BBC Food blog

« Previous | Main | Next »

How to make marmalade

Post categories:

Dan Lepard Dan Lepard | 14:03 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

Making marmalade at home is a cool thing to do, up there with baking as a skill that gives you a certain pride in conversations. Unlike our grannies, we don't have to aim to supply the neighbourhood with dozens of jars or pad out the oranges with pectin-rich carrot or turnip as they did in the war years. We can use good ingredients, make just enough for ourselves and friends, and feel rightly pleased that this little act of self-sufficiency showcases our kitchen abilities rather well.

As with bread baking, we've found out a little more about the science that creates the 'jellied set' and keeps the peel tender rather than tough. This means that making marmalade well at home is much less problematic than it used to be. So we can banish runny unset syrups and leathery peel to history. Today's marmalade should be able to sit like jelly and glisten, packed with a rich bittersweet flavour all fairly effortlessly without hours of sugar boiling.

Marmalade

Picture by Dan Lepard

Seville oranges, the particular type of citrus fruit used in marmalade making, are rich in a natural substance known as pectin. You may have seen it in bottles at the supermarket, often made from apples or sometimes lime skins. When pectin is combined with sugar and acid - like lemon juice - and boiled to 105C/220F, it forms a suspension that sets as it cools. Cook above that temperature and you might damage the pectin, take the temperature well below that and the pectin might not gel.

But first of all you have to release the pectin from the pips and peel, mainly the white bitter part of the fruit. The longer the pips and peel sit in water the more pectin will be released. The way that preserving guru Pam Corbin, a patron and judge at the annual Marmalade Awards in Cumbria, suggests is to cut the Seville oranges in half, squeeze all the juice out, then slice the peel thinly and cover it with the juice and extra water. Leave that for 24 hours before cooking, with the pips soaking separately. Others go for cooking the oranges whole first, then leave them to cool in the water for 24 hours, before removing the oranges and shredding the peel.

My recipe for medium-cut Seville orange marmalade explains how to get the proportions of oranges to liquid and sugar right. My mum would measure it to the eye and get it correct most times, but then she's a marmalade machine. If you're like me, only making it occasionally, then weighing and measuring is the best way.

I advise keeping the boiling time short. First it avoids damaging the pectin. Second, if you boil the sugar and peel for a long time you are more likely to harden the fibres and make the peel tough. But the other reason is when you boil sugar and an acid together for a long period you cause the sugar to "invert" and this can affect the set. The acid of the lemon is essential for creating the pectin set, so if you add less the gel may not form and the flavour will be too sweet.

It's essential to have a big enough pan. When everything is in the pot, it should be filled halfway up, no more, so that when it boils up the mixture stays in the pan, and doesn't boil all over your hob and risk scalding your hands. Treat yourself to a large marmalade pot, often called a maslin pan, or cook the marmalade in smaller batches. Boiling hot marmalade will burn if it hits your skin, so better to be careful.

When it comes to testing the set, I've never had much luck with getting marmalade to set on a saucer in the fridge, or getting it to drip in sheets from the spoon. If you haven't got the mixture right to begin with no amount of continuous boiling will make it set. Though you could leave it to cool, add liquid pectin and bring it to the boil again. Tiptree make a tawny marmalade that is cooked twice, so you'd be in good company.

Once you've made marmalade once, you almost won't need a recipe. Afterwards, anything from marmalade sponge pudding with cardamom custard to a marmalade Martini will have that touch of pride mixed with it.

So tell me, have you made marmalade this year? And do you have any tips to share?

Dan Lepard is a food writer for the Guardian and a baking expert.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I used to add a tablespoon of black treacle to the jam pan just before putting it into jars. This would be enough for 4lbs oranges recipe. It added a lovely undertone and deepened the colour.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Dan

    Question.
    I made my novelty marmalade recipe a little too savoury at first.
    And needed to add more sugar.

    When I added 100g, the boiling mix foamed rather alarmingly, & foamed more as I stirred, up to the top of my pan.

    Any tips on adding more sugar if you need to, without cooling the marmalade first?



  • Comment number 3.

    Hi akamolly,
    Like a touch of black treacle, and you're right, it’s all about using a small amount for a subtle ooomph to the flavour. Tarry dark treacle isn't my thing.

