Thinking about marmalade

Thinking about marmalade and wondering whether we should make some come the Seville orange season next January or February – depending on when they come in the shops, I began to think about why my parents’ recipe  produced the best marmalade. Is it just a matter of taste or is there some Marmalade Standard by which it can be measured?

I looked for a definition of marmalade and this is what I’ve come across:

  • a soft substance with a sweet but slightly bitter taste, made by cooking fruit such as oranges with sugar to preserve it. It is eaten on bread, usually for breakfast….

That actually didn’t get me off to a good start – I take issue with ‘soft substance‘ – a pile of feathers could be a soft substance, and I don’t like ‘cooking fruit such as oranges with sugar to preserve it‘ – the point of marmalade isn’t to preserve bitter oranges, but to make marmalade. I have it on good authority from  Spanish friends that Seville  oranges are good for nothing and are left lying in the streets of the city as they are just a decorative item on the orange tree. I also have a big issue with it being eaten on bread – yes some people do or might, but marmalade  is generally and traditionally eaten on toast.

  • a jellylike preserve in which small pieces of fruit and fruit rind, as of oranges or lemons, are suspended.

This is more correct, but there is no mention of the bitterness which is characteristic of a true marmalade.

  • a preserve made from citrus fruit, especially bitter oranges.

I think this is a brief but accurate definition, as is this:

  • Marmalade is a food made from oranges, lemons, or grapefruit that is similar to jam. It is eaten on bread or toast at breakfast.

The mention of breakfast is important, so again, brief but accurate; however Wikipedia gives what  might be considered the best definition and explanation:

  • Marmalade generally refers to a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. It can be produced from  kumquats,  lemons,  limes,  grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots, and other citrus fruits, or any  combination of them.
    For many decades now, the preferred citrus fruit for marmalade production in Britain has been the Spanish Seville orange, Citrus aurantium var. aurantium, prized for its high pectin content, which “gives a good set” – that is, it readily attains the thick consistency expected of marmalade. The peel imparts a lively bitter taste to the marmalade.
    The term “marmalade” is not precise, universal, nor definitive, but unless otherwise stated, marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel. However, it also may be distinguished from jam by the choice of fruit. Historically, the term was more often used in senses other than just citrus conserves

So having compared definitions… how about marmalade, and why do I think my parents’ recipe is the best? I should say to begin with, that although people do make marmalade with other fruit, I really only consider Seville orange marmalade as the true thing.  Without the bitterness, other fruit preserves are just that – preserves or jams.

  • smell/aroma – as soon as you open the jar the smell should bring joy to your nostrils, promising a delight to come… orange, toffee, only a hint of sweetness, acidity
  • appearance – the gel surrounding the shreds of peel should be transparent and clear, no cloudiness, no little blobs of fruit, and it should be a dark not bright orange, almost the colour of treacle toffee; it should glisten and shine. The shreds do not need to be a uniform shape or size but they should not be too thick, or in cubes, nor should they be so wafer thin that they are barely there and they should be distributed equally throughout the jar, neither lurking at the bottom, nor trying to escape out of the top
  • texture – the gel should be soft but hold its shape to an extent, it shouldn’t be liquid, it shouldn’t be stiff, it shouldn’t be a paste; the slivers of peel should be chunky but tender, although they should still retain an element of ‘bite’ – they should still be firm but not chewy
  • taste – there must be orange – it is a marmalade after all. There must be a pleasing bitterness, tempered by a sweetness but not too sweet. There should be a depth of flavour – the taste should have length as well as immediate intensity; there should also be a roundness – thin flavoured marmalade is just wrong. The flavour should be strong and distinct… and yes, as Wikipedia describes it ‘lively’
  • spreadability – yes, of course it should spread!

Does that sound very pompous? I hope not!

I have dear friends who often give me a jar of their marmalade, and I’m very grateful and enjoy having it on toast… but it’s just not the same as that made by the recipe. Some friends add whisky, or ginger, which I quite like, but then it becomes something different.

