A blog of hopeful, inspired living: cooking & baking & growing & harvesting & preserving & gleaning & eating & sharing food... while bringing positive change to my kitchen and our food system.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Harvesting Mandarins from Bill's tree
Bill has 6 citrus trees in his backyard.  I didn't know this when we started dating, so you know I didn't date him just for his fruit trees. But those trees sure are a perk (in addition to Bill's kindness, generosity, humor, good looks and latte-making prowess).  The trees fruit prolifically -- the oranges and lemons seem to have fruit all year.

With some time off for the holidays, it was the perfect time to pick fruit and make jam.  Marmalade, specifically.  I didn't used to like marmalade.  I didn't even think I liked it the first time I made it... but I'm a sucker for trying something new and now homemade marmalade is my preferred jam.  It's excellent on a thickly sliced crusty piece of sourdough toast.  It also goes well on top of French toast.  Mix it with fresh, grated horseradish or ginger (or just plain!) for a glaze for meat or tofu.   I assume others will like it as much as I now do, and tend to give it as gifts all year long.  Wedding? Marmalade.  Birthday?  Marmalade.  Christmas?  Marmalade.  Not only is it delicious and easy to make, but it looks so beautifully golden and glimmering in glass jars, with just enough light shining through. 

Valencia Orange Marmalade
Last year I took limited marmalade risks.  I harvested Bill's Valencia oranges and used them exclusively, thus defying most orange marmalade recipes I've seen that recommend sour oranges, such as Seville.   Valencia oranges?  Delicious in marmalade.

This year I harvested every citrus I could get my hands on and experimented with some different flavors.  Valencia oranges were still on the menu, along with mandarins, lemons (Meyer, pink variegated, and a variety I have yet to identify: very small fruits with thin skin, the size of key limes), kumquats and grapefruit.  Part of this new sense of adventure was due to feeling more comfortable around Bill's backyard...and mostly thanks to Rachel Saunders' new book, The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.
Meyer Lemons and Kumquats

Rachel Saunders has quite the jam business going out here in the Bay Area.  Her jams are delicious and unique.  She adds things like Hendricks to her marmalade, spiced bourbon to tomatoes, rose geranium to strawberries.   I decided to start with two:  the Meyer Lemon with Mandarins & Lavender and Kumquat Marmalade.  I love (and still favor) a straight-forward marmalade, but these sounded too interesting to resist.  And with all the fruit piled in bowls all around the house... I booked my vacation time in the kitchen.

Each Blue Chair recipe takes two days of preparations and a third day to cook and jar.  I got a little obsessed, making three batches of marmalade in the span of 5 days. This was a bit of a problem in terms of kitchen counter space, jamming equipment and the health of my relationship. 

It would probably be more inspiring to jump right to the conclusion:  delicious marmalade, lots of it!  I did say that marmalade-making is simple.  It is!  However, the learning curve makes it more difficult at times.  I'll share some of my painful learning experiences so they don't become yours.  And a recipe I've had great luck with. 

Marmalade ready to jar
Learning Experience A:  Yes, you absolutely, positively should do the jelling test whereby you place spoons in the freezer and test the 'finished' jam for its ability to jell.  Oranges possess a great deal of natural pectin, which is nice because they jell naturally without any added pectin, but sugar and acid is required to activate the pectin so it jells properly.  The sugar:water ratio needs to be right for this to happen. The marmalade will change colors after it has been boiling hard at 220-223 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  This is not necessarily a sign that it is ready.  My marmalades are a range of colors -- I love it that way.  However, I got cheeky about my ability to judge color and, without checking for jelling, I ended up with eight 1/2-pint jars of beautifully colored orange-syrup.  It was not marmalade by any stretch of the imagination.  I have seen recipes for orange syrup, which would be delicious drizzled over pancakes... but I did not want orange syrup. All the jars sealed perfected.  In the morning when the jars were cool, I was terribly disappointed to see the mixture sloshing around inside.  This discovering led to temper tantrum #1.  Sigh.  Sorry, Bill.

In the end I did the only thing I could do to rest as ease:  When I finished being grouchy, I got new jar tops, opened all the jars, poured the sticky syrup back into the pot and boiled the heck out of it.  My marmalade darkened several shades, to be the darkest marmalade to date.  Despite all the heartbreak and headache, I love this 'double cooked' marmalade -- it is delicious, thick and the sugars are deeply caramelized.  It is also easiest to spread at room temperature. 

Learning Experience B: I should invest in bigger pots.  You can make marmalade in a very small kitchen, in a (non-reactive) soup pot.  However, it is important to watch the pot as it goes from a gentle boil, to a hard boil, to foaming.  It took half a second of distraction for my marmalade to boil out of the pot and go everywhere -- all over the stove top and down inside all the internal stove crevices.  Embarrassingly, this happened THREE TIMES.  When it starts to rise too high in the pot, the correct response is to turn down the heat.  Stirring the mixture sometimes causes it to rise higher.  Hence, temper tantrum #2.  Sorry again, Bill. 

