I have never been a big fan of marmalade. To me, it usually tastes too bitter, too burnt, too…not worth my eating when I could just be using jam instead (don’t get me started on jelly). As it turns out, that’s store-bought marmalade. Homemade marmalade is a revelation, like most foods are the first time you try them homemade.
So, if I was so predisposed to disliking marmalade, what led me to make this one? To be perfectly honest, an embarrassing mistake in produce identification. When I was home, one of my parents friends gave me a bag of citrus fruit while we were talking about Meyer lemons. So: We were talking about Meyers + we were in Northern California = I thought they were Meyers. And I continued to think so even as the evidence piled up that they were not, in fact, Meyer lemons: that they were small and oval shaped, and that they had a bright yellow skin. As readers of this blog know, I’m a big fan of the Meyer lemon, and I thought I had basically exhausted my resources: curd, aioli, candied Meyer lemon peel. It was time for marmalade.
I got all my jars and mentally prepared myself for the long but satisfying task of canning. And then I cut into one of the imposter Meyer lemons and finally had to face the bitter (literally) truth: what I had was not a Meyer lemon at all, but in fact looked a lot more like a lime. As it turns out, what I had was neither Meyer lemons nor limes, but Rangpur limes — a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, with no lime involved at all. Maybe, I’m actually still not totally sure, since Wiki says that it should have an orange skin and flesh, and my mystery citrus had yellow skin and green flesh. However, a produce-adept friend of mine says they were Rangpurs, so I will believe it.
At any rate, I had already picked out this recipe for Meyere lemon marmalade and was all ready to go, so despite its dire warnings not to substitute anything else for the Meyer lemons (because Meyers are naturally much sweeter), I decided to give it a go, and just increased the sugar by 1 1/2 x. And I must say, for being totally experimental, not having a candy thermometer, and being my first mamrmalade attempt, it came out pretty well!
Moral of the story being: don’t let the intimidating instructions fool you. Marmalade is not that hard to make, and it tastes 100 times better when you make it yourself. Do, however, try to get yourself a candy thermometer (more on that later), and do try to know what produce you’re working with before you start.
Mystery Citrus (Rangpur Lime?) Marmalade
Adapted from Elise at Simply Recipes’ Meyer Lemon Marmalade recipe
Makes four 6 oz. jars, or so
– 4 cups of limes (maybe 6-8)
– 4 cups water
– 6 cups granulated sugar (this will depend on what kind of citrus you use; even if you use limes, they may be more or less tart than mine; I tasted my marmalade throughout and adjusted accordingly — maybe not the best way to do this, but I couldn’t come up with a better idea)
– 1 wide 6 or 8-quart pan (Stainless steel or copper with stainless steel lining, not aluminum which will leach)
– A sharp chef’s knife
– A candy thermometer
– 4 6 oz. canning jars
– Cheesecloth, enough to double over and form a bag to hold the seeds for making pectin, or a Muslin jelly bag
Preparing the fruit
1. Scrub your citrus clean (the peels are going to be part of the marmalade, by definition, so you want them shining). Discard any that are moldy or damaged.
2. Prepare the citrus:
2a. Cut 1/4 inch off from the ends of the fruit. Working one at a time, stand a lime on end. Cut the lime in half lengthwise. Cut each lime half into several segments, lengthwise.
2b. As you cut the limes into segments, if you can, pull off any exposed membranes. Just get the ones that are easy to get to, ignore the rest. When you’ve cut down to the final segment, cut away the pithy core. Remove all seeds from the segments. Reserve the seeds and any removed membrane or pith. You will need them to make pectin. Your fingers are going to start stinging right about now.
2c. Cut each lime segment crosswise into even pieces to make little triangles of lemon peel and pulp. Now your fingers will sting more. Grin and bear it.
3. Put all of the seeds, membranes and pith you removed from the limes into a bag fashioned out of two layers of cheesecloth or a muslin jelly bag. (I made mine out of two layers of cheesecloth, and then tied the top together with a strip of cheesecloth and it worked beautifully. I hardly gathered any membranes/pith and no seeds, and I still had plenty of pectin, so this is definitely worth doing even if you think it’s going to be pointless.)
