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Day 29: Secrets to a Good Marmalade

I love a good homemade marmalade – not the overly sweet, artificially flavored junk you find in the grocery store. No. I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness homemade marmalade where the citrus flavor pops the minute it hits your tongue.

Yeah…THAT.

Just as the flavor of a homegrown tomato cannot compare to the grocery store version, so too is it with homemade marmalade.

Many people think that making marmalade is too hard or even scary. But it really is not difficult – especially if you understand a few of the tricks. Here’s the scoop on how to make great marmalade and I’ve included a simple, yet delicious recipe to get you started.

Now, I should start out by stating up front that although marmalade is not difficult or complicated…it CAN BE a bit more time consuming than your average jam. And that is why some people don’t like to make it. I know that for me, setting aside time for a batch of marmalade can be very hard to carve out of my weekend. But this fact only makes homemade marmalade all the more precious in in my book.

Delicious seasonal citrus + a devoted chunk of time = LOVE in a jar!

Trust me. Once you make a batch and taste it, you will only give jars out to the most special people in your life. The rest you will hoard for yourself!

Tips and Tricks of Making Marmalade

1) Organic

Traditional marmalades include the peel of the citrus used. For this reason, it is important that you use organic or homegrown fruit. Some states (not California) even allow the outside of the peel to be coated with a colored dye that is NOT food safe. Why you ask? Because they do not consider the peel to be edible and therefore feel it is okay. By choosing organic produce, you avoid the dye. But you still need to wash the fruit with warm water and a vegetable brush because many fruits are coated in a wax. Plus, it is a good idea to get off any dirt, grime or even organic sprays that may have been used on the fruit before harvest.

2) Texture

One of the characteristics of a “good” marmalade is that the peel bits are soft in texture when you bite into them. If the mixture is not cooked long enough, the peel remains tough and feels like a mistake rather than a delicious morsel. This is where many canners panic. But no need! There are many methods to achieving a soft peel, but the one I feel is a “sure thing” every time is to soak the peel over night. Just follow your recipe’s instructions for how to cut the rind (in strips, chopped, etc). And then even if it says to start the marmalade immediately – Don’t. Instead, warm the peel in warm water and let the mixture sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The benefit of this two-fold: First it allows you to break the recipe up into two chunks rather than one giant marathon session and second, the soaking softens the rind without worrying about how long to cook it.

And here’s another handy hint about the rind: Once you add the sugar to the mixture, the peel will no longer soften. So if it is still tough as nails…keep cooking it a bit longer before you add the sugar in your recipe.

3) Gel


Unlike most other jams, a traditional marmalade is not made with the addition of commercial pectin. Yes, there are mixture “marmalades” made by combining other fruits with the citrus and yes in some of those cases a recipe may call for pectin. But if you are making a traditional recipe, no pectin is needed. This is because the rind and the seeds of citrus have a ton of pectin. You may notice that some marmalade recipes even call for you to tie up all the seeds and pith in a cheesecloth bag and boil it with the fruit. That is to release the pectin, so be sure to do it when asked to.

4) Equipment

Aside from all the typical canning equipment (jars, waterbath canner, etc), it is best to have a heavy bottomed pan to prevent burning and you will need a candy thermometer. Yes, you can judge the temperature using the “spoon test” or even the “wrinkle test” but it can seem tricky to newbies – plus, I never trust myself completely and feel better knowing “for sure”. A candy thermometer takes all the guess work out of it. You will thank me later. And make sure it is a candy thermometer – not a meat thermometer which will not have small enough increments to read accurately.

5) Before ladling into jars

Another common problem is the rind sinking to the bottom of every jar. To prevent this, wait about 3-5 minutes after you turn off the heat BEFORE ladling into the jars. The marmalade will thicken and less of the rind will sink. Works like a charm!

Traditional Orange Marmalade

This recipe is simple, yet delicious and a great “first timer” recipe to try. It comes from the Cooperative Extension Office at the University of GA. Nothing fancy here, just 100% yumminess in a jar. Note: By pulp, I mean the meat of the fruit minus the seeds and peel.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups thinly sliced orange peel (about 6 large oranges)
  • 4 cups orange pulp, cut up (about 6 large oranges)
  • 1 cup lemon pulp, cut up (about 2 lemons)
  • 6 cups of water
  • Approximately 6 cups of sugar (see note 3 below)

Day One:

Add water to all the fruit and peel in saucepan. Heat to simmer and then simmer for 5 minutes. Cover, cool and then place in the refrigerator over night.

Day Two:

1) In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the fruit and water mixture until the peel is tender (about 1 hour).

2) Meanwhile, sterilize your canning jars.

3) NOTE: At this point you measure the fruit and water mixture. For every one cup of mixture you add 1 cup of sugar. You need equal parts sugar to mixture. Then continue on with your recipe.

