Mediocre marmalade and some handy ratios

April 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

Oh dear. I’ve been silent on the subject of the World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain this year which were held at the beginning of March.

It’s time to disclose that this year I achieved marks of only 15 out of 20 for my Seville orange marmalade and, slightly better, 17 for the bergamot. This compares to the almost perfect score of 19 last year and, worst of all, to husband Tim’s respectable score of 18!


So what went wrong? I did go and chat to the white-coated WI judges this year. It seems I went a little bit too far with my liking for a soft set, and once again my marmalade was criticised for being cloudy. This is a tough one to crack but their advice was NOT to squeeze the muslin bag containing the pectin-rich peel and pips.Just to remind myself for next year, previous advice on achieving clarity was NOT to add the knob of butter when boiling but to skim, skim and skim again, also to add a just a dash of alcohol at the end when ready to pot.

On reflection, my peel was slightly unevenly distributed within the jar. Thinking back, I potted hot straight from the pan relying on a gentle shake to redistribute the peel but was distracted from doing this by a teenage tantrum shortly before setting off to a match at the Etihad stadium…The lesson is that marmalade cannot be rushed.

So far so fair. I felt somewhat peeved to have been docked a mark for having placed my label a few millimetres too high up on the jar. The WI ladies like it low it seems. I did subsequently have a look at The National Federation of Womens’ Institutes “On the Show” publication which states:

“Labels should be plain, neat and straight and of suitable size for the container. Place label between the seams of the jar. Label should state contents and day, month and year of making.”

Hmmm, nothing about vertical positioning of labels here. I think I was robbed.

Bitterly disappointed but undaunted I went along to the marmalade Q&A session to learn how to correct my mistakes and also to try and answer a couple of queries raised by a like-minded friend Shelley who had written a week or so earlier as follows:

“Really nice to talk to you about marmalade last week. Looking at your notes and reading various recipes gave me quite a bit to think about. The part in the recipes that was puzzling when I made mine this year was in the Riverford recipe which states 1.5 kg oranges, 2 lemons and approx 2.5kg sugar BUT in the video on the Riverford website the guy says after boiling there should be approx 1.7litres of liquid and then to add 450g sugar per 500ml which would only require 1.53 kg sugar so big discrepancy. As I mentioned to you I have always been a bit puzzled by the fact that the amount the liquid reduces by can vary between batches so I quite liked some guidelines on how much liquid should be left.

Also in your notes from the Marmalade workshop with Jane Maggs the optimum sugar content was 59-65% but if you add 450g sugar per 500ml liquid then sugar content is (450/950)*100% = 47% unless I am missing something.

I would like to try another batch just to see if I can get a different result but it is getting late in the season and I’m not sure we could eat it all anyway.”

First of all Shelley, I have to admit to a typo of my own – the recipe actually said 2kg of sugar and I then typed it incorrectly as 2.5kg. There’s still a discrepancy but not as bad as it first appears.

I put the water question to the panel comprising from L to R Jane Maggs of Wild and Fruitful; Jonathan Miller preserves buyer for Fortnum & Mason, compère Dan “Master Baker” (careful how you say that) Lepard, Pam “The Jam” Corbin all round preserving expert and author of Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2, and finally Rosemary Jameson, the Jam Jar Shop lady.


There was unanimous agreement that it would make perfect sense to put a lid on your pan and use less water. For reasons of custom, tradition and utility most recipes expect you to add water to the peels in a non-lidded preserving pan, boil for 2 hours to soften the peel by which time approximately half the liquid will have boiled away. Most people used to have just one large unlidded preserving pan thus recipes were drafted to take account of the larger amount of water needed.

Jane Maggs said that most standard marmalade recipes adopted a rule of thumb by which for every 1lb fruit, 2 pints water and 2lb sugar were required. If half the water boils away then you’re left with 1lb fruit and 1 pint water which is matched to 2lb sugar giving approximately a 50:50 ratio. There is approximately 5% natural fruit sugar in the boiled peel liquid so that plus the small amount of evaporation that takes place when boiling for a set will give you the right sugar percentage of around 60% to achieve a set.

Thinking afterwards, there’s an unstated assumption that 1 pint water weighs 1lb. It doesn’t unless you use a US style pint which is just 16 floz rather than our UK 20 fl oz pint.

Looking again at the Riverford recipe, I think it’s never going to work matching 450g sugar to 500ml liquid. All that will happen is that the liquid has to boil away until the correct balance is achieved. Next time I’m going to work with a 1:1 ratio. This will require 1.7kg sugar for 1.7 litres liquid, so still a discrepancy with the 2kg weight of sugar stated in the ingredients list but not so great any more.

The other difference between the Riverford marmalade recipe and the standard ratios is the proportion of water added (2.5 litres) to weight of fruit (1.7kg once lemons are taken into account). The standard ratios would suggest 3.4 litres water (twice the weight of the fruit). I wondered why this might be and remembered that the Riverford recipe uses only finely shredded peel removed from the whole fruit using a peeler. This means that all the pith which is used still attached to the peel in a standard recipe is discarded in the muslin bag. As less fruit is used, so the quantity of water needs to be less. I assume that what the recipe wants is for the boiled liquid to be equivalent to the weight of fruit you first started with (1.7kg fruit for 1.7 litres water) which sounds both nice and neat and inherently sensible in terms of achieving a good concentration of flavour.

So that’s it – rather technical I know but at least I’ve recorded my thinking ready for next year. And if I can’t achieve a clear marmalade I can be happy in the knowledge that Jonathan Miller, buyer for Fortnums will only ever consider cloudy marmalades as these have more flavour.

Bergamot preserves

February 8, 2013 § 3 Comments

I drink quite lot of Earl Grey tea and enjoy the instant flavour hit that bergamot can bring to an otherwise indifferent teabag. So when I recently saw bergamots on sale in their natural state for the first time ever I just had to buy a bagful. They’re a spherical greenish-gold citrus fruit the size of a small orange, a speciality of Calabria in Southern Italy. They don’t look anything special but scratch the surface of the skin and the powerful and unmistakeable aroma is released.


Having inspected and admired by bag of bergamots, the question was what on earth to do with them? They look a bit like small oranges and have a sour juice so they are obvious candidates for marmalade. I decided that for starters, I’d make a half-size batch of marmalade, modifying my favourite seville orange recipe to suit these strange and exotic citrus fruits.

I decided that a fine shred marmalade would be most appropriate so as not to overpower the preserve with overly-thick chunks of that highly aromatic peel. This requires carefully peeling the fruit with a sharp potato peeler, in a single spiral if you’re up for the challenge, then cutting the peel into the finest shreds possible with a sharp knife.


The shreds of peel together with a muslin bag containing the peeled half-fruit shells and pips are soaked overnight in the quantity of cold water specified in the recipe to which the squeezed fruit juice is added. This soaking has a dual purpose: it begins to soften the peel and helps dissolve the all-important pectin which is mainly contained in the white pith and pips.


The next day, the peel is boiled, partly covered, for a full 2 hours so that it softens thoroughly. It should be meltingly soft, the texture of overcooked pasta at this stage as, weirdly, once the sugar is added it stiffens up again.

The boiled liquid, once cool enough to handle is measured (or weighed if you prefer) in order to calculate the required quantity of sugar (450g sugar per 500ml liquid). Also at this stage you can decide whether you want to remove some of the precious bergamot shreds to achieve the right balance between clear jelly and pieces of peel. You could always try and crystallise any spare peel for an unusual cake ingredient.

You’re then finally ready to combine the calculated amount of sugar with the citrus liquid in a preserving pan to achieve a set. This shouldn’t take long so it’s essential to have all your preserving bits and pieces laid out and ready (sterilised jam jars and clean lids ready; jam thermometer and funnel to hand; and several saucers chilled in the freezer). It’s also worth tasting the liquid before you begin boiling to check acidity levels. The liquid should taste distinctly sour and if it doesn’t, you can add the juice of a further bergamot (or a lemon if you have bergamots to hand!) to the pan.

I would guess that the bergamots have a high pectin content as I achieved a set quite quickly (less than 15 minutes’ boiling) and rather suddenly. I took the mixture off the boil at about 103 degrees C, ie before the mixture reached my seville orange soft set temperature of 104.5 degrees C. The set I ended up with was quite firm though not the dreaded “rubber set” but ideally I’d have gone for something softer.


The end result was a delicately coloured marmalade with greenish tinge and, though I say so myself, exquisite flavour, not too sweet with plenty of acidity. My only quibble was that in a jar the marmalade looks a tad cloudy, and as I mentioned before, the set was just a little firmer than my personal ideal.
Rereading my notes from last year (should have done this before I started!) I see that one suggestion to avoid cloudiness is to skim regularly during boiling rather than adding a knob of butter to prevent scumming

I reckon the marmalade is still good enough to send off to the 2013 World Marmalade Competition so a jar is winging its way to Dalemain in Cumbria as we speak, entered under the “Any Citrus” category. Fingers crossed…

A fortnight later, the rest of the bergamots had ripened a little and become more golden in colour:


This lot were destined for an experimental batch of bergamot curd. I decided to use a lemon curd recipe, swapping the lemons for bergamots which are approximately the size of large lemons and have similar acidity levels. Recipes for lemon curd are many and various so, for simplicity, I chose one using whole eggs rather than just egg yolks. This gives the curd a tendency to become a little lumpy as the coagulation temperatures of yolk and white are different, but this is not a problem as the finished curd is sieved before potting.

