I love phone calls like the one I received the other day from my neighbor, Nathalie.
“Suzanne, I have too many bitter oranges, would you like some?” I didn’t hesitate a minute. This is the season for bitter oranges (Seville oranges – they come from Spain) and each year I turn them into marmalade. Because marmalade is a French specialty and bitter oranges have a short season, everyone rushes to get them. I’d rushed myself, but the supply had dwindled so that I barely had enough for a batch. Nathalie’s call couldn’t have been more welcome.
Making any kind of jam ranks as a satisfying occupation; making orange marmalade is something more. It is magic. I spent a good chunk of my childhood in England where orange marmalade was always on the breakfast table, a symbol of that country and that time. To make this same, bitter/sweet substance is like corralling a memory and making it palpable.
And it’s easy. The biggest trick is finding bitter oranges. If you cannot, use regular oranges. (Do your best to find organic fruit, since you’ll be eating the rind). Once you do, the process is simple. You need to scrub them, squeeze them (save the seeds), then soak them overnight. The next day tumble in the sugar and cook the mixture until it is the color of seasoned bricks.
3 pounds (1-1/2 kg) oranges, preferably organic*, well-scrubbed, or more if needed
2-1/4 quarts (2.5 liters) filtered water
2 or more large lemons, preferably organic, well scrubbed
13 cups (5-1/2 lbs;2-3/4 kg.) sugar
- Halve and juice the oranges. You should have 2 cups (500ml) juice. If you don’t, squeeze enough extra oranges to give that much. Reserve the seeds. Reserve the skins from the original 3 pounds or oranges, and discard any remaining orange peels.
- Cut the orange skins, which will still have some pulp clinging to them, into very thin strips. Then cut the strips into tiny dice (hint here: if you’re short on time, you can leave the skins in thin strips). Place the orange peels, the juice, and the water in a large, nonreactive stockpot. Cover and let sit overnight.
- Tie the seeds in cheesecloth.
- When ready to make the marmalade, prepare fourteen 8-ounce (250ml) canning jars and lids by sterilizing them in boiling water according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Halve and squeeze the lemons. You should have ½ cup (125ml) juice. Squeeze additional lemons if necessary to get that amount of jucie. Discard the peel and the pulp. Stir the lemon juice into the orange mixture.
- Stir the sugar into the orange mixture, add the bag of seeds, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the mixture is buggling seriously and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is thick enough to make a marmalade that will sit be the consistency of runny honey, 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours. The time will vary depending on the variety of oranges you use, so don’t go starting the construction of a home in your backyard while this cooks; stay in the kitchen! AS the marmalade gets close to the correct consistency the bubbles will get bigger and almost pop, and the mixture will get darker in color. Don’t overcook the jam or it will turn to thick rubber when cooled.
- When the jam is cooked to your liking, remove it from the heat and ladle it into the sterilized canning jars, leaving ¼ inch (1/2 cm) of headroom. Seal according to the jar manufacturer’s instructions.
Yield: fourteen 8-ounce (250ml) jars
Note that the yield may vary up to 8 ounces (250ml) depending on how long you cook the jam.
*Organic Citrus: you really want to use organic citrus here. Barring that, look for citrus that has not been treated post-harvest with a fungicide wax. You can tell fruit that has been treated with wax by its unnatural shine. Labeling is also required.