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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.


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.


  • 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 founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.