Putting up my summer bounties in jams and jellies was such a sweet experience I could not imagine waiting a whole year before doing it again. Luckily, I don’t have to. Winter preserving is now in high gear with the huge selection of citrus available everywhere I shop. It’s not local, obviously. But then Canada is not exactly a citrus growing region either. I remember reading an article on practical locavore and it suggested a compromise to eat in season fruit and vegetable during winter that are not cultivated locally. I like advices based on common sense.
When I heard about a friend’s experience with making her own Seville orange marmalade last winter, I made a mental note that I would have to try making some myself. Seville oranges are not readily available in grocery stores in Toronto because they are too bitter and sour for eating straight up. However, as long as you know where to look when the time is right, they’re not elusive either. I bought mine from Highland Farms, one of my favourite grocery stores for produce, not just for their prices, but also for variety and quality. It was quite a sight when I filled my shopping basket full to the bream with Seville oranges, Moro (blood) oranges, Navel oranges, Meyer lemons, and regular lemons.
The bitter edge of marmalade used to put me off when I was a kid. Why would one want to lace bitterness into a spoonful of sweet preserve? Of course, as I got older, my taste changed and I now clamour for the good balance of bitter, sweet, and tart in a citrus marmalade. That orange glow is like a bright sunshine in winter. I always think of citrus marmalade as particularly British and I would automatically reach for an English muffin or a crumpet along with a cup of tea. What a nice way to start my morning!
Of all the jams and jellies and preserves, marmalades have got to be one of the easier projects because of the high pectin content of citrus fruit. More precisely, the pips (seeds) that I so painstakingly remove are little goldmines of pectin! This pretty much guarantees success when it comes to setting the marmalade. Of course there are many ways to make citrus marmalade but the gist is quite simple. First, wash and cut the fruit into small thin pieces. Precook the peel until translucent along with the pips to extract as much pectin as possible into the mixture. Cook with sugar until it reaches the gelling point. Bottle the preserve and can them if you want to keep for longer storage.
I followed the simple recipe from David Lebovitz. I extracted the pips first by gently squeezing each orange half. The drained pips were neatly gathered inside a disposable tea bag. Since the recipe yields 2 quarts (8 cups) of marmalade, I decided to split it to two small batches so I could play around with the recipe a bit. Aside from the extra pots and dishes to wash, I don’t really mind because my cooking vessels are better suited for the smaller batch anyway. The first batch is a straight up rendition of the original recipe, combining sour Seville and sweet Navel oranges, flavoured with whiskey and vanilla beans. The second batch was inspired by my Christmas stollen. The base of Seville and Moro (blood) oranges has tiny bits of minced fresh ginger and infused with cinnamon, green cardamom, and star anise.
The precooking is an important step because it ensures all the peel are softened. The disposable tea bag came in handy once again as I used it to hold the crushed and whole spices so I could easily remove the bundle during cooking. The cooking itself was rather uneventful except that I was rather excited to see the pectin bundle gelling up dramatically. My summer jams and jellies tend to be on the loose side because I like the delicate consistency. However, with so much pectin, these marmalades have a much harder set than what I’m used to. Not a bad thing. In fact, they reminded me of the marmalades I bought from Fortnum and Mason. The vanilla infusion will take a couple of weeks for the taste to really develop so I’m definitely looking forward to it. Otherwise, this is a classic orange marmalade with a nice balance of sweet, sour, and bitter. I think the mellow sweetness of vanilla will round out the bitterness a little more. As for the spiced blood orange batch, the spicing acts in a supportive role. It’s not an in your face mulling spice flavour but you do notice a deeper warmth to the marmalade which is very pleasant. I simply adore the ruby hue the blood orange lends to the end result.
Before I conclude my winter jamming season, I still have plans to make Meyer Lemon marmalade and Blood Orange marmalade (just blood oranges for the most pure taste of this cultivar). If you want to join in on the fun, I highly recommend checking out last year's Can-Jam citrus round-up from Tigress In A Jam. Plenty of recipes and inspirations! When I bought my canning jars back in summer, I didn’t anticipate that I would be doing so much preserving. So now I’m running low on jars. I’ve been eyeing the Weck jars for the longest time but they are pricy and not easy to come by in Canada. These Bormioli Rocco 10oz jars are not too bad if only a tad big. I personally prefer 8oz size. The Leifheit 8oz jars are quite pretty too. If you’re in Canada, do you have any good leads on pretty canning jars aside from the ubiquitous mason jars?
More on baking and cooking with marmalade: