Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

The Lost Art of… Marmalades?

Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade
Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade

On our second trip to the farmers’ market (Todd came with, this time), I spotted kumquats and thought making marmalade would be a good way to use the fruit and have it available for more than just one meal. Now, I’d made marmalade in the past, but it had been maybe 10 years since, so I wanted to check what I thought I remembered (namely that it didn’t require added pectin) and how much sugar per pound of citrus and so forth.

Would you believe that I went through 6 cookbooks before finding marmalade instructions? We have an entire bookcase of cookbooks and not all of them are general-use, so it’s not like I was looking in the specialty books and striking out, these were the massive tomes of all-purpose food knowledge. And while my “textbook” from Culinary School did have a definition and basic method listed, it still wasn’t telling me what I needed to know. Even Joy of Cooking only had a Red Onion Marmalade (which, by the way, is stretching the definition just a bit).

It’s no wonder, then, that the one book to finally come to my rescue was Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It had a whole section on marmalade and even featured a kumquat one. I ended up cobbling together several recipes to fit my time constraints (it was already Sunday and I wanted to use the finished marmalade Monday night, so doing an overnight soak of the seeds and membranes wasn’t practical) and did a mixed citrus marmalade using up some leftover lemons (from Lemon Curd-making the day before), tangerines from Christmas and a couple of pink grapefruits, too.

What I ended up with, after analyzing the various recipes I’d found, was a basic formula that can be used for any sort of citrus you’ve got:

Marmalade Formula

Per pound of citrus (weighed whole) you’ll need:

1 quart water plus 1 cup for the pot
2-3 cups granulated sugar, depending on the kind of citrus you’re using and how sweet you want your finished marmalade to be

And it really is that simple–which is probably why only 7 of our 95 cookbooks mention it at all. (The other reason being that most people buy their marmalade, of course.)

The reason you don’t need additional pectin is because you get that from the seeds and membranes of the fruit, itself–you use everything in some way, shape or form.

Marmalade Procedure

Break Down the CitrusBreak down the fruit into its basic components: juice, seeds and peels. Juice each lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit, reserving the juice and placing the seeds in a cheesecloth-lined bowl. Remove the membranes from the squeezed-out fruit halves and add those to the seed-pile. Since kumquats don’t really juice so well, just slice those and remove the seeds, and slice the other citrus peels into bite-sized strips.
Combine and Simmer
The initial simmer. Combine the reserved juice, the peels, water and the seeds and membranes tied up in their cheesecloth sack in a deep stock pot. Choose one deeper than I did to prevent boil-overs in later steps–learn from my mistakes, folks! Simmer this mixture, covered, for an hour or so. Don’t let it boil or your marmalade could end up very bitter. Unless, of course, you prefer your marmalade with a lot of bite, then boil it covered through the next step.
The Volume Decreased by Half
Cook and concentrate. Right now you’ve got a lot of liquid and some still-tough peels in your pot. Remove the cheesecloth bag with the seeds and membranes (you’ve already harvested the required pectin from them). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, at a low boil and uncovered, until the liquid has reduced your preferred amount and the peel is as soft as you want it to be.
Adding the sugar before the final boil
Add the sugar and cook until set, approximately 15-20 minutes. Here’s the tricky part. According to Forgotten Skills you can test for doneness by placing a small amount of the marmalade onto a cold saucer and see if it gels. This didn’t work for me so I kept cooking the marmalade (on medium-low) for another hour or more (honestly, I lost track). It still hadn’t passed the set-test as described, but I pulled it off the heat and let it cool, anyway, figuring something had to have happened by now.
The finished Marmalade
I started with 2.5 pounds of citrus and ended up with 2 quarts of marmalade. I’ve never been into canning so I just divided the spread between 4 pint containers and popping them into the fridge once they’d had a chance to cool off a bit on the counter. If you don’t go the sterilized jars and heat sealing method, you’ll want to store any marmalade you’re not going to use in the next couple of weeks in the freezer.

About the setting thing? I needn’t have worried. The next day You could stand a knife in the marmalade and it wouldn’t even wobble. And despite it’s dark color (probably from the extra cooking time), it wasn’t bitter at all. Added to warm, buttered toast, it’s quite tasty!

Oh, and the main reason I purchased the kumquats and the redfish fillet on the same day? Monday’s dinner was marmalade redfish and it was wonderful!

Season the redfish (or any other firm, white-fleshed fish like cod or monkfish) with salt and pepper and place, skin-side down, on a bed of sliced lemons. Heat half a cup of marmalade with a tablespoon of white wine, just until pourable, and spoon over the fish. Broil the fish 10-15 minutes until done (the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pressed with a fork), moving it a few inches farther away from the heat if the pieces of peel in the marmalade start to get too dark.

Marmalade Redfish
Marmalade Redfish
Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

    1. Pectin is basically a thickening agent–it’s what makes jelly gel.

      Commercially-available pectin is this gloopy clear substance (or powdered) drawn out of apple cores, primarily, as well as citrus peels. When making many jams and jellies you add pectin to the fruit and sugar to get it to hold together.

  1. Nice series of photos. You got my creative juices flowing. It reminded me of a period of my life where my husband and I would travel a lot and stay in B&Bs. This one place had published their own cook book just on jams and jellies. I bought it purely for the luscious photos. I still have it.

  2. Yes, we’ve got some great B&B memories and I, too, dreamed about having one – but I don’t want to be tied down like that. This one place was run by a retired Navy captain and his wife who had traveled all over the world. She had a “secret” set of pull-down attic stairs and she let me go up with her to see her art treasures. They also had an antique car and the husband took us in a spin around town in it. What fun.

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