4) Over medium heat, bring the fruit/sugar mixture up to boiling – stirring constantly. Cook rapidly to the jellying point (220 degrees F on a candy thermometer). It usually takes about 25 minutes to get to this point.

5) Turn off heat and wait 3-5 minutes while you get your jars ready to fill.

6) Ladle hot marmalade into hot jar, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process for 5 minutes in a waterbath canner.

7) Check seals when cool and label.

 This post is part of the 31 Days of Living Homegrown. Sign up for my newsletter (weekly or monthly) so you don’t miss any of the inspiration and resources I will be sharing for living local, fresh and homegrown!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.

43 Comments:

  • Debbie says:

    I’ve had a couple disappointments in making marmalade and I’m encouraged with your clear directions and tips. I’m going to try it again! I love marmalade and I think I know where I went wrong. Thank you!

    • theresa says:

      You are welcome Debbie. I’m glad you find the information helpful. Let me know if things turn out better next time!

  • TeresaR says:

    Yummy! A friend of mine has been making marmalade to sell and I bought some from her, but I really need to make my own. Thanks for a terrific tutorial!

  • Tammy says:

    I have never been a fan of marmalade, mainly because it was bitter. A few weeks ago I found a non-bitter recipe so I made up a batch. YUMMY! It is basically orange preserves. I <3 it! Plus it looks so pretty and bright sitting on my canning shelves. It makes me smile every time I see it.

    • theresa says:

      For years I had only eaten the marmalade that my mom made. Then one time, I tasted some store bought marmalade and YUCK! I swore off marmalade for a few years until I was able to make it myself. I’m so glad that you found some that you like!

  • Wow, this sounds great! I’ve never tried making jam or marmalade. I just got into canning a few years ago, and that’s time consuming enough. Some day I hope to try this though, it sounds wonderful!

    Amy

    • theresa says:

      Yes Amy – the time factor is a problem. But there are so many other faster recipes out there. Save this one for when you feel like savoring the time with a nice cup of tea and the aroma of oranges wafting through the kitchen…That is the time to dive into this one!

  • SJ Smith says:

    I don’t normally like marmalade; except as a glaze on roast chicken. Then, a few years ago, I was given some kumquats about this time of year. It was alot of work, but it was the best marmalade I’d ever had. I just sliced the kumquats as thin as I possibly could and proceeded with basic marmalade recipe. No need to discard pith… just use the whole fruit. I rushed a 3 day recipe into 2 days by starting day one about sunrise, and doing Day 2 after dinner. It was alot of work! I love how you explain and show the processes so clearly. I’ll be bookmarking it for the next time someone offers me a quart or so of kumquats.

    • theresa says:

      I just made kumquat marmalade day before yesterday! I do find it to be one of the most time consuming of marmalades, but as you said – It is the best!

  • Emily says:

    Thanks for the tips. I never thought about using organic because of the peel. I’ll try this soon!

  • Mary Beth says:

    Oh my. Going to have to add this to the weekend list. I would love these sunny jars on my counter! Wishing I had kumquats, too. As if we didn’t have enough plants around here… 🙂 Your description makes it very approachable and I can’t wait to start this recipe.

  • Bill Hilton says:

    My first marmalade was in England in 1944, my first opinion was correct, best jam I ever had, however, after returning to Texas every jar was too sweet so stopped buying it. Now over the years I have tried making it myself but can;t find a recipe that will jell without a load of sugar, Kinda like the British bitter taste, any suggestions?
    THanks
    Bill

    • theresa says:

      Bill,

      I know exactly what you are talking about! The American version of marmalade is very sweet compared to the British version. But it is more than just the higher sugar content!

      Traditional British marmalade uses a bitter orange rather than a sweet orange. The orange you need is called a Seville. It is large and very seedy. It has a very bitter peel and flesh. This bitterness counters the sugar needed to get the proper gel and you end up with a less sweet marmalade. The flavor is deep and divine.

      Seville oranges are only available for a few weeks (Mid-January to Mid-February). You can buy them in bulk at this time and freeze them so that you can make the marmalade later. I don’t know where you are located, but Seville oranges are grown a lot in California. You can order them online in January and have them shipped to other locations.

      I think that is your missing ingredient. You also might want to look at the book called “Marmalade – Sweet and Savory Spreads” by Elizabeth Field. She has sweet and not-so-sweet recipes and everything I have made from that book has worked perfectly.

      I hope that helps.
      ~Theresa

  • […] doesn’t call for it, I add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice anyway. I do this with jam, jelly, marmalade, whole fruit, spread, sauce, syrup, etc. Why? Because just as salt enhances flavor in savory […]

  • When do I add my cloth of seeds?

