Tell me, I have to know. Are you marmalade worthy? If you say yes, and you really mean it, then I will share a little jar of this labor-of-love-jam with you. If you act all desperate because you are almost out, then you get a big jar. This is not the sort of jam that you want to give for a holiday gift to just any old body. It might end up on the back shelf of your friend’s cupboard … forlorn, forgotten, or feared. No, give this to the lusty. And take note: If someone gives you a jar of their homemade marmalade, really really good marmalade, then know that you are loved.
This is the mother of all jams, the queen bee of bittersweet. It probably won’t come out right the first time, or even the second. You are sure to curse me because you worked so very hard. But the good news is that bad marmalade is perfect for cooking … to spice up your apple pie, to sweeten your tea, to glaze your pork roast, to Harvard your beets and to eat from a spoon. And when it works, it’s all worth it.
March is the month to make a year’s worth of marmalade. Blood oranges, little tangerines, tangelos and others of their friends whose names I forget are at their sweetest. For this jam, you’ll need a variety of whatever organic thin-skinned oranges/tangerines you can find. (The organic fruits are scarce this year here, and have barely made it to Western NC so you may end up with a couple thick-skinned varieties) You’ll need about three pounds of fruit for 6 eight-ounce jars. Give or take. This is not an exact science. First cut your fruit in half, squeeze out the juice and then take out all the innards and put them in a pile.
Then cut the peel halves into quarters. Slice very thinly into pieces that are as long as what you want to see on your toast. If you have used a thick-skinned naval orange, then you will use a vegetable peeler and take off the outer peel, save the guts, and compost the white pith. (Don’t use more than one or two navals in the mix.)
Now, you should have two cups of juice and a pile of rind and one of innards plus seeds. You’ll also juice 4 lemons and save the seeds, but you won’t need the rind or pulpl for this particular jam. (Always save your organic lemon zest in a little jar in the freezer for later!)
Now put the seeds and the orange guts in a piece of cheesecloth, which you can find at any grocery store, and tie it off. This is where the pectin that’s needed to gel your jam comes from. Sometimes oranges are short on seeds this time of year, so put your lemon seeds in the bag as well. Now, you’ll put your orange peels, juice and 8 cups of water in a big pan and boil the mixture for 10 minutes. Cool, and refrigerate overnight. Set the bag of seeds in a bowl and let that sit in your fridge overnight as well. In the morning, get all your canning stuff together. 6 half-pint jelly jars or a mixture of half-pint and 4-oz jars. Your state extension office is your go-to resource for safe processing of jams and jellies. Here’s some nifty info. that happens to be from Utah. Note the boiling point for a given altitude. You’ll need that. Boil the water, peel, and bag of seeds with the lid on your big pot for 45 minutes. Then add the sugar and remove the bag of seeds. Boil until the sugar dissolves and divide mixture into two pots.
Here we are cooking the jam in two pots. A shallow Le Creuset is fun as well as any pan that is wider than it is deep. You need a candy thermometer to make jam (available at the grocery store or kitchen store for $10 or so). Cook your jam until it reaches the “set”point. It should be 220 degreees sea level. For every thousand feet up you live, subtract two degrees. In Asheville NC, the set point is 216, and i mean, do NOT go over this or your jam will be caramelized. Which is OK if it’s an accident, but don’t do it on purpose.
It should wrinkle like this when it’s done. You’ll think your marmalade is way too runny, but in a day or two, it will firm up. A lot. Can your jam as per the instructions of whatever expert you choose.
Now go out there and spread the love.
- 2-3 lbs. thin-skinned organic oranges/tangerines mixed (buy 3 pounds just in case)
- 4 organic lemons
- 3 1/2 cups sugar
- 8 cups water
- Cheesecloth plus other canning stuff
- Cut oranges in half and juice as many as you need for 2 cups of juice
- Juice lemons and save seeds
- Remove pulp & seeds from oranges and, along with lemon seeds, place in a piece of cheesecloth & tie with kitchen twine. Place in a small bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- Halve the empty oranges and thinly slice to the size you'd like to see on your toast.
- In a large non-aluminum pot, boil orange and lemon juice, sliced orange rind and 8 cups of water for ten minutes. Allow mixture to cool and refrigerate until tomorrow.
- Next day, boil the juice mixture plus the bag of seeds and pulp, lid on, for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, remove the bag of pulp and add the sugar. Cook on medium heat until set point which will be 220 sea level or 2 degrees less for every thousand feet up you live.
- Can according to your favorite canning expert's directions.
- If you do not have a thermometer, you can check the set by placing a small amount of jam on a dessert plate that's been set to chill in the freezer. If the jam stays put when you drag your finger through it, then it's ready. It will look runny but will thicken over the next couple days.
- Refrigerate any jars that do not seal properly. This jam keeps a looooonnnnggggg time in the fridge. Several months.