14 January 2015

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges

On a wet and windy Saturday morning in early January, I was pleased to find several boxes of Seville oranges on sale at my local greengrocers. Suddenly I knew what I was going to do on such a dismal weekend: make marmalade. These lumpy and often misshapen oranges are available for a few short weeks in January. As the name suggests, Seville oranges are grown around Seville, primarily for British marmalade production - apparently the Spanish aren't big fans and don't keep many for themselves.

You can use any citrus fruit to make marmalade, but Seville oranges are the fruit of choice, partly because of their bitter flesh, which produces that particularly tangy quality in marmalade, and partly because they contain high levels of pectin, which makes it easy to obtain a set. (For non-jam makers, pectin is a naturally occurring gelling agent found in many fruits. When heated to a high temperature with sugar and a mild acid - often provided by the fruit itself, a gel is produced, which is what we call either jam or marmalade. The set is the point at which the heated liquid forms a gel.)

Making marmalade involves three main stages, which are best done over two days. First, the fruit is soaked in liquid. Secondly, the fruit is simmered in that liquid until the flesh is soft. Thirdly, sugar is added and the liquid boiled rapidly until a set is achieved. There are two main approaches to making marmalade: you can either soak and simmer the fruit whole, and then chop it up before adding the sugar, or you shred the fruit first before soaking. Last year I went down the soak the fruit whole road. This year I decided to go down the other route, and chop the fruit first. Overall, I think the latter method produced a better marmalade. I use white sugar, which makes a fairly translucent marmalade with a clean taste. If you prefer a darker more treacly marmalade, you can use light brown or demerara sugar. Because of the pectin levels in Seville oranges, it is easier to alter the sugar levels than with other jams.

Although Seville oranges are primarily used for marmalade, I have also used them to make a Seville orange tart, and cut them into slices and candied them. Both of which worked very well.


approx 6/7 Seville oranges (enough to produce 1kg of peel)
1.8kg white cane sugar
100ml lemon juice
1 small knob of butter

1 large or 2 medium sized pans
lemon squeezer
9-10 medium jam jars
same number of waxed discs for said jars (you can buy these, or cut them from greaseproof paper)
1 jam funnel (optional, but it does held get the marmalade into the jars without causing a mess)
a small square of muslin plus some kitchen string
2 small plates, which should be placed in the freezer before cooking commences

First, give the oranges a good scrub, and remove and discard the small hard buttons from the bottom of the oranges.

Halve the oranges and juice them, retaining the juice. Strain out any pips from the juice, and put to one side. Resist the temptation to throw the pips away, as they contain valuable pectin.

Cut the now empty orange halves in half again, and chop into fine strips. (Or less fine strips, should you prefer your marmalade coarse.) There may be more pips lurking in amongst the pith - remove these and set them aside with the pips from the juice.

Add the strips of peel to a large sauce pan. Weigh or measure the juice before adding to the pan. Top up with water, so that the total amount of liquid (ie orange juice + water) is about 2.4 litres.

Wrap the pips in a small square of muslin, and tie securely so the pips cannot escape. Place in the pan.

Allow the ingredients to soak overnight.

The following day, stick two small plates into the freezer, which you can use to test for set.

Bring the whole mixture, including the muslin containing the pips, to the boil, and then simmer until the peel has softened and become translucent. (Approx 1-2 hours). The pips will release valuable pectin into the liquid.

Meanwhile, sterilise the jars. The best way to do this is to put wash them thoroughly, preferably in a dishwasher, before placing them in a cold oven and then bringing them up to 140C/280F.

When the peel has softened, remove the muslin containing the pips, and add the sugar and 100ml lemon juice. Make sure that there is plenty of room in the pan, as boiling sugar tends to foam and spit, and gets very hot.

Stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Give the pan a good stir to make sure nothing is sticking to its base, then turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Allow to boil for about 15 minutes then take of the heat.

Take one of your plates from the freezer, and carefully smear some marmalade on the plate. It should cool quickly on the cold plate. Try to push your finger through the marmalade. If the marmalade rucks up and crinkles it is set (this is known as the 'crinkle test', and I find it the most reliable way to tell if your jam has set). If the marmalade has not set, bring back to the boil for a few more minutes before testing again.

If the marmalade passes the crinkle test, stir in a small knob of butter, which helps keep the marmalade clear. Allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes, before pouring it into the jars. A jam funnel helps you get the marmalade in the jars without pouring it down their sides.

Dip the wax discs in strong alcohol to sterilise them (I have a cheap bottle of vodka that someone brought round to a party, which is ideal for this), then lay them over the top of the marmalade in the jars. This helps protect the marmalade from bacteria.

While the marmalade is still hot, screw the lids on to the jars. For extra security, you can also buy cellophane discs to go under the lid.

Finally, bake some bread to enjoy with your marmalade.

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