    Hi Gill,

    There is this tremendous boil-up when you first add the sugar, and I'm not sure it's entirely avoidable other than using a pan that allows for the mixture to triple in height without reaching the top. This is where preserving pans have an advantage, as they're so big.

  • Comment number 4.

    Perhaps you should send some to Victoria Beckham as she's eating so much during her current pregnancy! LOL.

  • Comment number 5.

    What was wrong with grannies making enough marmalade to suppy to friends and neighbours, seems like a nice thing to do to me? I also make lots, I keep some, some is given as gifts to very appreciative friends and neighbours, and some is sold to raise money for charity.
    My current favourite is Mary Norwak's ginger marmalade recipe - works well, sets brilliants and tastes extremely good.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have seen so many articles on the brilliance of marmalade in the past few days that I am hoping this is the start of a big campaign to raise its popularity. I read the other day that marmalade sales have really dropped in the past year as people aren't eating it anymore, so I hope that all the publicity it is receiving is reminding people of how delicious it is. My friend just gave me a jar of homemade whisky marmalade, which I have been eating on french baguette with some Camembert cheese. This is a delicious combination that I highly recommend. I have never actually tried to make it as I always thought it was really tricky, which I think came from watching my grandma made a real song and dance out of it, just as she did making the Christmas pudding! But I think I will give it a go, it is so satisfying to be eating your own homemade marmalade!!

  • Comment number 7.

    I have made my saville marmalade this year using the pressure cooker method, with just a hint of chilli (2 scotch bonnet chillies to 1.5 kg. oranges). It is a bit like the American style jelly with chilli that I made last year. It is slightly under set, but is delicious. Everyone who has tasted it loves it.
    MaryH78, I made whiscky marmalad, using mamade tins, a few years back for a charity sale, it sold out within minutes! I think it was just the name whisky on the label that did it!

  • Comment number 8.

    Saffiewalks, of course you're right, nothing writing with grannies cooking up vats of marmalade and much that's commendable about it. But articles and recipes that suggest we all do the same don't take into account different lives and needs. It takes a brave soul to make their first swing at marmalade making with a 15+ jar recipe. Often it takes a small batch recipe to tempt a beginner. Mary Norwak, a great talent and vastly under-rated.

    MaryH78, I think you’re right and it’s partly down to self-sufficiency and feeling that - even if some home cooking isn’t as economical as buying ready-made from the supermarket - it feels much more empowering and “right” to make it yourself.

    And, lovely Mamta, following on from that I feel a surge in pressure cookers coming up. Makes cooking the peel to tenderness so quick and easy.

    Dan

  • Comment number 9.

    I have just finished my very first 2 batches of marmalade, the second a much better effort so currently have 12 jars in my pantry. I want to make more but am worried about getting all the jars and storing it. Then my husband informed me that his mother used to make loads but only to the stage before adding the sugar and then froze it all. She would then make more once the first batch was finished. This seems like a great idea. I have enough room in the freezer but was wondering how this might effect the finished product or will it make no difference at all. I also wanted to say that the satisfaction I have got from make my own is enormous and would encourage others to have a go. It tastes soooo much better than anything in the shops.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is the second article I've seen recently (the other being Hugh F-W's in the Guardian) that mistakenly claims that Pam Corbin advocates boiling up the orange pips to improve the set. This is not the case. In fact, quoting from page 55 of Preserves by Pam Corbin:

    "For generations, marmalade-makers have cooked up the mass of pips found inside citrus fruits in the belief that they are full of pectin. However, most of the pectin is actually found in the citrus peel and I rely on this for the setting power in my marmalade."

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Dogsbody,
    I spoke with Pam at length before writing this article, as I have on many occasions over the past years, and didn't believe I misquoted her from what she told me. So I called her this morning to check and explained what you'd pointed out to her. Here's what Pam told me today:

    "When I wrote my preserving book I wish I'd had more space to explain some recipes in more detail, and the marmalade recipe in particular, as there are so many different approaches. The two certainties we know is that both the pips and the peel contain pectin, and that the peel contains much more pectin than the pips.

    If you soak the pips overnight you will extract pectin from them, and if the pips and their soaking liquid are boiled with the peel you will get a slightly firmer set. But what I wanted to avoid people doing is simply soaking the pips and leaving out the bulk of the peel, thinking that the pips had some enormous setting ability. I rely on the peel for the setting, and the pectin in the pips is an extra bonus.

