Archive for January, 2010

Making too much marmalade

Thursday, January 14th, 2010


I went mad this January. Usually the most I attempt in the marmalade field is half a case of organic Seville oranges, which is about 5kg or so. In the recent past I’ve shared a case with a friend who also makes it, but Mary was away this year, and anyway she’s still got some Sevilles in her freezer, so I slightly lost the do-able plot and decided to get what I thought was three quarters of a case all to myself.

But then I really stopped paying attention to reality and managed to order and buy FIFTEEN KILOS of Seville oranges slightly by mistake, and suddenly it all became a rather more serious enterprise than I had bargained for. Fifteen kilos of oranges takes up a lot of room, which we do not have, and our flat is not only small but also very warm (incredible insulation, thank you properly-fitting windows) so I had to use the oranges quickly before they went off. (That’s the downside of organic ones: they don’t last long.)

I’d collected lots of jars during the year, but even so I didn’t have enough of them – not even enough for 10kg of marmalade. What was I thinking? And once I’d decided to grit my teeth and go for it, I also had to trudge off on very many sugar-buying trips. I use as little sugar as possible when I make marmalade because I like it tart and tangy, but even so, to get the stuff to set I’ve found that you have to use at least 750 – 800g of sugar for every 500g of oranges: 900g is safer, but not quite so delicious.

Anyway. I made two helpful decisions to start with: I immediately washed 3kg of oranges and put them in the freezer, and then we drove to Lakeland and bought 24 extra one pound jars. Then Bruce offered to help with all the chopping, which was great because after three batches I started getting bored with that part – or maybe just anxious about how many more times I’d have to do it. And now we’ve finished! All the jars are done and dusted: filled, set to perfection, admired, labelled, and stored away. I don’t think I’ll ever make so much again at one time, but then again, I still have those frozen ones waiting for me…

Most of the batches are straightforward plain marmalade (see the recipe below which is twice as easy as, and much faster than, most of the other recipes I’ve seen around). I also made one batch of ginger marmalade (love or hate – it’s like Marmite) and tried twice to make cardamom-flavoured batches as well. Neither of these turned out as well as the one that had inspired me – Arabica’s ‘Orange and Cardamom marmalade’, which is simply sensational. I couldn’t find a recipe for that, so first of all I tried just adding cardamom pods to the water – a handful of pods when I cooked the oranges, and then a fresh handful of pods at the chopped oranges-and-sugar stage. (I also added a fresh pod to each jar, because there’s at least one in each Arabica jar.) But there’s almost no cardamom flavour at all in my finished product: great marmalade taste, but no spiciness.

So I went back online, and talked to a marmalade-making friend, and with the next batch I crushed up the seeds of about 15 cardamom pods and added those with the sugar (I make 1.5 kg of oranges at a time, which is all that fits comfortable into my preserving pan.). Result: a faint trace of cardamom, but still nothing like the rich but subtle flavour of Arabica’s product.

If anyone has any good suggestions to offer please let me know: those frozen oranges are just longing to be turned into something wonderful. And in the meantime here’s my marmalade recipe, found years ago in the ‘Melbourne Age’ and never bettered. Just don’t go as crazy as I did with the quantities!


450g Seville oranges
1120 ml water
900g sugar
(And I always add a lemon to help the pectin along)

Wash the oranges and put them in a preserving pan with the water. Simmer slowly for about an hour and a half, or until a skewer easily pierces the skin. Keep the remaining water and cool the oranges enough to handle them. (I do this part of the recipe last thing so the oranges cool overnight in the pan, and then make the marmalade the next day.)

Cut the oranges into small thick strips (I used to do this by hand: not any more, I confess, although Bruce still does this bit by hand when he’s the co-cook) retaining all the pulp and juice, but extracting the pips. Put the pips in a little saucepan, cover them with water, and boil steadily for at least 10 minutes to extract the pectin, which forms a sticky scum on top. Add the pectin water to the preserving pan and repeat if necessary. (I never throw the pips away until the marmalade has set, just in case…)

Add the chopped peel, pulp and juice to the preserving pan, and bring the mixture to a boil. Then tip in the sugar (you’re supposed to warm the sugar but I never bother) reduce the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then bring back up to a brisk boil.

Boil rapidly until the marmalade reached setting point (I assume you know how to test for that). It can take only 15 minutes but usually it takes mine about 40 minutes.

Leave it to settle for 5-10 minutes and then pour/spoon into sterilised jars and cool before sealing.

You’ll need to refrigerate it after you open it because it’s got such a small quantity of sugar. I usually reduce it further to 800g, rather than the 900g the original recipe specifies.

Happy marmalade making!

Blog interview

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

I’ve done two interviews for young readers in the last couple of weeks. Here’s a link to the latest one, a well-conceived blog called the mile long bookshelf, which is run by an enterprising 11-year-old called Amber Kirk. Amber’s also involved in contributing to at least two other blogs, as well as acting in drama club productions in her spare time. Quite a girl!

Anyway, I liked doing the interview a lot – the questions were thought-provoking and spurred me into a good writing schedule for the new year. So thanks again, Amber.