Marmalade is a big deal in my household. It was something that my husband brought to the relationship when we first met. Where I came bearing the joys of take-away pizza (no, incredibly, he’d never had one before me), really big bath towels, and excellent toasties (mayonnaise, not butter, spread onto the outside of the bread), he brought marmalade. Once he arrived at our date clutching still-warm jars of marmalade, muttering apologies for being late because was he was waiting for it to set.
His whole family are obsessed with it, comparing sets, peel, yield each year. 2017 was officially designated a Low Pectin Year by the family – the year when you could pretty much have drunk Sam’s produce straight from the jar – whereas the collective 2018 batch looked brighter. I’m no stranger to marmalade, but it’s taken a few years for me to be brave enough to join their January ranks, when they begin buying up seville oranges like they’re going out of fashion.
Of course, you can make marmalade from a whole host of citrus fruits, stewing their peel and portioning sugar until the texture and flavour balance is just right. But seville is the classic. Seville oranges are particularly bitter and pip-ridden; they’re not much good for anything that doesn’t take that bitterness and match it with a whole heap of sugar, and time and patience. But give them that, and they produce little glowing jars of gold.
Seville oranges start popping up in the UK in shops in December, and their appearance is short, gone by February. Making marmalade is something of a nose-to-tail way of dealing with the fruit, the juice contributing to the jammy jelly part of the preserve, the zest cooked down until it is soft and yielding, and even the pith and pips used to provide the pectin the marmalade needs to set. This recipe makes a decent sized batch: about 4.5kg in total, but that’s the joy of preserving, making a large batch that will last you until the next season of seville oranges come around. Marmalade that has been cooked properly and potted into sterilised jars will keep for at least a year.
Seville orange marmalade
Makes: 4.5kg marmalade
Takes: 2 days
Bakes: Simmers for 90 minutes
1.5kg seville oranges
3 litres water
2.75kg preserving sugar
2 lemons, juiced
1. Set up three bowls in front of you. Juice all of the sevilles into one bowl, cover this and reserve for the next day. Using a spoon, scoop out all the pulp from the oranges into a second, adding all the pips to this bowl. Slice the peel to the length and thickness you would like to eat, bearing in mind that any pitch on the peel will cook and soften. I like medium-length thick-cut peel, but if you like fine shred, then slice accordingly. Pop all of the peel into the third bowl.
2. Put the peel into a really large, really deep saucepan or preserving pan. Put the pith and pips into a sheet of muslin, tying it tightly, and add that to the pan; if you don’t have muslin, you can use a new, unused dish cloth. Cover the peel and bag of pith with the water, adding a little more if the fruit isn’t completely covered, and leave to soak overnight.
3. The following day, bring the pan you have left soaking to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook for an hour. If you don’t have a sugar or digital thermometer, put four saucers in the freezer at this point. Once the hour is up, remove the bag of pith, squeezing its juices into the pan, and add the sugar and lemon juice to the pan. Once the hour is up, remove the bag of pith, squeezing its juices into the pan, and add the sugar, lemon juice, and the reserved seville orange juice that you squeezed into the first bowl, to the pan.
4. Cook the mixture slowly until the sugar dissolves, then bring it up to a rapid boil, until the marmalade measures 105°C on a sugar or digital thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can use the wrinkle test: take one of the saucers from the freezer, and drop a little of the marmalade onto it, and leave it for 30 seconds. Then, nudge the marmalade with your nail; if the surface wrinkles slightly, it has reached setting point, and you can remove the pan from the heat. If not, heat for another three minutes, and then try again with a new teaspoonful of the marmalade.
5. Once the marmalade has reached setting point, remove from the heat, and leave it to settle for fifteen minutes. While the marmalade is settling, sterilise your jars: wash each jar out with hot, soapy water, and then pop the jars on a tray in an 180°C oven for ten minutes. Ladle the marmalade into the sterilised jars, screwing or clipping the lids on tightly.