So what is the secret of the recipe… partly the way it is made, but also the addition of black treacle…. so, take your usual recipe, Seville oranges, a couple of lemons, sugar and also black treacle:

… and here is the method:

The method

  • it is such a chore cutting, slicing, squeezing, preparing the oranges… so put all the fruit in a pan, cover with enough water and boil until soft.
  • cut the cooked fruit in half when cool and scoop the soft flesh out of the shells of the skin. Easy.
  • then slice the peel as finely or as chunkily as you prefer
  • put all the flesh into a muslin and squeeze all the  pectin rich juices from it.
  • continue as with your recipe, but add black treacle
  • bottle when ready, admire your work, sample and store.
  • favoured friends may be lucky to receive a sample!
  • this will keep for several years… I am currently enjoying some 2012 vintage

PS – the different types of preserves…

  • jams – small or chopped or mashed fruit and sugar
  • jellies – fruit and sugar cooked and strained so there are no bits
  • preserves – whole fruit or large pieces and sugar
  • conserves – high fruit content, often with added dried fruit, nuts, etc, similar consistency to jam
  • marmalades – mixed citrus fruit and often with chopped or sliced peel, and sugar
  • fruit butters – puréed cooked fruit and less sugar, soft and spreadable – they don’t keep well so have to be eaten quickly
  • curds/cheeses –  fruit, sugar, butter and eggs, and as with butters, and have to be eaten quickly

I like your sauce! Vintage sauce!

Something which gets me leaping onto my hobby-horse and galloping round and round the room is best before dates; I understand why there needs to be some information on when a product was made and especially some suggestions of when such things as fresh meat or fish should be eaten by (even though your nose and eyes should give you a big hint) but modern packaging these days with its ‘best before’ dates has led to a huge amount of unnecessary food waste. People will throw things away as soon as they reach their best before dates even though they are perfectly safe to eat – ‘best’ means best – not you will suffer excruciatingly if a morsel of this passes your lips the day after…

Preserves – the clue is in the word ‘preserve’; the whole process, millennia old no doubt, is to keep food so it will last healthily and safely; a couple of days ago, I messaged a friend to tell her how much I was enjoying her whisky marmalade – which she gave me in 2012… yes five years ago, and it was delicious! I don’t often have bacon sandwiches, but when I do I have brown sauce, HP, actually; it’s the only time I have the sauce so you can imagine it’s not often used.  As I was closing the lid after dribbling it onto my bacon, I glanced at the ‘best before’ date… 2007… yes, no mistake, 2007…

This doesn’t mean you should pay no attention to bb dates – I opened a new bag of  couscous for dinner last night… It was edible but had a strange musty flavour – that’s because I bought it three years ago and it had got tucked at the back of everything else… It was edible but not very nice, so I threw it away (in the food recycling bin of course!)

By the way the word ‘sauce’ comes as you might guess from Latin, meaning things which have been salted… or seasoned. To be saucy is to be cheeky or suggestive, but the phrase ‘I like your sauce!’ implies that someone has been impolite, rude or arrogant – but sometimes in a joking way, as with me and my title!

Conserves, preserves and jam

As my we were tootling along somewhere, for no remembered reason, we began to talk about jam… maybe we had started by talking about marmalade, the making of which we are experts, or maybe it was something else which triggered the conversation, but we began to wonder what the difference was between preserves and conserves and how they were different from jams. I knew I had looked at this before and had a guess that is was maybe the amount of fruit to sugar, or the size or sort of fruit…

here is what the Kilner (Kilner jar people) site says about it:

The main distinguishing factors between these preserves are:

  • The fruit used
  • The size of the fruit pieces
  • The addition or omission of flavourings
  • The procedure used to process the fruit and sugar mix

There is a marvellous little book, ‘Jams, Jellies and Preserves – How To make Them’ by Ethelind Fearon, first published in 1953 which has a really interesting introduction. It’s interesting for two reasons – one it has some great recipes and helpful advice, and secondly it’s an insight into how basic cooking has changed.

In talking about pectin, Ethelind reminds us that the most usual test for the amount of pectin in fruit is the methylated spirits test – I don’t suppose many of us have methylated spirits in our houses any more – maybe in the remote corner of the garage or garden shed, but in the kitchen? I don’t think so!

She also mentions that in the old days (the old days for her would have been way before the war) ‘old paper dipped in brandy was used for sealing the jars. This is now rather expensive…‘  Ethelind also reveals that many of her recipes came from a handwritten book of her grandmother’s; as Ethelind was born in 1878, her grandmother must have been born between fifty and sixty years before. here is what grandma said about sealing jam pots:

Observe to keep all wet sweetmeats in a dry cool place, for a wet damp place will make them mould and a hot dry place will dry up the virtue and make them candy. The best direction I can give is to dip writing paper in brandy, and lay it close to your sweetmeats, tie them down well with white paper and two folds of thick cap paper to keep out the air for nothing can be a greater fault than bad tying down and leaving the pots open.

In the ‘older days’ of course, people would have relied on their preserves to last them over the winter – no fridges, freezers or supermarkets!

Going back to the different types of preserves, here is a list:

  • jams – small or chopped or mashed fruit and sugar
  • jellies – fruit and sugar cooked and strained so there are no bits
  • preserves – whole fruit or large pieces and sugar
  • conserves – high fruit content, often with added dried fruit, nuts, etc, similar consistency to jam
  • marmalades – mixed citrus fruit and often with chopped or sliced peel, and sugar
  • fruit butters – puréed cooked fruit and less sugar, soft and spreadable – they don’t keep well so have to be eaten quickly – oh good!
  • curds/cheeses –  fruit, sugar, butter and eggs, and as with butters, and have to be eaten quickly

Here is a link to the Kilner jar site:

Vintage marmalade

I came across a jar of marmalade which we made in 2014; dark, sticky, bitter and perfect for breakfast. To me marmalade is different from an orange jam by its bitterness, that is why Seville oranges are used – or so I always understood!

I came across this interesting little piece, pondering on this very question…

There is no very clear understanding as to where jams end and marmalades begin.
One authority lays it down that marmalades are made of citrus fruit, another that jams are made of crushed fruit and marmalades from sliced or stripped fruits or small berries. But in the former case what of quince, green tomato and fresh fig marmalade, and in the latter, what of currant or pear jam.
It is all very confusing. My own personal definition is that jam is sweet and marmalade bitter – the kind of thing which does not cloy the palate and can be eaten for breakfast. Citrus fruit is bitter when cooked in any case and the various other fruit preserves which are termed marmalade – quince, green tomato, pineapple etc., all develop a refreshing tang by reason of treatment. And most marmalade is a thick mash rather than fruit suspended in jelly.

I have to say I disagree with Ethelind Fearon who wrote this; I think only citrus fruit can make marmalade, and anything else is a jam or conserve. I certainly disagree that ‘most marmalade is a thick mash‘, our marmalade certainly is not! our marmalade is as she then goes on to say ‘fruit suspended in jelly‘ – and a crystal clear jelly too!

Oranges and lemons

Children’s parties were so different when I was a child; for a start there would only be about half a dozen guests, the party would always take place in the birthday child’s home, they would all follow pretty much the same pattern.

Everyone would arrive at the set time, wearing their party clothes, hair brushed, shoes shiny, carrying a small gift for the birthday person. I seem to remember receiving such things as bath cubes (the forerunner of bath bombs) coloured pencils, colouring books, that sort of thing – inexpensive, useful and no doubt bought by the parents. There would be a few games, moving about games if the house was big enough, then a tea-party with sandwiches or bridge rolls with fillings, buns, and a birthday cake – oh and jelly, there was nearly always jelly! After tea there would be more sedentary games, pass the parcel, Kim’s game, and when we were older the murder game where we sat in the dark and things were passed round supposedly parts of a someone cut from the gallows – a peeled grape was his eye, a rubber glove filled with water was his hand, a string of sausages… it sounds really gross and disgusting now, doesn’t it!