Learning Experience C: This is not the only way to do things.  I do like the way these marmalades turned out.  But you can successfully make marmalade start to finish in one or two days.  The recipes I used from Blue Chair call for making a strained liquid with part of the cooked fruit: basically a jelly.  Then the marmalade is formed by cooking the other, thinly sliced fruit solids, in that liquid with sugar and some lemon juice to form the finished product.  It turns out delicate, beautiful and delicious.  Other marmalade I've made calls for boiling the oranges whole and then thinly slicing them.  Other recipes call for slicing and cooking.  I prefer the slicing and cooking method because it means you can have marmalade start to finish in a day.  See my recipe below for a few other options.   This marmalade is chunkier, thicker and requires more cooking to jell.  I like it all, but I also like the adventure of trying different techniques (even if it results occasional temper tantrum). 
Weighing mandarins

Other Learnings: Use a scale to weigh the fruit and sugar.  A kitchen scale comes in handy and can often be found in a second hand store (where I found mine!).  A scale makes  measurements much more dependable. 

Here's the basic recipe I use.  It started out as a hand-written note from an Australian friend who had copied it from The Australian Women's Weekly magazine.  Surprisingly, they have a lot of interesting marmalade recipes (mandarin and whisky, anyone?).  I've altered it quite a bit.  You can feel free to keep altering and experimenting!
This recipe makes 4-5 eight-ounce jars, depending on how much boiling down you do.  It's easy to multiply.

Valencia Orange Marmalade Recipe
1 pound Valencia oranges, quartered lengthwise and then sliced thinly, seeds removed
3.5 cups water
Zest and juice of a small lemon
2 pounds sugar

Cover the orange slices with the water in a bowl or non-reactive pot.  Leave over night at room temperature.  If you get busy and can't make your marmalade the next day (as it sometimes happens) you can also leave these for longer -- several days, but put them in the fridge after the first day.   This first step is not absolutely necessary.  If you don't want to wait, just skip the overnight part and put the water and orange slices right into a cooking pot and move onto the next step. 

Put a small plate with three spoons in the freezer.  You'll use these for your jell-test later.

Bring the water, oranges, lemon juice & zest to a boil and then lower heat to a bouncy simmer.   Simmer for 45 minutes.  If the water level seems too low, add more to keep the oranges mostly covered.

If you are sterilizing your jars in a hot water bath, now's the time to start the water.  Read more about this at the end.  It's also the time to get your jars ready.  Heat your oven to 250 degrees F.  Wash the jars and rims and place them on a high- rimmed baking pan.  Put them in the oven for at least 30 minutes prior to filling.  Fill a small sauce pan with water and sterilize the jar tops in simmering water for 30 minutes, too. 

After the 45 minute simmer, bring the orange mixture to a boil again.  Add the sugar, stirring to fully incorporate the sugar into the liquid.  Bring the mixture to a full boil.  Do not stir during the initial boiling.  Bring the temperature up to 220 degrees F, using a candy thermometer to measure (for a long time I did not have a candy thermometer, so I judged this by the fine-bubble foaming that starts to happen).  Boil at this high temperature for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning on the bottom of the pot (Careful!  Stirring can occasionally cause the foam to grow higher and boil over.).  The mixture will have changed color, darkening slightly.  The longer you cook it at this high temperature, the darker it will become.

After 30 minutes do the jell-test: remove a spoon from the freezer and spoon out a small rounded spoonful.  Put the spoon back in the freezer for 3-4 minutes (not longer).  Take the spoon out and feel the bottom -- it should no longer be hot. Tilt the spoon.  If the marmalade runs easily off the spoon, it needs more boiling.  If it moves slightly, or runs slowly in a coagulated fashion, it has jelled sufficiently.  Skim any foam off the top and let it sit in the pot for 10 minutes before pouring into jars.

Take the jars out of the oven and fill with the marmalade, leaving a little space at the top of the jar.   It's helpful to have a jarring funnel, but not necessary.  A measuring cup with a pour spout works fine.  Wipe the tops with a clean, wet cloth and put the lids and rims on, tightening just enough to secure.

To sterilize and seal:  
The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends hot water processing, for a minimum of 8 minutes.  However, Rachel Saunders uses oven-sterilization: 15 minutes at 250 degrees F.  If you use the oven, there's no boiling water, steam and splashing of burning water.  I've only tried this twice, and one batch only had a sealing success rate of half, but it was much easier than dealing with the massive pot of boiling water, and I'd be willing to give it another go.

This marmalade has a shelf life of up to 2 years.
Enjoy!  And share the deliciousness!

1 comment:

  1. Eron, this is a beautiful thing you're doing here. You're such an inspiration to me!