    The beauty of marmalade making is that it relies on the whole fruit for the best result, meaning that almost nothing gets discarded - other than the spent pips - and this will give you a richly flavoured set preserve.

    There is a simple way you can observe the action of pectin in the pips:

    Strain the pips from 5-6 Seville oranges, place them in a cup, barely cover them with water and leave for 24 hours at room temperature. At the end of this time the water will have lightly set into a delicate jelly. My view, and Pam's view, is that the best place for that jelly is your marmalade pan.

    Dan

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm also in the middle of my annual marmalade making and it's always good to read everyone's experiences and tips. To anyone thinking about trying, it's well worth the effort and not difficult - you just need to set aside some time when you will be around the house for a while. DIANE I wouldn't worry too much about your marmalade keeping - I have found that mine will keep well into the second year, that's if I've overdone the amount. I make sure everything is sterile as far as possible to avoid mould forming eg. I run boiling water over the inside of the lids just before sealing the jars. DAN I'm no expert, but I do use the cold-plate-in-the-fridge as a guide to when I'm getting close to the setting point, also, I find that the marmalade seems to start spitting with a bit more vengeance when it's about ready. Above all, every batch is slightly different, which I think is one of the added pleasures.

  • Comment number 13.

    Dan, I tried a Delia marmalade recipe last week and it just won't set. I used pips for the pectin, then as this failed I went out and bought a bottle of pectin. This too hasn't worked. Did you mention back there that the liquid pectin needs to be boiled before it gets activated? I suppose I could put it back in the pressure cooker for a fourth time... Please advise. Thank you.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi bridgetfinzi,

    Adding liquid pectin with lemon juice will (have confidence!) make your already cooked marmalade set but you must work out the right proportion, and this will vary from batch to batch.

    To test how much just take 500ml of your marmalade - it’s ok if it’s already in the jar, just spoon it back into a saucepan - and add 25ml liquid pectin like Certo and a tablespoon of lemon juice, bring to the boil and cook until the temperature reaches 105C. Then pour this back into the washed jar and leave 6-8 hour to judge the set. If it’s still too soft add a little more Certo, if it’s too soft add less.

    The reason you’ve got into this situation might be that you (a) needed slightly more lemon juice, and (b) that you had too much liquid left after cooking the oranges. The trick is to strain the liquid off the peel and boil it further until it measure twice the weight of the original fruit. So if you start with 900g of oranges you want to reduce the cooking liquid after straining the peel until it measures 1.8 litres before adding the sugar.

    Dan

  • Comment number 15.

    Ooops...my comment above should say "If it’s still too soft add a little more Certo, if it’s too firm add less." But hopefully you guessed that.

    On the set you can achieve: just relying on the pectin found naturally in Seville orange peel, pith and pips you should get something like this:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/danlepard/5393103175/
    made using our recipe here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/medium-cut_seville_70291

    The rather firm, almost rubbery set, you get in some commercial jams and marmalades is created with added pectin, so don't expect that result from your home-made Seville marmalade if you're relying on the fruit alone.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi We have had our second disaster with our first attempt at marmalade making. First it set like concrete and had a job the get it out of the jars and now it is like water! We have left it stood in the jars, as we were so disappointed, since Monday as I was going to throw ia all away, again! Bu t reading your comment about returning to the pan and adding pectin I wondered if it is too late for us to try this?

  • Comment number 17.

    Gillnst - what a shame you're not having any success. When I boil up my oranges & water (with pips in muslin) I mark the depth on my wooden spoon, measure half the depth and boil until it reaches the halfway mark. I use the cold plate/wrinkling method to judge the set as it should turn out reasonably well over a range of 'sets', some firmer than others, but nice to have a bit of variety.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hello Gillnst, not too late: use the test method in my comment above to work out how much pectin to use, then re-cook the mixture with the extra pectin to 105C, clean and heat the jars again, cool the marmalade slightly then pour it into the jars and seal immediately.

    Maryharri...great tip about the wooden spoon. One of the winners at the marmalade awards yesterday told me she uses a chopstick.

    Dan

  • Comment number 19.