    • theresa says:

      Hi Whitey – If you are using a bag tied up with seeds, you would use that in step one when you boil the fruit. Then remove it when you measure for the sugar.

  • Roberta Frizell says:

    I have made lots of marmalade and normally with jam I put it in my jar, seal and turn upside down to seal, then process in a water bath. This time my marmalade stayed at the top of the jar and didn’t go back down. I presume I will need to open the fruit, heat just till hot, place in sterilized jars, reseal and then process without turning over. I’m wondering if I had too much pectin as I used oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit (all locally grown). Any ideas?

  • Marie says:

    Because I much prefer foods with low percentages of sugar (though I’m not diabetic), I tend to add far less sugar than most recipes call for. And I especially like an almost bitter marmalade. Can I cut back on the sugar in this marmalade? I hope it doesn’t have to have 50% sugar in order to jell?

  • Lynda says:

    Thx Theresa! As a lover of marmalade you’ve inspired me to try making my own!

  • Angela says:

    I am bout to try this out. But I see some things are not included on the article or directions. (Maybe I looked over it- or I am new and it is something pretty well known).
    There is only mention of adding part of the pectin in- can you please let me know how to finish that part of the process?
    And I am not sure as to when to add the bag of seeds?
    Thank you so much. I am looking forward to making this up as gifts for Christmas this year.

  • David says:

    Great content, thank you. I have actually grafted a Seville orange to a rootstock that I had in the garden growing without any irrigation. I’m based in southern California, inland from you. Its doing well and now I have a 10ft plant but still too early for any actual Seville oranges. Do you have a source for Seville oranges in southern California?
    I like the kumquat marmalade but still prefer Seville. One thing to make things easier is that there is a seedless version of the common nagami kumquat (Noordman) so should negate the de seeding needed. Again I have one in my garden but still too early for a significant harvest.
    Thanks for your work, great info

  • mia says:

    does the gel point change with elevation and if so – what is the temperature adjustment?

  • Chris Murray says:

    My Mom (and her British mom) made a marm called “GLO” (for grapefruit/lemon/orange). Can I use your suggested recipe, substituting these other citrus? Thanks!

  • Susan says:

    Love your podcast. I made marmalade for the first time and it is fantastic. Thank you for your very clear instructions! The marmalade is wonderful. I look forward to hearing more podcasts.

  • Cassandra says:

    I am a truck driver and I live in my semi. My boyfriend/co-driver and I plan to one day find local work and buy a large property where we can maintain a garden. I listen to your podcast while I’m driving, there are so many things I can’t wait to try. For now, I might begin to practice by choosing one project to complete per each week of “home” time, (aka mom’s house) which is about one week every three months. I am so glad I found your podcast, I so enjoy listening to you and I can’t wait to try this marmalade.

    • theresa says:

      Thank you so much for telling me Cassandra! There are lots of smaller projects around here that you can do on weekends. But in the meantime, I am rooting for you to get your garden. Drive carefully and don’t get so excited about local flavor that you miss a turn off or something. Ha!

  • Cheryl says:

    Hi there, I’m making marmalade at this moment with oranges from my tree- which tend to be more on the bitter side. I’d prefer to not use as much sugar. Has anyone tried the recipe with less sugar? Will it not gel properly is that the only reason for excessive sugar?

    Cheers and thank you for the recipe!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      I’m not sure what marmalade recipe you are using, but sugar is in a marmalade or jam recipe for the following reasons:
      1) To give the proper acid/sugar/pectin ratio which causes the gel
      2) To counter any bitterness of the fruit
      3) To preserve the color
      4) To prevent some spoilage

      To answer your question for a marmalade recipe – The biggest issue with reducing sugar in marmalade is that you must make sure have plenty of pectin so that you still get the gel. Since I don’t know if you are using my recipe (without commercial pectin) or a pectin-added recipe, I am going to assume you are NOT adding pectin to the recipe. I have listed some general info below:

      You CAN still get the gel if you have the following:

      1) You make sure you still have sufficient rind in the mix. There is a lot of pectin in the rind. If you have included plenty of rind you should be okay because marmalades tend to gel pretty easily. The orange seeds also have a lot of pectin. You can also get more pectin by cooking the marmalade with the orange seeds in a cloth bag (Or tied up with cheesecloth) and then removing the seeds before you ladle into the jars.

      2) If you are NOT adding commercial pectin and are making this marmalade naturally as I have described in this post, then you WILL get the gel with temperature and you can reduce the sugar a bit. However, do NOT eliminate the sugar completely or you won’t have the proper chemistry to cause the gel reaction OR to get to the gel stage. You need the sugar to reach the temperature of the gel stage.

