Earlier this month, one of my favorite bloggers – Marisa McClellan of Food In Jars – announced she would be hosting a year-long food preservation mastery challenge. Each month she will feature a new skill, following up with sample recipes and posts on how to accomplish the technique. She even started an online Facebook group, where participants in the challenge can share their triumphs (and failures), ask for advice, and just chat with other canners and preservationists. Between the move and the holidays, I haven’t canned anything since November. This is a stark change from a few months ago, when I was canning something once or twice a week. How could I turn down such an easy excuse to break out my tools and take command of my new kitchen? Of course, I immediately signed up.
January’s skill is making marmalade, which is one I’m rather familiar with. People often ask what the difference is between marmalade and jam, and honestly in many ways they are similar. The point of note is that marmalade specifically contains the zest and juices of citrus fruits – typically the whole fruit depending on the method used. Because of this, it’s commonly a little bitter due to the pith of the citrus, making it a highly contentious preserve with regard to taste preferences. You either love it, or you hate it.
While people can argue about the taste of marmalade, no one can deny that it has a long and storied past, with similar hard-set preserves dating back to Medieval Europe. I could honestly write an entire blog post just on its history, but I’ll save that for another day. I became a little obsessed with marmalade last winter, and went a bit crazy reading into it and experimenting with blood orange recipes. I even took an incredibly enjoyable class with Camilla Wynne of the Canadian-based Preservation Society when she visited the The Brooklyn Kitchen last year. You should check out the location if you live in the area, as they offer some great classes in a really cool location. This particular class was called “The Dark Art of Marmalade” (If I hadn’t already loved marmalade, that name would have done it). I learned a lot from Camilla, and I turn to her cookbook, Preservation Society Home Preserves, often for interesting and out-of-the-box ideas for flavor combinations.
Making marmalade is a time intensive process, more so than a lot of other jams. While other styles exist, most traditional-style marmalades use (nearly) the whole fruit. Even the seeds are often retained for the pectin, and then removed before bottling. There are two primary ways to make marmalade: 1) the sliced fruit method; and 2) the whole fruit method. As the names imply, the first involves slicing the citrus whole and then soaking it overnight before making the marmalade (see the Meyer lemons sliced above). The second calls for boiling the whole (well-washed) citrus fruits in a big pot of water until soft, and then chopping them up for the preserves (see the various citrus below). Quick Note: There is a third marmalade technique that uses a “cut rind” method, but I won’t go into that here as it isn’t one that I typically use.
The soaking and boiling serve a very important purpose, as both methods help to break down the bitter pith of the fruit and soften the rinds. While there will still be some bitterness from the peel, this process makes the fruit edible. This being said, marmalade making can easily be broken up into a number of steps over multiple days, so not everything needs to get done in one long, tiresome set of hours (and in fact it’s better if you don’t). For more information on the processes and their differences, check out Marisa’s recent article on the subject.
Regardless of the style you choose, there are so many ways to make this very special preserve. With the marmalade bug upon me and beautiful winter citrus in season, I made two recipes last week. I thought I’d share the results with you.
Strawberry Meyer Lemon & Rum Marmalade
After finding a scant two pounds of Meyer Lemons at the local Whole Foods, I decided to use half along with some frozen strawberries I’d saved from the summer for this very popular recipe. Like many other participants in the challenge, I used Marisa’s recipe from Preserving by the Pint, stirring in 3 tablespoons of aged rum at the end.
As the frozen strawberries were a little bland, I also added ¼ cup of local honey to the mix to enrich the flavor. The end result is sweet and bright, and my husband absolutely loves it. I can only imagine how much better it would be with fresh strawberries!
As called for, I used the sliced fruit method for this recipe. Many sliced fruit marmalades require soaking the fruit overnight, but this one can be soaked for as little as three hours. If time is an issue, you can always stash the soaking fruit in the fridge for a day or two and come back to it if you need to. That’s the great thing about marmalade!
Three Citrus Vanilla Marmalade
In my second marmalade experiment of January 2017, I decided to make a mixed citrus marmalade after finding some beautiful Cara Cara and blood oranges at the store. While I’m very familiar with blood oranges, I’d never used Cara Cara before. True to the descriptions I’ve found, the pink-fleshed Cara Cara navel orange is very low on acid, and to me tastes like a cross between a mild orange and a sweetened grapefruit. It also has a very slight floral note somewhere, which some have compared to rose petal. Its flavor is subtle and delicate. In contrast, the blood orange is bold in color and flavor. It gets its distinctive crimson flesh from the antioxidant anthocyanin, and its far more tart and acidic than the Cara Cara. It makes sense why many prefer blood orange juice for cocktails and sauces, due to its strong taste and vivid color.
