‘Oh, dear, bought marmalade. I call that very feeble.’–The Countess of Trentham, Gosford Park

Oddly, the bleak midwinter is the best time for citrus fruits. You think they’d be a summer crop, but apparently not. And for a brief window of time, knobby, super-sour Seville oranges start showing up, and you know it’s marmalade making time.

My parents have the best story about marmalade, I think. Back before they were married, they took a trip to England and decided to bring back a tin of Sevilles so they could make their own (this being the days before the internet, it was hard to track down fresh Seville oranges in the states, and they lived in the northeast, where you never find them). The can was sealed, of course, so they didn’t think they’d have a problem. They did not count on the brain trust that was customs at Philadelphia Airport at the time. A sealed tin completely threw these people for a loop, and they had no idea what to do with it. They kept my poor parents there for over an hour while they stared at the can, shook it, called over friends to stare at it and shake it, you get the idea. My parents begged them to just open the stupid thing already so they could see there weren’t drugs or anything inside. They wouldn’t do that. Finally, their shaking arms got tired and they just handed the tin back to my parents and let them go. The marmalade they made was delicious, apparently, but they never tried making it again.

As I have the good fortune to live in the UK, I can get oranges that have been shipped straight from the source, and man, did I go crazy this year. We now have a cupboard stocked full of marmalade, in all its tangy glory. I’ve been spreading it on crumpets and English muffins and mixing it into muffin batter and morning bowls of oatmeal. It’d probably be good on chicken or fish or tossed into a stew for an unusual tang as well. This is a wonderfully versatile preserve.

A word of warning: this is not for the short on time. It takes a couple of days to make this, so make sure you plan accordingly.

Classic Marmalade

From The Complete Traditional Recipe Book

1.6 kg (3 1/2lb) Seville oranges
2 lemons
2.6 kg (6lb) sugar

Cut all the fruits in half and squeeze the juice out into a bowl or large measuring cup. Scrape the pith and pips out of the fruit shells and put pith and pips into a bowl lined with cheesecloth. Chop up the peels into matchsticks or chunks, depending on your preference.

Top up the fruit juice with water so it measures 3.6 litres (6 pints). Put the juice and peels into a large pot or bowl. Tie the cheesecloth up around the pith and pips and add the bundle to the peel and juice. Cover and let sit overnight.

Bring the fruit and water to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 50-60 minutes, until the peel is translucent and tender. Turn off the heat and let the mixture stand, still with the cheesecloth bag in it, until cool. This will take a couple of hours, so it’s a great time to get any errands or housecleaning or House of Cards binge-watching done. You can also leave it overnight, if you wish.

Put a couple of saucers in the freezer.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, take the bag out of the peel and juice and squeeze the hell out of it. See that viscous, snot-like stuff coming off of it? That’s pectin, which helps your marmalade set. Get as much of it out of the bag as you can (I actually find myself squeezing the bag for a good 10-15 minutes, setting it aside for a bit, and then squeezing it a bit more later, just to get everything out of it). Once you’ve gotten all the pectin you can out of the bag, set it aside and start bringing the peel and juice up to the boil. As it heats, start adding your sugar, testing the flavour as you go. Husby and I aren’t big fans of very sweet marmalade, so I actually only ended up adding around half the amount of sugar the recipe called for, keeping our preserve pretty nice and tart, but if you like your marmalade sweet, go nuts. Some people substitute some of the white sugar for brown, for a richer, darker marmalade, but I haven’t tried that yet and can’t vouch for it. I’m sure it’s delicious. As the juice heats, you might notice it seems rather thick. That’s a very good sign. Bring it up to the boil.

Keep the marmalade going at a nice rolling boil (essentially, just at boiling point, not boiling so crazily it’s spattering), scraping off any thick foam that rises to the surface. After 15 minutes, test the set by dropping a teaspoon of marmalade on one of the saucers and popping it back in the freezer for about 3-4 minutes. Pull it back out and push your finger along the preserve. If you end up shoving a little skin off the top, you’ve reached setting point. Don’t panic if you haven’t reached setting point after 15 minutes. It’s taken me a good hour sometimes to reach setting point. Just rinse off the saucer, dry it, and pop it back in the freezer to test again. Test every 10 minutes or so, alternating the saucers.

Once you’ve reached setting point, turn off the heat and let the marmalade stand for 10-20 minutes before ladling it into hot glass jars. You’ll notice the marmalade is still very liquid at this stage—don’t panic, that’s normal and doesn’t mean you haven’t actually reached setting point. Seal the jars, label them with the date, and store in a cool, dark cupboard.

Orange, Lemon, and Ginger Marmalade

From Nigel Slater

1 kg oranges
4 lemons
2 kg sugar
100g fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks

Prepare as for classic marmalade above, topping up the juice with an additional 2 litres cold water and adding the ginger when you start boiling the peels on day 2.

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