      So in summary, you can reduce the sugar of your marmalade a little – but no, you cannot reduce it a lot or remove it. If you want to make a sugar-free or very low sugar marmalade, then what you want to do is create a low-sugar orange jam and use a commercial Low Sugar Pectin. You can search this site for information on low sugar jam.

      I hope that helps and GOOD LUCK!
      ~Theresa

  • Cheryl says:

    Hi Teresa,

    Thank you so much for the quick response. I used your recipe above and I also added the additional pith and orange seeds in a cheese cloth for added pectin (I did not use commercial pectin.) I reduced the sugar amount to 4 cups. I cooked for about two hours total but I see that it is a bit watery.

    My oranges weren’t too ripe, however, I’m thinking I may use less water the next time.

    I shall experiment again:)

    Cheers,
    Cheryl

  • Melody Star says:

    Have you ever made marmalade with mandarins? I was wanting to try it but wanted your opinion before as I wanted to try it. Thanks!

  • Jennifer Breaux says:

    Thank you so much for this info, orange marmalade is one of the few jam recipes I have yet to try – so I have one question: when you measure the 4 c. of peel, is that still in large strips right after peeling (very loosely packed), or is that 4 cups of chopped up peel? Thanks :O)

  • Rose says:

    Hi there,
    I enjoy your instructions and layout and am definately going to try this soon. My daughter is a health fanatic and wants me to make her jams and marmalades using honey instead of sugar. can you advise me of the ratios please?
    Thx
    Rose

    • theresa says:

      Hi Rose,
      There is not a universal ratio that I can give you that will work for all fruits or preserves. It varies. A great book on this topic is: Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. That will help a lot.

  • Scott says:

    Just finished my first but not my last batch. This recipe gave me a greater understanding of natural pectin and temperature management but most of all….patients!!! Thank you so much

  • Danni Black says:

    My mom really loves different types of marmalade although she doesn’t really do much of her own canning. I have been looking for a new one to try and my friend suggested a berry marmalade. My husband has been wanting to try and make our own and see how it goes! We will be sure to keep these tips in mind so that we do it the right way. I didn’t realize that the textures of the peels were that important, I’ll be sure to remember that.

  • Teresa says:

    I have been researching Marmalade for several days. I have 8 lbs. of sour oranges from a neighbor still in the chilly garage. I have information overload! I want to be sure to do this accurately and have it come out beautiful and delicious. Feel like i’m running out of time. I love the texture, slightly bitter qualities of marmalade, but not a fan of sweet, sugary jams and preserves. Your sugar ratio to fruit seems really higher than other recipes I’m seeing. But I love your layout and everything about your site and expertise. What do you recommend I do to achieve a less sweet marmalade that won’t result in a thin or watery texture? If I go by yours exactly will it be that ‘less sweet’ I seek, since I’m using sour oranges? Or can I safely reduce to 4.5 cups? Thank you so much for your help!

    • Teresa says:

      Not sure if i’m going to get an answer here in time (really hoping so)…but i have another question about your recipe. You don’t list weights, only volume and my sour oranges I’m using are not large, but tangerine size. So I’m wondering if my four cups of pulp would weigh the same, since we’re not talking about juice quantity in the oranges. ANy idea how much the pulp weighs in this recipe?

  • Geoff says:

    Hello Teresa, Thanks for the interesting article.

    I wondered if you can help with a question about clarity of marmalade?

    I entered some of my marmalades in a competition and won silver awards for them, losing points in part because of the lack of clarity. I’d made Seville Orange and Lemon; Yuzu, Seville Orange and Lemon, Cedro Lemon, Etrog, Sweet Lemon and Pink Grapdefruit; and another one that slips my mind at the moment.

    Some of the other competitors’ marmalades were so clear they reminded me of my mother’s crab apple jam. Mum used to put the cooked apple pulp into a double muslin cloth and hang it up so that the juices ran out. I wondered if I used the same approach if my marmalade would be clearer.

    Also, another competitor suggested that the clarity issue might be due to additional pectin being used. I’d not used additional pectin.

    Any thoughts would be gratefully welcomed. I want a gold next year. 🙂

    • theresa says:

      Hmmmm – that’s a good question Geoff. I’ve never tried to get a clear marmalade before. So, I’m not sure if I can help you. But if pectin is not causing a haze in the marmalade, then I think straining would help. However, let’s look at the pectin issue a bit more…

      Too much pectin will cause cloudiness. I know you said you did not use “additional” pectin. But did you add any at all? You should not be adding any pectin to your marmalade as oranges have enough. Now, if you did not add ANY pectin – you could still have too much pectin if you are using under-ripe fruit. That could be the problem.

      You will also get cloudiness if you let the marmalade cool too much before pouring into the jars. But it doesn’t sound like you did that.

      I hope that helps and good luck!

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