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Preserving marmalade appeal

Peel away the layers of history to reveal marmalade’s ancient Greek beginnings, and whip up wonder ways of savoring this citrus garnish

May 15, 2020
Farm News

By RENEE POTTLE

Grit Magazine

The first time I fell in love was at a Howard Johnson's restaurant, and it was with marmalade. With their striking orange roofs and booths, Howard Johnson's restaurant chains were everywhere in 1960s New England. They served BLT sandwiches and big slices of pie to hungry travelers, but breakfast included baskets brimming with miniature jars of colorful preserves. While my parents chose strawberry jam, and my sister lathered her toast with grape jelly, I opted for orange marmalade.

Article Photos

Photo by Getty Images/tasha—lyubina

Pair marmalade with a variety of sweet desserts.

Marmalade may seem like an unusual choice for a child, but it combined two of my favorite things-oranges and British culture. The taste of marmalade filled my head with visions of thatched cottages, and tea with crumpets. To fully enjoy crumpets, you need a bittersweet marmalade (some clotted cream would be nice, too).

My grandmother made jars of jam and jelly every summer, but no one in the family made marmalade, so I depended on Howard Johnson's for my supply until I grew up. Then, I started experimenting with my own marmalade recipes.

Spreading across the world

Marmalade is a soft spread, much like jam, jelly, and other preserves. But while jams are a muddle of fruit and sugar, and jellies are gelled juices, marmalade is actually shredded citrus peel floating in a gelled juice-and-sugar mixture. Some marmalade varieties are made with citrus fruit pulp, or additional fruits, such as cherries or peaches.

Although modern marmalade is an English concoction, its origins stretch back to ancient Greece and the quince paste, or "quince cheese," that today we also call membrillo. In fact, the word "marmalade" comes from the Portuguese words for quince, marmelo, and the resultant quince paste, marmelada.

Apicius, the Roman gourmet, included recipes for early marmalades in one of the first known cookbooks, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, compiled in the 1st century A.D. In it, he describes placing whole quinces in a container, and covering them with honey and a fresh wine reduction. Quince is a high-pectin pome fruit related to apples and pears. Over time, the honey and wine will interact with the pectin, resulting in a delicious, sweet quince paste.

In the 15th century, the English first began importing bright Seville oranges from sunny Andalusia, Spain. Seville oranges aren't like the large, sweet navels that we know and love here in the United States. They're small and bitter, with tough, thick skin. Initially, they were used in decorative fruit bowls and for baking. But by the early 1500s, sugar started replacing honey, and other fruits, such as oranges, were used in addition to quinces to make quince paste. The mixture was heated to break down the pectin, thus speeding up the gelling process.

Around 1790, an undaunted, enterprising Scotsman, James Keiller, found himself with an excess of aging oranges from a wrecked cargo ship. According to legend, either James or his wife cut them up and boiled them with sugar. After this experiment was successful, James went on to found the first marmalade factory in 1797. Ever since, Brits have fully embraced this softer version of quince paste. Martha Washington officially adopted it in the U.S. when she had orange marmalade made in Mount Vernon's kitchens. Today, a softer modern version of her recipe is available for purchase in Mount Vernon's museum gift shops. In 1981, the European Community declared that all marmalades must contain some citrus.

Making marmalade

Marmalade can be made any time of the year, as long as you can find ripe citrus fruit. There are two basic types of marmalade-whole-fruit marmalade and jelly marmalade. In both methods, the peels become translucent as the mixture cooks. Heating the citrus peels releases pectin, which forms a gel. Thus, you don't have to add pectin to marmalade.

Making marmalade requires a bit more attention than jam, but you don't have to be an expert food preserver to make your own batch. Here are some tips and important points to keep in mind as you start creating your marmalade:

Best Meyer lemon marmalade

Meyer lemons are hybrids of citrons and tangerines, so they taste sweeter than lemons but tarter than tangerines. Their blush-orange skins are thinner than a regular lemon's.

Yield: Four 1/2-pint jars.

1 pound Meyer lemons

11/3 cup granulated sugar

11/3 cup honey

Wash the lemons, and trim the ends.

