Bitter, Sweet and Zesty

January to February means marmalade making time in the Milton household. It’s an event that takes up most of the day and the kitchen is completely taken over with recycled jam jars and other marmalade making paraphernalia. The house is filled with a wonderful, heady aroma of oranges and the result is a dozen jars of amber marmalade. Given that the weather is usually a little inclement during these months, it’s something we look forward to doing. The recipe is one I’ve used for years and never lets me down.

marmalade pots

If you fancy having a go you will need a large wide-based pan (or a proper jam making/preserving pan), a wide-mouthed funnel (makes life easier but not essential), clear jam covers and wax discs, a muslin cloth (you can find these items in kitchen shops), a long handled wooden spoon and jam jars. I collect jars over the year for making jams and preserves.

My recipe for Seville orange marmalade

1.4 kg (3lb) Seville oranges juice of 2 lemons 3.4 litres (6pints) water 2.7kg (6lb sugar)

One thing I’ve done over recent years is to buy a bag of preserving sugar (sometimes called jam making sugar) and mix this with the other the sugar to make up your total quantity. This ensures a good set.

The first job is to wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice and pips. Slice the peel and put in the preserving pan with the lemon juice and pips (pips tied in a muslin bag). During this preparation, I find it handy to drape the muslin in a bowl; I put the pips and pith into this as I prepare the oranges. I tidy the peel by taking the pith off with a spoon but I don’t throw this away, it all gets added to my ‘muslin bowl’. When all the fruit is prepared, tie up the muslin with string and add to the pan. Cook gently until the peel is soft and the liquid has reduced by half. This is really important and takes at least 2 hours.

During this time I wash my jars in the dishwasher; they need to be very clean. The kitchen should smell lovely and citrusy by now.

When the liquid has reduced, remove the bag of pips and pith after giving it a good squeeze. The reason for doing this is to release the pectin found in the pips; pectin acts as a setting agent.

Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved, then bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. This usually takes about 15 minutes. During this time I warm the jars in the oven before use. To test the marmalade for setting, try putting a little on a cold plate. The surface should crinkle when pushed with a fingertip.

Take the pan off the boil and remove any scum that has appeared round the edges of the pan. Fill warmed jars to the brim with hot marmalade (I use a ladle and my funnel). Immediately put on the waxed discs. The clear covers should be put on when the marmalade is either still hot or cold, but never tepid as this could cause mould growth. I tend to put them on when the marmalade’s still hot because then I’ve finished the job (well, apart from the washing up).

This should give you about 10-12 lb jars of marmalade and possibly a sticky kitchen!

Now it’s time to admire your jars of zestiness and relax with a cup of tea (or something stronger). At this point I usually feel like a domestic Goddess. Cheers!

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