First stage of cooking
4. Place the lime segments, pectin bag, and water into a large, wide pot.
5. Bring mixture to a medium boil on medium high heat. Let boil, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, until the peels are soft and cooked through. Test one of the lime peel pieces by eating it. It should be soft. If it is still chewy, keep cooking until soft. Remove from heat.
6. Remove the pectin bag, place the pectin bag in a bowl and let cool until it is comfortable to touch.
Add the pectin and sugar
7. Once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, squeeze it like play-doh to extract any extra pectin. You should be able to get a teaspoon or two more from the bag. It has the consistency of sour cream. Return this pectin to the pan with the lemon mixture. Add sugar.
Second stage of cooking
8. Heat the jelly mixture on medium high and bring it to a rapid boil. Secure a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. The marmalade may take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes or so to be ready to pour out. After about 15 minutes, start checking it frequently.
9. According to the recipe I followed, there are two ways to test that the marmalade is ready to pour out into jars – the mixture reaching a temperature of 220-222°F (8-10°F above the boiling point at your altitude) and a bit of it put on a chilled plate “wrinkling up” when you push it with your finger tip. I, silly me, decided to follow the “wrinkle test,” which basically left me very confused and grabbing plates from the freezer every minute or so. I advise you get a candy thermometer.
For those who scorn my wisdom, here’s how to perform so-called wrinkle test. Put several small plates into the freezer. As the jelly temperature reaches 218°F, start testing it by placing a small amount of the hot jelly on a chilled plate (if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you will start checking it at somewhat random intervals after boiling it for 15 minutes or so). If the jelly spreads out and thins immediately, it isn’t ready. If it holds its shape a bit, like an egg yolk, that’s a good sign. Push up against it with your finger tip. If the jelly sample wrinkles at all, it is time to take the jelly off the heat and pour it out into jars.
When you use a candy thermometer to test the temperature of your mixture, make sure the probe is NOT touching the bottom of the pan. Make sure that the indentation on the probe (with modern candy thermometers this is about an inch and a half from the bottom of the probe) is actually surrounded by the mixture. This may mean that you have to tilt the pan to one side, to cover the probe sufficiently to get a good reading.
10. While the marmalade is in its second cooking stage, it’s time to get your jars ready. The recipe I followed recommends sterilizing them in the oven, but I prefer the stovetop, I think. It takes a little while, but it’s super easy. Just bring a large (large!) pot of water to boil. When it’s boiling, throw your jars, lids, and rings (all separately) on in. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let air-dry (just a minute or two). Don’t pour out the water! You will need it for step 12.
11. Once the jelly has reached 220°F or its “wrinkly” stage, remove the jelly pot from the heat. Carefully ladle the jelly into the jars, one at a time, leaving 1/4 inch head space at the top of the jars for a vacuum seal. Wipe the rim clean with a clean, wet paper towel. Place the lid on the jar, securing with a jar ring. Try to work quickly, nothing terrible will happen if you don’t, unless you totally wander off to watch a marathon of the Real Housewives of New York City or something (this did not happen to me, but I would consider it a real possibility).
12. After you’ve sealed the jars, put them back in the hot water and bring it back to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. (This is not from the same recipe, but from my beloved Country Wisdom and Know-How, which says this is USDA recommended to create a vacuum seal.)
Even if the jelly is not firm as it goes into the jar (it shouldn’t be), it should firm up as it cools. As it turns out, I think mine got a little over-firm, but hopefully that won’t happen to you if you use a candy thermometer.
This made four 6 oz. jars for me. The recipe says it can be more or less depending on how quickly the marmalade sets up. Marmalade (properly canned) should keep fine out of the fridge. According to the “National Center for Home Food Preservation,” unopened preserves keep for up to a year in a cool, dark place. Once opened, you should keep them in the fridge; the web site says for up to a month, but I’d say you can keep it in there far far longer. For more info, see their FAQ.
Enjoy on toast, or on bacon fat cookies – recipe coming next week.