Orange marmalade makes a welcome addition to any breakfast table. Even if you happen not to like the flavor, the wonderful orange color makes a cheerful contrast to the reds, purples and blues of other jams and jellies often set out on the table.
The flavor of good orange marmalade captures the essence of ripe oranges, summer breezes and the bitter tang of sea air. Not everyone likes it, of course, but if you do, it’s worth the time to make your own. Preparing the orange peel the way I learned to do it takes some extra time, but I prefer the appearance of the carefully chopped peel to the irregular shreds found in some other versions.
Orange marmalade is still a work in progress for me, but here is what seems to work best so far. This recipe will produce about 9 cups of marmalade.
About 3 lbs. oranges
2 or 3 lemons
1 1/2 to 2 cups water
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. butter
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 packages Sure-Jell pectin
Wash the oranges and lemons under cold water, cut them in half and juice them. Remove any seeds you may find in the juice, but leave the pulp. Set the juice aside.
With a soup spoon or something similar remove the pulp and pith from the peels. The pith is the tough white layer between the fruit and the colored outer layer which is the rind. Scrape away most of the pith but don’t worry if there is some left. It is the pith that gives orange marmalade its bitter taste, so you want some.
With a sharp knife cut each peel into strips about 1/8 inch wide. Discard the stem and flower scars and use the knife to remove any pith that seems too thick. Next cut the strips into small pieces about 1/2 inch long. You will of course have some small irregular shaped pieces, but that’s fine.
Boil the peel and water with the soda until the peel is tender, about ten to fifteen minutes. Test by eating a piece. It should be like al dente spaghetti.
While the peel is boiling, wash nine or ten jelly jars thoroughly and put them upside down in a pan of water on a burner. Bring the water to a slow boil and allow the jars to sterilize for about ten minutes. Remove the jars to a rack and allow them to drip dry.
Measure the peel mixture and add enough reserved juice to total six cups. Add water if there is not enough juice. Bring the juice and peel mixture to a boil. While the peel and juice mixture is boiling, measure the sugar into a bowl. After about ten minutes, add the sugar and boil the mixture until a jelly thermometer reaches 215 degrees F.
Add the pectin, stirring it vigorously to dissolve any clumps, and boil until the thermometer reaches 219 degrees F. While the marmalade is boiling, melt some paraffin in a small pan over very low heat.
When the thermometer reaches 219 degrees, remove the marmalade from the heat and let it sit for five or six minutes, stirring it once a minute. This helps keep the peel from floating to the top of the jars.
Ladle the slightly cooled marmalade into sterile jars until they are filled to about 1/4 inch from the top and cap them with a thin layer of paraffin. After the marmalade has cooled, add a second thin layer of paraffin to make sure that the jars are properly sealed.
Whether you use paraffin or the hot water bath, let the jars sit unopened for at least 24 hours before opening one to test your new marmalade.
NOTES: “Real” Scottish orange marmalade is made with Seville oranges, also called bitter or sour oranges. They are valued mainly as a source of essential oils used in perfumes and flavor extracts. Since they have more pectin and a strong orange flavor they make a wonderful marmalade.
However, since it is almost impossible to buy Seville oranges in Wisconsin and Minnesota, I use “sweet” oranges. Valencia oranges are a good second choice, but common navel oranges are okay. To add more acid and flavor I add at least two lemons to every batch. One lemon is plenty if you are making your marmalade with Seville oranges.
The biggest problem I have had with orange marmalade is getting it to the proper consistency. I have made marmalade that was too runny and other batches that were too thick. YOU NEED A JELLY OR CANDY THERMOMETER. Using the thermometer takes the guesswork out of making marmalade.
The jelling temperature varies by altitude, so if you live on the seashore or in the mountains your marmalade will be done at a slightly different temperature. The general rule is that the jelling temperature is 8 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water. Your marmalade will taste fine even if it is a little too thick or thin. Make a note on the recipe and cook your next batch to a different temperature to change the consistency.
A funnel makes it easy to fill the jars without getting marmalade on the inside above the quarter inch air space layer. If you do drip some on the inside, carefully wipe it away before covering the marmalade with paraffin.
Many home economists today recommend that you seal the jars with lids and bands instead of using paraffin. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Remove the jars from the water with canning tongs and allow them to cool.
In over fifty years of making jams and jellies, Jerri and I have had no problems with using paraffin, but both methods work. We have enjoyed some wonderful jellies and jams from friends who use the boiling water bath method.