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Monday, February 27, 2012

Marmalading - Sharing What I've Learned

I opened this little blog with Lemon, Pineapple and Rosemary Marmalade back in April of 2010. It was not my first marmalade, but one of my first really successful outcomes and one of my first attempts at a creative flavor combination. I'm now fully into the citrus season of 2012 and I'm cycling through marmalades for the third time. There are so many things I've learned, often through some degree of failure. When I first started canning, marmalade seemed like something so advanced and difficult! In fact, my first marmalade turned out so bitter and seemed like so much work! It was sheer stubbornness that kept me going. I would like to share what I've learned so that if you want to try making marmalade, you can have your first attempt come out delicious!

One of the first things you have to decide is what you like about marmalade and what types of flavors you like best. My methods achieve marmalades that have chewy threads of zest suspended in a thick syrup. The flavor is similar to candied peel - sweet, tart and not very bitter. If you like a more bitter marmalade, you can simply add more of the white parts of the fruit - pith and peel. Just keep in mind that my marmalades have been developed to produce a product that I like. I do have my fans, so I think you will like them too. I hope to give you a foundation to develop your own marmalades that include your own preferences.

I have to give a great deal of credit to Food in Jar's Three Citrus Marmalade. Marisa's recipe and method gave me my first success and was the launching pad for the rest of my marmalading madness.
Skipping the canning, here is her basic methodology:

1. Zest the peels. Simmer the zest for 30 minutes.
2. Supreme the fruit
3. Add the simmering liquid and zest to the supremes.
4. Add sugar.
5. Boil to correct set. (More on that later.)

Once you have your canning set up established, you can use this model for any citrus fruit. Here are some of the things I've learned, correlated to the steps listed above:

1. The zest is the very outer, colorful layer of the peel. The less pith (white part) you get, the less bitterness you will have. However, when you give up the pith (and seeds) you also give up some of the pectin. I have found that for fruits that are too soft to use a zesting tool, such as Satsuma mandarins, I prefer to peel the mandarins and thinly slice the peel by hand. Because there is more pith, the temperature to reach a good set will be lower than for those marmalades where you avoid the pith altogether. Because mandarin peels are so thin, they do not impart much bitterness. Lime zest is SO VERY BITTER that you may want to avoid it altogether. If you choose to use it, I suggest making lime zest a small component of your recipe and not the feature. By simmering the zest, the peels are softened and their flavors are mellowed and imparted to the poaching liquid.

2. By removing the supremes from the membranes, you will avoid still more bitterness. Again, you will lose some of the pectin. I usually supreme firm fruits like oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruits. I slice softer fruits like Meyer lemons and mandarins. If you are slicing the softer fruits, it is good to cut out the tough center where all the sections meet. These can remain really hard, even after long simmering. I strongly recommend that you get your knives sharpened before marmalading.

3. When adding the simmering liquid and zest to the fruit, I do not exceed 8 cups total. Eight cups of fruit, liquid and zest to 6 cups sugar seems to work best for flavor and set. Whenever I get creative with ingredients, I try to end up between 7 and 8 cups fruit/liquid. Any time you experiment, you must also watch the acidity. I have some handy PH test strips for this. If you use PH test strips, test after the fruit has cooked down for some time so that the fruit can break down and acidulate the water. You can always stir in some additional lemon juice at the end. Safe canning PH, for the boiling water bath method, is at least 4.0. Most fruits meet this requirement. More caution is required with non-fruit ingredients.

4. Sugar is always negotiable. I haven't done any low sugar or sugar-free canning, but it can be done. If you prefer to jam without using commercial pectin, you will be reliant on the pectin in the fruit, the sugar, the acidity of the fruit and time to provide you with a set. I also prefer pure cane sugar. I've tried using less refined sugar products, but I can smell and taste the molasses. While I'm sure my canning is driving up the per-capita sugar consumption for US residents, we all eat jam a little bit at a time. I like refined cane sugar for the truest fruit flavor.

5. As I mentioned above, a set is dependent upon pectin, sugar, acid and time. When I first began making jams and marmalades without commercial pectin, I relied too much on my thermometer. Now that I'm in my third round of seasons, I've learned to trust my eyes and my taste more than any thermometer. Part of this is that fruit can vary considerably. For example, a recent tangerine and cranberry marmalade began to thicken early and if I had waited for 220 degrees, (the official gel point) I would have had a gummy mess. Cranberries have a ton of pectin and bear close observation. I like to test the set of my jams and marmalades by placing several saucers and spoons in the freezer. I scoop out a bit of jam onto a cold spoon and place it back in the freezer, on the saucer, for a few minutes. Tradition says that if you push the jam with a finger and see wrinkles, your jam is ready. I've also discovered that there is a certain mouth feel that I like, so I taste it. I have discovered that I prefer a soft set over an over-cooked set, which can be gummy. Marmalades that do not include pith or membranes will never set up like commercial marmalades. That is OK with me! I like the zest to be suspended in the very thick syrup with bits of flesh. Yum! Trust me, it will stay on your toast. For such marmalades, I've had to go up as high as 226 degrees. (This is measured by my current thermometer. I'm on my fourth!) After you reach the desired consistency, remove the pot from the heat, skim any foam (by the time marmalade gets good, very little foam remains) and allow it to cool slightly and stir. This helps the bits to be suspended evenly. You may have some floating, but don't worry, it will still taste great.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some yummy marmalades that use all this knowledge.

Many thanks to the friends and family who have given me fruit!

Marmalading Magic!


  1. So glad to hear that the Three Citrus Marmalade was helpful for you! And what you say about set is so true. There are just so many variables.

  2. Thanks Marisa! You continue to inspire me!