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Six things I learnt while making marmalade yesterday

Posted by on Monday 24 January 2011 in cooking, preserving | 16 comments

1. Squeezing multiple oranges and lemons after a couple of days of sewing & gardening is a mistake

I spent a couple of hours yesterday morning cutting back scratchy shrubs (including working underneath a holly bush) and I spent Thursday & Friday evening sewing (aka stabbing myself in the fingers with needles). I also have a tendency to bite the skin around my nails.


(Although admittedly after searing pain for a few minutes, it stopped hurting quite so much. They did keep tingling overnight though and even now are more painfully than little cuts or scratches should be.)

2. It’s easier to finely slice rind if it’s rind up, pith down than vice versa

I started with the rind to the chopping board but made much better progress when it was the other way around.

3. No matter how finely I slice it, it won’t be fine enough

I thought I’d done a good job with the slicing – I guess I thought it would shrink a bit during cooking or something – but after the peel was softened, it was clear that it was a lot bigger than I’d like so I ended up having so scoop it all out again with a slotted spoon and chopped it into much smaller pieces. Yawn.

4. Marmalade boils more frantically than other preserves

Or maybe that’s just me.

Our friend Paul made marmalade earlier in the week and described the entire ground floor of his house being “covered in a thin film of marmalade”. I now know exactly how he feels.

After I added the sugar, it was either not boiling hard enough or on the scary verge of boiling over/actually boiling over. It took a lot more management than all the other jams I’ve made. And I ended up a lot sticker.

5. I don’t like making marmalade

Between the pain and the stickiness, it wasn’t a fun experience – the first time while making a jam or preserve where I’ve been frustrated.

While the peel, juice & muslin bag were bubbling away, I made some lemon curd – admittedly 10 mins of agony to start with but then after another 10 mins, it was all done and I had some fantastic, not sticky lemon curd in jars (recipe to follow) — and that made the marmalade seem even more of a ballache. I’ve got some oranges left over and I’m going to make them into an orange curd instead of more marmalade.

6. I’m not sure I even like eating marmalade

During the frantic, messy boiling stage, it occurred to me that I probably hadn’t had orange marmalade in 20 years, and there was probably a reason for that. I didn’t like the lingering bitter taste – but John assures me that’s what marmalade tastes and it’s quote-unquote “probably the best marmalade I’ve ever tasted” (he’s good with complements in the kitchen). He had three pieces of toast for dessert after dinner last night: two topped with the lemon curd, then another with the marmalade on after it cooled.

I added ground ginger and cinnamon at the boiling stage then 100g of very finely chopped crystallised ginger when it was a couple of minutes off setting point. Neither the ginger or cinnamon is an overwhelming taste but they add a bit more warmth and rounding to the marmalade – and I think the cinnamon helped with the colour of the final product too. If I made it again, I’d think more carefully about the crystallised ginger – cut it even finer and leave the jam to set more in the pan before scooping it into jars as a lot of the ginger chunks are now at the bottom of the jars.

Now to make some soda bread to soak up all these preserves!


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  1. sara

    I love marmalade..but won’t make it…my friend who has no children running around and has time to herself does it for me..i tried last yr but iris and fern kept running in and out the kitchen , almost gave me heart failure i was so worried it was going to spit at them and burn them..thankfully my friend volunteered to make it for me..in return i will give her loads of apples when my fruit is ready..swapsies the old way…hope your fingers are ok and not too sore..have you tried to put vaseline on the cuts..it acts as a barrier and stops stuff stinging..
    take care

  2. Alexis

    funny you should mention . . . I made a batch of marmelade yesterday too. It was my first ever home made marmelade. Tastes great, however am now undertaking “operation rescue marmelade” for some reason my “set” test told me it was ready – and the damn stuff refused to set! Go figure! So out with the thermometer, if it does not work this time – a few quartered apples should do the trick in about 20 min.

    • louisa

      sara: sounds look a good deal you’ve got going with your friend! Thanks for the vaseline tip – I think I’ll get some suitable-for-cooking rubber gloves to use at times like that and when I’m cutting a lot of chillis in one go (which is my next project!).

      Alexis: Mine passed the set test and when John had some on toast last night it seemed fine – but wiggling it in the jar while I was taking the photo this morning, it seemed a bit runny — certainly not as firm as a jam. Another frustrating thing about making it!

      Glad yours tastes great – I think I might become a convert to the ways of marmalade but my heart will always belong to curds :)

  3. jan

    Seem to remember that I boiled the fruit before I chopped it when I made some last year. I wear decorators gloves for any messy jobs in the house and garden as i have lots of allergies and am also prone to hacking off bits of myself if I don’t concentrate enough. They are washable and reusable if you don’t get holes in them.I decided not to make any marmelade this year as it seems to take much longer than jam, but I do have lots left from last year and it seems to keep well.

  4. Jan

    (the other Jan)
    It probably just needs more sugar. Mine hardly ever sets properly. I even put cracked plum kernels in but the reality is I can’t bear to pour so much sugar into jam that already tastes sweet enough. So I pick over ripe fruit put too little sugar in it boil it probably too long and stick it in the freezer in clear plastic pots with lids from some fancy yogurt. I sterilize the pots in the microwave using the same steamy method that they use for baby bottles and stick the load into the freezer. It is tonnes easier than chemicals and tongs and vats of water. The inlaws eat jam straight out of the pot with spoons, which I initially frowned on but in hindsight helps me get through it much faster and probably reduces the risk of some bizarre low sugar related bad jam scenario.

  5. Jan

    Oh and my Jam is still too runny :-) , sorry didn’t solve that.

  6. Su

    The only time I have ever tried making ‘proper’ marmalade, I cremated the pan! One minute it was fine, the next the marmalade had welded itself to the pan, never to come off. That after all that chopping, slicing & juicing was just too much. So, I cheat now and use Ma Made, never had a problem with it, it’s probably cheaper than buying the oranges and from start to finish takes about 30 minutes. And as a bonus I have a strange attraction to the tins! I grow herbs in them.

    • louisa

      I had a dream I was making Ma Made a few weeks ago – I’ve never actually been able to find it in supermarkets but heard it spoken about, so my subconscious was obviously playing out a fantasy!

      Where do you buy it?

  7. Cristina Phelps

    I have made lemon curd for years and I would never use corn flour if made properly it is thick enough without it… yumm thanks you can also try making the recipe with strawberries but add a lil lemon juice to it as it acts as a preservative strawberry curd is favourite amongst the kids…

    • louisa

      Hi Cristina,

      That’s interesting about the cornflour — it was mentioned in the three or four recipes I looked at before modifying them to make my own. I changed various other things but didn’t think to try omitting that. I’d prefer to leave it out if possible so I’ll give it a go with my next batch. Thanks for letting me know!

  8. Su


    Sorry about this, I am not going to be much help!
    I can only buy Ma Made in one of the larger supermarkets around here (ie Tesco, Asda or Morrisons). I can’t buy it in any independent shops or the Co-op and I can’t comment on Waitrose, Safeway or Sainsury’s as Rochdale is not upmarket enough to have any of those!

  9. Su

    Ma made is in the jam section, and strangely it’s always on the far right hand side of the section and on one of the bottom two shelves.

  10. Su

    It’s definitely the way forward!

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