Marmalade can be a tough sell. Easier to romanticize the idea of than to genuinely enjoy consuming; you might not like marmalade at first, but it grows on you the more you eat it. As a child I imagined myself enjoying it, should I ever come across any, though I never did. Glistening mounds of translucent jewel-like yellow-orange preserves seemed fancier than jam. And certainly, it was relative to the jars of store-bought Kraft strawberry fruit spread we always had in the refrigerator. People who eat marmalade must be, I assumed, high-brow, worldly, sophisticated. Fancy feeling through jam seems silly now, but I may have been onto something. The cultural forms we elevate, those positioned on the cutting edge of their field, consumed primarily by those in-the-know, vulnerable to accusations of snobbery, often result from taking something generally experienced as self-evidently pleasant - like a sugary sweet strawberry jam - and adjusting it to make it the slightest bit unpleasant or uncomfortable to the eye or to the taste buds - a tart, bitter marmalade.
Fashion takes shapes and silhouettes that are pleasing to mainstream eyes and makes them just a little bit more ugly and unfamiliar, repeating the process as mainstream tastes adjust. Upscale interior design trends tend to be minimalist, cold and relatively uncomfortable. Trendy or showy food is similar. Spicy food can be uncomfortable, even painful in a literal sense, and yet people eat it with bravado and pride. Many of the drinks we consume regularly - coffee, tea and alcohol - can be bitter, sharp or tart, and yet they each have their own contingent of aficionados and snobs. As humans we have a tendency, perhaps rooted in a desire for distinguishing ourselves, to acquire a taste for enduring mild forms of unpleasantness. We transform such acquired tastes into pleasurable experiences, comforting ritual-like habits - a morning coffee, an afternoon tea, a jolt of bright citrus flavour on winter morning toast. These become parts of our everyday experience that, when taken seriously enough, contribute to our identities and even social status. Discomfort is a constant and inescapable part of the experience of poverty; what could be more highbrow, more indicative of distinction, than to voluntarily deprive oneself of comforts, however small. But there is more to the appeal of marmalade than getting that fancy feeling.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR MARMALADE
Seville oranges, which have an extra short season, are the gold standard for marmalade making. I’ve never seen seville oranges in East coast Canadian grocery stores, so luckily, marmalade can be made with any citrus. Use whatever you can find, or lean into the seasonality of marmalade making and use whatever citrus fruits are in their absolute prime. Clementines, as I’ve used here, are best earlier in the citrus season, while blood and cara oranges arrive later, and kumquats are a good choice toward the end of the season. You can also customize your marmalade with flavour additions. If you don’t like ginger, leave it out, or try cinnamon or cardamom, or throw in some vanilla or alcohol like cointreau or whiskey.
ONE DAY OR TWO?
There are countless approaches to making marmalade. Some recipes suggest that you soak the peels in the juice and water overnight, and make the marmalade the next day, spreading the task over two days; while others suggest you complete the marmalade in one day, simmering the peels for longer before adding the sugar. I’ve found that both techniques produce a great marmalade, so go with whatever option seems easier, and will make the process more enjoyable for you. Dividing the work over two days can make the whole process feel less daunting, but if you just want to get it done or only have one day to be in the kitchen, go with the one day process. Whatever method you choose, just make sure to get the peels as soft as you will want them in the final marmalade, before adding the sugar.
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR MARMALADE
Marmalade is great for baking. Try these linzer cookies, this marmalade cake from Melissa Clark at NYT cooking, or this marmalade bread pudding from Nigella Lawson (try adding some chopped chocolate). Marmalade can also be used in savory applications in glazes, marinades or sauces for chicken, fish or tofu. And, of course, it is a perfect spread for your morning toast.
Small Batch Clementine Ginger Marmalade
I store mine in the fridge, but they can be stored in the freezer if you have the space, as long as they are in a freezer-safe container, and you leave at least an inch of space for the jam to expand.
Makes: Two 500ml jars of marmalade (plus a little extra).
- 1 pound clementines
- 3 lemons
- 1.3 liters water
- 1 kilogram sugar
- 85 grams ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
- cheesecloth or muslin square
- Scrub clementines in warm soapy water. Cut them in half and squeeze the juice into a medium-sized bowl. Separate the peels from the pulp, pith and seeds - they should be easy to tear off with your hands. Tie the pulp, pith and seeds into a square of cheesecloth or muslin and place into a bowl (if soaking overnight) or a pot or dutch oven (if making the same day) with the citrus juice and water. Halve the lemons and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Add the ginger.
- Shred the peels into thin strips and add them to the citrus juice and water. The size of your strips depends on how chunky you want your marmalade to be. Larger strips may need more cooking time to soften, especially if you choose not soak them overnight.
- Optional: Set the bowl aside to soak overnight.
- When you are ready to make the marmalade, place a few spoons in the freezer and run 3 500 ml mason jars through the dishwasher to sterilize (If you do not have a dishwasher, cover the jars with water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat).
- Transfer the contents of the bowl, including the muslin pouch, to a large pot or dutch oven.* Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until the peel strips soften - about 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on both the size of your strips and if they have soaked overnight. The goal of this step is to get the peel as soft as you want it to be in your final marmalade. Keep simmering until the peel is as soft as you want it. Once you add the sugar, it will not soften further.
- Remove the muslin pouch and carefully squeeze out as much of the juice from inside that you can. Discard what remains.
- Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve, and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes. You want the marmalade to reach 220 degrees, once it does, start testing for doneness.
- To test for doneness: remove marmalade from heat. Remove a frozen spoon from the freezer and scoop up a small amount of the marmalade. Place back into the freezer for 30 seconds. Take the spoon back out. Touch the marmalade on the spoon, if it is properly set, it will wiggle and wrinkle. If it is not properly set, return the marmalade to the heat and continue to boil, checking again with another frozen spoon every few minutes until it sets. You may need to repeat this process several times to get a proper set.
- When marmalade is set, remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes (this helps to firm and ensure an even suspension of peel throughout). Transfer marmalade to sterilized jars. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
*Use a much larger pot than it looks like you will need. Once the fruit and sugar mixture begins to boil, its volume increases significantly. If your pot is too small, the boiling sugar will come dangerously close to the edge of your pot.