One more innocent game we played was ‘oranges and lemons’, a very simple game played as we sang the nursery rhyme of the same name. The song lists many of London’s old churches, and has many variations, however thinking about it coincided with me reading Ruth Drew’s wonderful book, The Happy Housewife, where she has three pages of uses for the fruit. Here is just a selection of her suggestions:

  • quarters of orange are good in a green salad. This fruit combines well with chicory and watercress
  • try adding a few sections of orange to stewed rhubarb. Add after stewing to preserve the vitamin in the oranges
  • lemon juice is good for stained or discoloured finger-nails. Soak them in a solution of warm water and lemon juice – 1 pint of water plus 1 dessertspoonful of juice
  • here’s a way to make an old fowl tender. Rub it with lemon juice. Wrap it in a sheet of greased paper and steam for at least 3 hours
  • would-be slimmers drink the juice of a lemon in a tumblerful of hot water every morning before breakfast
  • for shampooing greasy hair, try adding a tablespoonful of lemon juice to the last rinsing water
  • everyone knows that a squeeze of lemon juice improves the flavour of fish. But have you ever tried combining orange with fish?
  • dried peel of oranges and lemons is good for helping to kindle a fire
  • if you spill orange or lemon juice on a porcelain enamel surface, wipe it away at once. left on, the acid makes a permanently dull patch on the enamel
  • do you ever use lemon juice instead of vinegar in salad dressing?
  • to get all possible juice out of a lemon, put it in some very hot water for a few minutes before squeezing. Oranges shed their white pith easily if they’re soaked in the same way before peeling – a help when you’re making a fresh fruit salad
  • a hint for marmalade makers. Have you ever tried combining grapefruit and lemon? If you use 3 grapefruits you’d need 3 lemons as well

Marmalade gin

Some time ago a friend asked me whether I liked gin and I had to say that I didn’t; whisky is my favourite spirit, but I would never so no to a cognac, an Armagnac or a vodka… and some tequila too! Not altogether in the same glass, obviously! There is just something perfumy and nasty about gin to my taste… however, sloe gin is fine so maybe I need it to be flavoured. I ruminated on this with my friend and she asked if I had tried marmalade gin. I hadn’t and i was a little reserved in my enthusiasm, but she very kindly gave me a bottle with about 10cl in it to take home and try at an appropriate time.

Which i did, sharing with my beloved of course… and it was wonderful – delicious! I decided to have a go at making some with the left over gin I had from using it with sloes, and it was brilliant! It is a beautiful golden colour and is not sweet and sickly but has a nice bitter flavour and since we put black treacle in our marmalade there was that lovely brunt caramel undertone to it. Shortly after making our 2014 marmalade we bought a bottle of gin and measuring precisely this time, 50cl to a small jar of marmalade we’re doing it again. We used the other 50cl with a jar of vintage 2012 marmalade… I’ll let you know the result!


Barmalade vs marmalade

Tis the season to make marmalade, or, as my husband Bari makes it, Barmalade. We use a recipe which my dad used as long as I can remember; it is one of my earliest childhood memories, being in bed and smelling the lovely bitter orange smell of the annual brew.

On Tuesday at our English conversation class our topic, in between grammar, conversation, and reading, was marmalade and three of us brought our own home-made. Betty brought an ordinary very delicious marmalade, I brought our dark version which includes black treacle, and Judith brought her marmalade with crystallised ginger. We also brought bread and butter, and we collected a couple of toasters from the kitchen and so the ‘students’ were able to try the different varieties. I think we all agreed that they were equally delicious!

DSCF6244Maybe we should have had some of Bari’s home-made bread!