply edit
  • Tammy April 12, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I have never been a fan of marmalade, mainly because it was bitter. A few weeks ago I found a non-bitter recipe so I made up a batch. YUMMY! It is basically orange preserves. I <3 it! Plus it looks so pretty and bright sitting on my canning shelves. It makes me smile every time I see it.

    Reply edit
    • theresa April 12, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      For years I had only eaten the marmalade that my mom made. Then one time, I tasted some store bought marmalade and YUCK! I swore off marmalade for a few years until I was able to make it myself. I’m so glad that you found some that you like!

      Reply edit
  • Amy (Get Busy Gardening) April 18, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Wow, this sounds great! I’ve never tried making jam or marmalade. I just got into canning a few years ago, and that’s time consuming enough. Some day I hope to try this though, it sounds wonderful!

    Amy

    Reply edit
    • theresa April 19, 2013 at 6:17 am

      Yes Amy – the time factor is a problem. But there are so many other faster recipes out there. Save this one for when you feel like savoring the time with a nice cup of tea and the aroma of oranges wafting through the kitchen…That is the time to dive into this one!

      Reply edit
  • SJ Smith April 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I don’t normally like marmalade; except as a glaze on roast chicken. Then, a few years ago, I was given some kumquats about this time of year. It was alot of work, but it was the best marmalade I’d ever had. I just sliced the kumquats as thin as I possibly could and proceeded with basic marmalade recipe. No need to discard pith… just use the whole fruit. I rushed a 3 day recipe into 2 days by starting day one about sunrise, and doing Day 2 after dinner. It was alot of work! I love how you explain and show the processes so clearly. I’ll be bookmarking it for the next time someone offers me a quart or so of kumquats.

    Reply edit
    • theresa April 25, 2013 at 5:53 am

      I just made kumquat marmalade day before yesterday! I do find it to be one of the most time consuming of marmalades, but as you said – It is the best!

      Reply edit
  • Emily April 29, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Thanks for the tips. I never thought about using organic because of the peel. I’ll try this soon!

    Reply edit
  • Mary Beth May 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Oh my. Going to have to add this to the weekend list. I would love these sunny jars on my counter! Wishing I had kumquats, too. As if we didn’t have enough plants around here… :) Your description makes it very approachable and I can’t wait to start this recipe.

    Reply edit
  • Bill Hilton May 2, 2014 at 10:53 am

    My first marmalade was in England in 1944, my first opinion was correct, best jam I ever had, however, after returning to Texas every jar was too sweet so stopped buying it. Now over the years I have tried making it myself but can;t find a recipe that will jell without a load of sugar, Kinda like the British bitter taste, any suggestions?
    THanks
    Bill

    Reply edit
    • theresa May 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      Bill,

      I know exactly what you are talking about! The American version of marmalade is very sweet compared to the British version. But it is more than just the higher sugar content!

      Traditional British marmalade uses a bitter orange rather than a sweet orange. The orange you need is called a Seville. It is large and very seedy. It has a very bitter peel and flesh. This bitterness counters the sugar needed to get the proper gel and you end up with a less sweet marmalade. The flavor is deep and divine.

      Seville oranges are only available for a few weeks (Mid-January to Mid-February). You can buy them in bulk at this time and freeze them so that you can make the marmalade later. I don’t know where you are located, but Seville oranges are grown a lot in California. You can order them online in January and have them shipped to other locations.

      I think that is your missing ingredient. You also might want to look at the book called “Marmalade – Sweet and Savory Spreads” by Elizabeth Field. She has sweet and not-so-sweet recipes and everything I have made from that book has worked perfectly.

      I hope that helps.
      ~Theresa

      Reply edit

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