Mixed together, this Three Citrus Vanilla Marmalade is delicious. It’s bright and warm, and while some of the bitter bite of traditional marmalade remains, the addition of vanilla bean balances that out beautifully for those that prefer something sweeter. My personal note is to add the vanilla bean sparingly. If you are using really great citrus, you don’t want to mask those flavors too much. Taste the base marmalade first, then add a quarter of the vanilla bean and taste again. Go from there to get the flavor you want.
On Making Marmalade and Testing for Set
As a final note for beginning canners: If you’ve never made a jam or jelly before, the term “set” might be unfamiliar to you. It refers to the consistency of your fruit preserve once it has a chance to cool off. Determining the set of your jam is tricky. How long it takes to set is influenced by many uncontrollable factors, such as water content of your fruit and your current humidity. Even skilled home preservationists don’t get their sets right every time because of this, so don’t be hard on yourself if it takes some practice to get it right.
One easy way to check the set of your preserve is with the chilled plate test: Put a saucer or two in your freezer when you start preparing your jars and lids. When you think your marmalade might be ready, remove the mixture from heat, and put a small dollop of the preserve on the chilled plate. Put the plate back into the freezer, and then wait 60 seconds. Pull the saucer out and push through the marmalade with your finger. If it’s still a pure liquid, the marmalade is not set yet. Put it back on the burner and keep boiling. If it ripples and folds in front of your finger and has a thicker, “jelly-like” consistency, your jam is done. Let it rest and jar your creation according to the recipe. I encourage you to look into the tests and examples and find the ones that work best for you.
Now enjoy this bright and vivid winter preserve while you can still find the citrus in season!
Three Citrus Vanilla Marmalade
Adapted from Preservation Society Home Preserves
Yield: About 6 half-pints
- 2 pounds mixed winter citrus (I used 3 Blood Oranges, 1 large Cara Cara Orange, and 2 Meyer Lemons)
- 5 cups granulated white sugar
- 7 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4-1/2 whole vanilla bean
Prepare and sterilize 6 half pint jars (or a mix of half and quarter pints) and accompanying lids and bands.
Scrub the citrus fruits well in warm water, and then place them in a large pot filled with enough water to allow them to float freely. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2-3 hours, until the fruit is very soft. Time may vary depending on the size of the fruit. You’ll know the fruit is soft enough when you can poke through the rind with the handle-end of a wooden spoon with minimal pressure.
Transfer the boiled citrus to a cutting board and allow them to cool until they are safe to handle. Cut each in half, discard stem ends, seeds and any tough center pith, and then chop or slice the fruit. Size of your rind should be to your preference - some people like large chunks of rind, while others like very thin threads. I fall somewhere in between.
In a non-reactive pot, enamel dutch oven, or preserving pan, combine the citrus, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring often. Carefully taste the mixture (remember, it’s hot!), and then stir in the scraped out seeds of a quarter of the vanilla bean. Taste again, and add more vanilla bean to your preference. For an even stronger vanilla flavor, add the bean itself as well.
Boil the marmalade hard, stirring often, until the setting point is reached and the mixture reaches 220°F. Start testing the set of the marmalade once the bubbling on the surface changes from a frothy mix of tiny bubbles to larger “fish-eye” sized bubbles, and the marmalade sheets off the spatula rather than drops freely. When satisfied with the set, remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean if left in.
Ladle the marmalade into the jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles with a “bubble remover” or cooking chopstick by inserting it into each jar a few times to release any trapped air. Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp paper towel and affix the clean lids and rings to finger-tip tightness.
Place the jars in the water bath canner, bring to a full boil, then allow the jars to process for 10 minutes. Remove with a jar lifter and transfer to a folded kitchen towel on your kitchen counter. Leave them untouched for 24 hours, then check the seals, label, and store in a cool, dark place without the rings. Unlike most jams that have a recommended shelf-life of a year, marmalade has a much longer shelf-life of at least 2 years.
Next month’s Mastery Challenge is preserving with salt, and I hope you join in on the fun! What do you think I should make – salt-preserved Meyer lemons, or less traditional salt-preserved limes? The answer might rely on availability, but let me know what you think in the comments!