Cut the lemons into wedges, thinly slice the wedges crosswise, and remove the seeds.

In a nonreactive bowl, combine the lemon slices and 22/3 cups of water. Let sit at least 8 hours or overnight.

Add sugar and honey to the lemon mixture.

In a saucepan or Dutch oven, slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook on medium-high heat for about 25 minutes, until the mixture reaches the gelling point, about 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spoon the marmalade into clean 1/2-pint jars, and top with canning lids and rings.

Process the jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Small-batch sweet orange marmalade

This recipe combines the best of both marmalade types: a clear jelly prepared with the quick-cooking method. Use thin-skinned juice or navel oranges for best results.

Yield: Three 1/2-pint jars.

1 large sweet orange

1 medium lemon

3 cups sugar

Wash both fruits and scrub the peels. Their combined weight should be about 1 pound.

Juice the orange and lemon. Strain the juice into a large nonreactive saucepan.

Separate the lemon and orange fruit pulp, membrane, and seeds from the peels. Place the pulp, membrane, and seeds in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie the cloth and add to the saucepan, along with 3 cups of water.

Cut the orange and lemon peels into quarters by thinly slicing the peels crosswise. Add them to the saucepan.

Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer until the peels are tender, about 1 hour.

Remove the cheesecloth bag from the pot. Add sugar to the pot and stir until the sugar melts.

Cook on medium-high heat, until the mixture reaches the gelling point, about 220 degrees.

Spoon the marmalade into clean 1/2-pint jars. Top with canning lids and rings.

Process the jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Citrus suggestions

You can use much more than Seville oranges to make marmalade. In fact, you can make delectable marmalade using any citrus fruit. However, since sweet oranges contain less pectin, many U.S. orange marmalade recipes include lemons to ensure that the product sets up well.

These thick-skinned citrus fruits should soak in water overnight to draw out the pectin and soften the fruit:

- Blood oranges

- Tangerines

- Pink grapefruits

These thin-skinned citrus fruits don't require a long sitting time (although longer sitting times do help release more pectin, thus helping marmalade to gel quicker):

-Meyer lemons

- Kumquats

- Key limes

Kumquat vanilla marmalade

Kumquats are cute little citrus fruits that look like miniature oranges, ones you'd perhaps find in a fairy garden. Like most citruses, they arrive in the grocery stores around the holidays. Kumquats are meant to be eaten whole, peel and all. Although sweeter than eating a whole orange, the peel still has a bitter, sour tang to it.

The finished jars hold a transparent golden-yellow jelly, dotted with the black vanilla, surrounding the miniature kumquat "wheels." It tastes great lathered on a homemade muffin.

Yield: Three 1/2-pint jars

1 pound fresh kumquats, washed, and sliced into rounds

3 cups sugar

1 vanilla bean

In a large, nonreactive bowl or saucepan, combine the sliced kumquats and 3 cups water. Let sit at least 8 hours or overnight.

Add the sugar, and slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Scrape the vanilla bean, and add the vanilla paste to the marmalade.

In a saucepan or Dutch oven, cook on medium-high heat until the marmalade reaches the gelling point, about 220 degrees.

Spoon the marmalade into clean 1/2-pint jars. Top with canning lids and rings.

Process the jars in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Multiple marmalade uses

Marmalade isn't just for toast or scones.

- Lather it on pancakes or add it to chia pudding or overnight oatmeal.

- Combine your favorite marmalade with some vinegar and prepared mustard for homemade barbecue sauce.

- Thin your marmalade with some vegetable broth and add it to a stir-fry sauce.

- Spread it on baking ham or pork chops for a moistening, tasty glaze.

- Spread warmed orange marmalade onto homemade chocolate cake instead of frosting, or serve pound cake with a dollop of marmalade and whipped cream for an elegant dessert.

For more delicious comfort foods, visit us at www.grit.com.

Excerpted from GRIT. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.grit.com or call 866-803-7096 to subscribe. Copyright 2020 by Ogden Publications Inc.

 
 

 

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