Culinary Anthropologist

Mum’s marmalade

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When I was 4, my dad gave my mother ‘The Times Cookery Book’ by Katie Stewart for Christmas, doubtlessly not for entirely altruistic reasons.  She’s been making Katie’s marmalade every January since.  The house being filled with the sweet-sour aromas of Seville oranges cooking in their own syrup is a favourite childhood memory.  Mum’s excellent 2008 vintage prompted me to write it up, complete with her own and Katie’s tips.


So, we are STILL in the UK, waiting for our new car (it’s a red one, and actually quite old) to be fixed up.  We still have a few essentials to buy (plug adaptors, espresso cups, etc), but hopefully next week’s email will come from Paris…

Many thanks to those who have sent us tips for where to go and other
useful contacts for our travels.  Please keep them coming.

Recipe: Mum’s marmalade.pdf

Makes:  approx 8 450g (1lb) jars
Time:  2 hours

1kg 350g (3 lbs) Seville oranges
2 1/4 litres + 1/4 litre (4 pints + 1/2 pint) water
approx 2kg (4-5 lbs) granulated white sugar
juice of 2 lemons
2 tbsps dark treacle
generous knob of butter

  1. Make sure you have at least 8 clean jam jars and lids.  Also, put a couple of saucers in the fridge.
  2. Scrub oranges and place in a very large (it should be both wide and deep) saucepan with 2 1/4 litres (4 pints) water.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until very soft.  To test:  Try pushing the head of a pin into an orange – it should slide in quite effortlessly.   
  3. Meanwhile put your jars on a tray and into a cold oven.  Turn on to
    140C.  Once the jars have spent at least 15 minutes at 140C they are
    sterilised, but just leave them in the oven until you need them as you’ll want to
    fill them hot.
  4. Lift out oranges, reserving the water they were in.  Cut each in half and use a metal spoon to scoop flesh and as much pith as possible out into a 2nd saucepan.
  5. Add 1/4 litre (1/2 pint) water to the pulp in the 2nd
    pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins, stirring occasionally if needed to
    prevent it catching on the bottom.
  6. Transfer reserved liquid from 1st pan to a large bowl.  Chop orange peels into small pieces and add to bowl.
  7. Measure contents of bowl as you transfer it all back into the large saucepan.  Then, for every
    570ml (1 pint) of peel and juice mix, add 450g (1 lb) sugar.  Also add lemon juice and treacle.
  8. Now strain pulpy contents of 2nd pan into the 1st
    pan, using a fine-meshed sieve.  Gently
    encourage the juice to flow through with the back of a spoon but don’t hurry it.  Discard contents of the sieve.  (Or, if you think more juice is yet to come
    out, set sieve over a bowl and leave to drip, then add drippings to the mixture
    a bit later.  This is where the pectin
    comes from, which will set the marmalade, so you need it all!)
  9. Heat the mix very gently, stirring slowly occasionally, until you can see the sugar is completely dissolved.  This is important, or the sugar will later
    re-crystallise and your marmalade will be crunchy.  To be extra safe, you can periodically wash
    down the sides of the pan with a little water, using a pastry brush, as it is
    around the edges where rogue crystals are most likely to hide.
  10. Once sugar has dissolved, crank up the heat, bring mix
    to a boil and boil fast for 15 or more mins, until the ‘setting point’ is
    reached.  It may take much longer than 15
    mins.  To test:  Take pan off the heat, put a small amount of
    syrup onto one of your pre-chilled saucers, leave it for a couple of mins, then push it
    with your finger to see if the surface has set. 
    It should wrinkle.  If it doesn’t,
    return pan to the heat and test again in 5 mins.
  11. Once setting point
    has been reached, take pan off heat, stir in butter (to dissolve the scum on the surface) and then leave to cool
    slightly for 15-20 mins.  This allows the pieces of rind to distribute themselves throughout the syrup, rather than all float at the top. 
  12. Pour marmalade carefully
    into hot jars, right up to the brim, and seal immediately.  Turn the jars upside down for 5 mins to sterilise the insides of the lids, then let cool the right way up.
    Label when cold.  Frilly tops

