You can find jars of orange confiture all over France. Fait maison or home-made is hugely popular, yet does not guarantee the best taste. The quality hugely differs. Some have a too runny texture, others are too bitter, while the rest is just too sugary. In Britain, the traditional marmalade making is honoured in annual competitions of amateur, artisan as well as professional entries. Dalemain Marmalade Awards in Cumbria, backed by the most prestigious grocer in the UK – Fortnum&Mason, is one of the most lauded of the sweet preserve rating organisations.
Myself, never a huge fan of the orange marmalade, I had to be converted by hand labour between three continental hands – a Canadian, European and Japanese. In this trio, we found the perfect balance between the sweet and bitter thanks to the tutorage of a local foodie friend Jennifer, who is originally Canadian. Her mastery is rooted in a personal experience with Vivien Lloyd, an award winning marmalade maker from England and author of a number of books on the preserving topic.
Over time, Jennifer improved the recipe she was given, and our result that charmed all my family and foodie friends was a palate spoiling proof of her dedication to culinary perfection. I learned that Seville oranges are used more often all over England that has to import this sun-loving fruit from Spain. While Spanish oranges are cheaper than French and Italian, and on a larger scale making a fruit preserve from them won’t be economically viable, Amalfi and Menton citruses are superior in terms of taste and often yield better results. Artisan, preservative-free marmalades do not last on shelves for years, yet the real flavours of the fruit with all their complexity if best quality citrus is used in its peak season, reward even the most demanding gourmands.
The Menton market provides superb lemons and oranges, but Jenniffer’s impeccably tended garden on the sunny hills of Menton guaranteed an organic quality, which is crucial for the best results. The skin being the main ingredient, so pesticide treatments are unwelcome. Peel your fruits and slice the skins thinly. Use more of the sweeter skins if you do not like your marmalade bitter.
200g bitter orange juice
200g sweet orange juice
100g bitter peel
50g sweet orange peel
100g lemon juice
750ml water (filtered or bottled like Volvic)
Sugar 85% of the reduced weight (see bellow)
Jennifer advises that “for a less sour taste pick citruses later in the season and chose the type of orange according to the level of bitterness that you prefer”. Since both, the juice and the skin are used, taste them both.
The juice is best when squeezed the night before and stored in a fridge prior to being boiled together with the remaining ingredients. Keep the leftover pulp and seeds on a side and mix it with half of the sliced lemon and orange skins, wrap tightly in a cheese (muslin) cloth. Sterilize your jars in an oven on 100 °C for about 3o min.
Use only filtered or bottled water for cooking in the pressure cooker. This cooking method yields better colour and more balanced flavour. Add the juice, the other half of the sliced citrus skins, and pulp with skins pate wrapped in the muslin cloth, boil, and wait until the level on the top of the pressure cooker goes up. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and squeeze the muslin cloth well to let all the jellified pectin (very viscous) into the liquid and scrape the pectin on the outside as well. It is precious as the pectin is what makes the marmalade thick! Weigh the reduced liquid mixture and measure 85% of its weight of sugar.
Now add the white caster sugar and on a low heat stir until it dissolves. Let boil, but check constantly with a spoon for consistency, turn off the heat when gel forms on the spoon. Wait and check again. The right texture should stick like honey and drip heavily off the spoon [pictured above in the image gallery].
OPTIONS: For a sugar-free version you can use apple syrup from stewed apples that were strained. It also has pectin so it will make for a good texture, but will not last as long as a marmalade with sugar. Brown sugar can be used, but it alters the flavour significantly and this must be considered. This is also the reason why the top chocolate makers use white sugar instead of brown in their creations.
Add spices like cardamom, cloves or cinammon sticks into the muslin cloth mixture for a more fragrant marmalade. One of the double gold “World’s Best Artisan Marmalade Maker” title holders (in 2013) a Czech like myself, Blanka Milfaitova made hers with bourbon and vanilla in her lemon base. She also often adds mint, lavender from Provance, nuts, dark chocolate and other spices into her preserves that were sold at Fortnum & Mason in London, where she personally delivered them from her base in the Sumava mountains in the Czech Republic.
Fill the jars with still warm marmalade to the top. Skim all the bubbles with a spoon and close tight. Put the jars into a hot water bath (use a deep baking sheet or pot) on high heat for about 10 minutes (or at 125°C for 30 min as Ms. Blanka advises). Use heat resistant gloves to take the hot jars out, cool to room temperature and then put into a cool from light protected pantry. Store in the refrigerator after opening. The marmalade should last for a couple of months if you resist not eating it all within the first weeks! Enjoy.