    Dan, you make no mention of reduction. By reducing twice by a third, once before the sugar is added and again afterwards, I have no problem with setting. I soak everything except the sugar overnight as you say but use no lemon or additional pectin. I use a lot less sugar than any recipe I have seen and make certain it is dissolved completely. The second reduction caramalizes the sugar, which makes it quite dark. Regular stirring prevents it burning.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi youngra,Reducing the liquid is written about at length in our recipe on the bbc site, but reducing is somewhat dependent on the amount of water you start with. It sounds like you have a cracking recipe! Not using lemon is very interesting. For most of us acid is needed to get the pectin to set but you might have hit on a new discovery there. I'm guessing you like your marmalade dark and chunky, or "meaty" some call it?
    Dan

  • Comment number 21.

    Dan, I do like it dark but it doesn't have to be chunky. I'm too lazy to hand chop the peel and blitz it in the food processor. I have to be careful not to overdo it, though. About 5 to 10 seconds is enough. My first batch this year, for instance, was much too blitzed, resulting in very small pieces of fruit in the marmalade. Not quite right, but still caramalised nicely. And set nicely. Nothing new about it, though. My mother was a great experimenter. She tested a number of recipes in the fifties and sixties and arrived at one that worked, which I still use. I have now inherited the marmalade duties for the whole family and have made as much as 120 lbs in a year. All in small batches in Jan and Feb. This year I have made about 40 so far and have fruit for another 60 in the freezer for use later. Richard

  • Comment number 22.

    A useful tip to help your marmalade set, is to add, after the peel has been softened, some finely grated cooking apple. Allow approximately 200-250g (a good sized Bramley) of apple for every kilo of fruit used. It is important to use cooking apple because the flesh will simply dissolve into the gell. You will find by doing this your marmalade will set easily at a lower sugar content than without. Use this tip when making other citrus marmalades ie sweet orange or grapefruit - these fruits are not as pectin rich as the glorious Seville, but nonetheless, can be used to make delicious marmaldes throughhout the year.
    Remember, there are always variables when making any preserves; size of pan, quality and quantity of fruit used, rolling boil etc., but given time, patience and understanding of the process you will take much satisfaction in the golden beauties you can store away for the year ahead.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Pam and Dan,
    THis post couldnt have come at a better time. I'm new to marmalade. Did one batch two weeks ago and it was good. tried another formula this time (using the soak peel,etc in water overnight method) and disappointingly it didnt set. I suspect it's the water to sugar ratio. I had my doubts but it came from a reliable source so i went ahead.

    So first of all, can someone point the link to the BBC recipe out to me? It's probably right in front of my eyes but i've managed to miss it.

    Second, some recipes call for using the boiling the pulp with the sugar; others discard the pulp along with the pips. Does this make any difference other than the texture of the product?

    Third, Pam you say one could use less sugar if adding an apple. I'm absolutely interested in this. I would like to use as little sugar as i can possibly get away with. But how much less, Pam? And what is the usual ratio?

    Fourth, to rescue my slightly runny marmalade, if i'm unable to get hold of liquid pectin, can i reboil it with an apple and some lemon juice and sugar? I was even thinking of cooking an apple down to apple butter stage sort of, and adding it to the marmalade, not so much as a bid to get it to set but just to thicken the mixture, lend it some body so to speak. Or even being lazy and just adding apple (or some other fruit) puree. Has anyone ever tried this?

    thanks! Dan i use your bread recipes all the time. You are a jam (haha, couldn't resist)

  • Comment number 24.

    hi dan I am new at making jam and marmalade, my niece gave me this recipe and it was a failure it did not set. hers turns out well. is it because I use navel oranges? i also add lemons to the mix I had to reboil and add jam setter can you help?

    tessmaria

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi Teresa,

    Yes, it could be using navel oranges that stopped it setting. Navel oranges have very little natural pectin, though they can make a lovely sweetish orange “jam” if set with pectin or mixed with a pectin rich fruit like Bramley apple. Here in the UK we’re coming up to Seville orange season again (late December - March) so you can try again, or if you live outside the UK you might want to try the recipe with more thick-skinned lemons and grapefruit. Thicker pith (the white part of the peel) often means more natural pectin, and a better set.

    Dan

 

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.