marmalade 2.JPG

Marmalade facts

Marie est malade’ is the unprobable root of ‘marmalade’, being the phrase uttered by Mary Queen of Scots’ French staff (she was briefly married to the eldest son of the king of France) when she was under the weather and craving her favourite restorative – orange jam.  Indeed, Scotland lays claim to being the birthplace of modern marmalade as we know it:  The Keiller family in Dundee (supposedly) developed the first recipe using Seville oranges, having bought a huge quantity from a Spanish ship only to find them unsellable in their raw, sour state, and then built the first marmalade factory in the late 18th century.  (The marmalade in this recipe, despite my mother’s Scottish ancestry and upbringing, is more in the ‘Oxford style’ than the Scottish, being thicker-cut and darker.)

, on the other hand, is the infinitely more probable root, being the Portuguese word for quince jam, which in turn came from the Greek ‘melimelon’ – fruit preserves, including marmalade.  The historical verbal confusion between quinces and oranges seem due to the ancient generic words ‘malum’ (Latin) and ‘melon’ (Greek) which meant any fruit with pips. 
(I don’t recommend delving too deeply in this – it gets very confusing.)  In any case, somewhere between Greece, Portugal and Scotland, sometime between the 4th century (when a guy called Palladius recorded a recipe for quince jam) and the 18th century (when Janet Keiller got out her copper pans) the quinces became replaced with sour oranges, and orange marmalade was born.  It almost certainly happened in several places and at several times, with the invention and accessibility of refined sugar playing a major role in the evolution of jam as we know it.   

Sour oranges, such as the Seville orange, work so well due to their high pectin content, essential for gelling the jam, and distinctive bitter flavour.  These originated in southeastern China as a cross between the mandarin and the pummelo, two of the three original citrus fruits. They later became popular in the Arabian empire, though which they spread around the Middle East and Mediterranean, as far as Spain, which remains a main production area.  Sweet oranges reached Europe some 400 years later, around 1500, and became more popular than their bitter cousins.  Incidentally, Christian Europe was initially uneasy with the Islamic orange, and steps were taken to ‘christianise’ it  – various monks and archbishops purposefully planted it in their gardens, and it was later adopted as a Christmas decoration.

The Seville and other bitter oranges are used for making neroli oil, orange flower water, bergamot oil, orange bitters, liqueurs such as Cointreau and various Chinese medicines.  In fact, now January/February) is the perfect time to make a batch of orange bitters with which to spice up your cocktails for the rest of the year…  

So why boil the oranges first when making marmalade?  The water dissolves the bitter molecules in the pith.  Hot water simply does this much faster than cold water.  The wonderful zesty orange flavours and aromas are not lost, as those molecules are largely not water-soluble.  Very clever.

Whether or not the Scots invented marmalade as we know it today, they did start the practice of spreading it on toast for breakfast. (Earlier it had been eaten as a sweet treat at the end of the meal, much as candied fruits and syrupy conserves are eaten today in Turkey, Greece and elsewhere.)  Of course, there’s no need to limit your marmalade to your breakfast toast.  It’s great in bread and butter pudding, on steamed puddings and cakes, as a glaze for meats (ham, chicken and duck, for example), in ice cream, and even in cocktails (Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco make a sublime marmalade whisky sour).

But just be careful what you call marmalade.  Despite the fact the word ‘marmalade’ is very similar to several European words simply meaning ‘jam’, if you try to sell a non-citrus ‘marmalade’ you’ll be breaking EU regulations.  You can probably guess whose influence got
this passed, and imagine how this aided their popularity within the Union.

, Pierre Laszlo, 2007
Food Plants of the World,
Ben-Erik van Wyk, 2005
On Food and Cooking
, Harold McGee, 1984
BBC Radio 4 Food Programme

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