Brian likes orange marmalade and asked me if I would make some. “Sure. I can do that.” Thus began an unexpected adventure.
If you Google “orange marmalade recipe,” there are several that are really straightforward. They involve canning, but the instructions will tell you how to do it. And orange marmalade is great for a first-timer, because oranges contain a lot of pectin – all you need is a bag of oranges, a lemon, sugar, and water. What the recipes don’t tell you is that some oranges don’t have a lot of pectin.
Being that this was my first attempt at an orange marmalade recipe without pectin, I started with a recipe from someone I can trust – Alton Brown. I gathered my ingredients – a 5-pound bag of oranges and a 4-pound bag of sugar. A lemon was already residing in the fridge, so I was set.
Oh wait – I didn’t have canning equipment! Off to Rural King I went, where I purchased a 12-quart, 3-piece canning set from Granite Ware, and a dozen half-pint Ball jars. They were out of all the little accoutrements, so I went to Wal-Mart and got a Ball canning kit, which had a jar-lifter, magnetic lid thingy, a funnel, and a headspace measuring device/bubble popper.
I prepped my oranges by quartering them and then slicing them in the food processor. This made it really challenging to fish the seeds out. Note to self: remove the seeds before cutting the oranges.
Other than not using a mandoline (mine was not cooperating), I followed Alton’s recipe exactly. I even did the cold-plate test as he suggested, but probably incorrectly. I carefully sterilized all of my canning equipment and jars. I lovingly ladled the marmalade into each little jar, put a lid on, and boiled them for 10 minutes to process them.
And then I waited for it to cool and set. And then I waited some more. And then, 24 hours later, I found that what I had was a very sweet jar of orange sauce.
Sooo….time to start over.
Orange Marmalade Attempt #2 (With Pectin)
After some research, I decided that this time I would use an orange marmalade recipe with pectin. Pectin is an interesting molecule – I like the way Serious Eats explains it. If you like science, I encourage you to check it out.
This time, I used a package of Sure-Gel pectin and a little less sugar. I also changed my approach to prepping the oranges and used a larger lemon.
For prepping this batch of oranges, I used my chef’s knife and cut away the peel. I chopped up the flesh into relatively large pieces since they would dissolve during the cooking process. I got out all of the seeds. I thinly julienned the peel. I didn’t go to the trouble of removing all the pith (just some of the big chunks), as it is a good source of pectin and I like that hint of bitterness. But you can remove it if you prefer – after all, you are adding pectin at the end.
I then followed my new recipe. I still wanted to see if I could coax out enough pectin from the oranges that I wouldn’t need it in the recipe, so I bundled up the seeds and the excess pith into some cheesecloth and put it in the pot.
After the peels were soft, I performed a pectin test to see what I was working with. I took out 1 teaspoon of juice and let it cool in a little container. Then I added 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol and swirled it around. Nothing. If there is enough pectin, the mixture should turn to jelly.
Good thing I had that handy pectin packet – I added the entire packet to the mixture and boiled it for 1 minute (per package instructions). I repeated the pectin test, and wouldn’t you know, it gelled completely! I finished out the recipe by adding the sugar and boiling. I started testing the marmalade by putting a little on a spoon that had been chilled in the freezer. I was getting good results at 210F (even though you are supposed to go to 220F), so I ended the cooking and starting canning.
This time – perfect!
And while making this perfect marmalade was in itself, an adventure, the real adventure is the fact that it ended with me writing my first blog post for The Dooley Homestead and the many adventures that are sure to come with it!
Tools You’ll Need
– 12-quart canning pot or larger
– 10 half-pint canning jars plus new lids
– jar lifter
– lid lifter
– large pot, preferably wide base (I used a 7.5-quart dutch oven)
– kitchen scale
– thermometer (instant read or candy thermometer)
Orange Marmalade Recipe - With and Without Pectin
Orange Marmalade from scratch - including canning instructions and pectin test. Yield: 10 half-pint jars, more or less. Time: 2 – 3 hours (depending on your knife skills and your canning skills)
- 2 lbs Navel Oranges (4-5 oranges)
- 1 Lemon (Zest and Juice, Separated)
- 6 cups Water
- 1 Packet Pectin Sure-Gel or Similar
- 3.5 lbs Sugar
Place several metal spoons in the freezer (at least 3, but more won’t hurt!).
Fill your canning pot with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add your jars, lid rings, ladle and tongs. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off, add your lids, funnel, and other plastic parts, and let sit in the water until about the time you are ready to can.
Wash the citrus. Using a vegetable peeler or a knife, remove the rind. You may also remove the white pith, if you find it too bitter. Roughly chop the flesh and remove any seeds. Finely julienne the peel.
Add the orange flesh, julienned peels, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the large pot. Add the 6 cups water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until the peels are tender, about 40-45 minutes.
Test your cooked juice for pectin by placing 1 tsp in a small container and allowing it to cool. Then, add 1 tbsp of rubbing alcohol to the container and gently swirl. If it creates a clump that you can pick up with a fork, you have enough pectin. If it creates small clumps, you have some pectin, but not enough to set the marmalade. You’ll want to add some pectin.* If there are no clumps at all, add an entire packet of pectin.
Once the orange mixture with the pectin has returned to a boil, add all of the sugar. Return the mixture to a boil again, and using a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer, monitor the temperature. If you have not added pectin, the mixture will need to reach 220F. But you can start testing at 210 by putting a small amount of the marmalade onto a frozen spoon and returning it to the freezer for a minute or two. When you take it out, it should have the consistency of, well, marmalade.
Remove your jars, lids, etc. from the canning pot onto a sheet tray lined with dish towels. Put your jars on the towel upside down to drain.
Fill each jar to the threads with marmalade. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rim of each jar before using the lid-lifter to carefully, and aseptically put the lid on top (i.e. don’t touch the part that is on the inside). Place a lid ring on and tighten it “finger tight.” In other words, don’t crank it on there – air needs to escape in order for the seal to work. Process the jars by boiling for 10 minutes. This may take two rounds, depending on the size of your pot.
Let sit at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Then, test each jar by trying to get the lid off with just your fingernail. If it comes off, the processing didn’t work, so you’ll need to refrigerate that one and eat it up. If it won’t come off easily, you have a good seal and your marmalade is now shelf-stable for up to a year.
Congratulations! You made marmalade!