You need to rig up an impromptu double boiler but this is easily achieved by setting a heatproof bowl into a pan of water and then it’s simplicity itself to combine the zest and juice with the eggs, butter and sugar:


The curd will thicken quite quickly but does requires constant stirring with a wooden spoon or balloon whisk as it does so. Once it’s passed through a sieve you’re ready to pot:


The end result is silky smooth, golden and packs a punch in terms of a powerful perfumed bergamot aroma. Personally I think it’s a bit much spread on your morning toast but it’s perfect for puddings, swirled through Greek yoghurt or combined with crème fraîche and fruit for a pavlova or roulade filling.

Recipe for Bergamot Marmalade

Makes approximately 1.1kg marmalade – 3 regular sized jars


850g bergamots
1.3 litres cold water
Approximate 1kg granulated sugar

1. With a potato peeler peel the skin from the bergamots, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Slice the peel into thin shreds and put into a large pan lidded pan.

2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the bergamots in half. With your hands, squeeze the juice from the fruit over the bowl, dropping the leftover squeezed fruit, pith, pips and flesh, into the muslin. Lift the muslin out of the bowl, gather the sides and squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Tie the muslin together to keep the fruit in and form a bag.

3. Place the muslin bag in the saucepan with the peel, leaving the top of the muslin overhanging the saucepan. Add the squeezed fruit juice and 1.3 litres cold water to the pan. Heat until boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the peel is tender.

4. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the sticky juice from the bag into the pan. An easy way to do this is to put the bag in a colander and use a spoon to press it out. Measure the contents of the pan in a jug (or weigh in the pan using a suitable pair of scales having had the foresight to weigh your pan in advance). Return to the pan and add 450g of sugar for every 500ml liquid. Gently heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

5. Test that the marmalade has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of the liquid on a cold saucer and gently pushing with the back of a spoon. If the liquid starts to wrinkle, setting point has been reached. If no wrinkling happens, keep boiling and retest every 5 minutes. If using a sugar thermometer, setting point is likely to be achieved at about 102 degrees C. Turn off the heat as soon as you reach setting point.

6. Skim any scum from the surface. Leave the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then carefully spoon into warmed sterilised jars. Put screw top lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 seconds to sterilise the lids.

Recipe for Bergamot Curd

Makes about 600g curd enough to fill 3 or 4 small jars.


4 bergamots
4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
350g golden caster sugar

Before you begin, you need to set up an impromptu double boiler. I did this by setting a medium sized metal mixing bowl over a large saucepan of cold water. It’s OK in fact desirable that the bowl sits in rather than over the water as it would if you were aiming to melt chocolate.

Grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the bergamots and put into the bowl part of your double-boiler set-up. A microplane grater makes grating the zest a doddle. Add the eggs, butter and sugar to the bowl, set it over the pan and turn on the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon regularly as it slowly warms through.
Once the water is boiling, keep stirring as the eggs coagulate and the curd thickens.

As I’m a curd-making novice, I checked the temperature of my curd once it looked sufficiently thickened and removed the bowl from the heat once it reached a temperature of 80 degrees C. This worked well as the finished product has a soft spreading consistency and for my taste is neither too runny nor too thick.

Don’t worry if your curd is not perfectly smooth as the next step is to push it through a sieve into another very clean and dry medium bowl. This removes the grated zest and any stray eggy lumps that may have formed.

Once the curd has been sieved, carefully spoon it into small jam jars sterilised in your preferred way. As the flavour of this curd is so intense, small jars are best. I like to warm them in the oven set to its lowest temperature of around 120 degrees C. Cover and once cool, the curd is best stored in the fridge.

Hedgerow chutney for autumn

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

A beautiful sunny autumn day today reminds me that on the last such day back in September I gathered a basketful of hedgerow fruits and made the rather good recipe below. Thanks go to for this.

The recipe is straightforward and the suggestion of using a mixture of cooking and eating apples is inspired – the cookers thicken the chutney whereas the eaters retain their shape and provide a contrasting texture.

The finished jars of chutney look very handsome on my preserves shelf down in the cellar and one or two lucky people might find a jar in their Christmas stocking.

Recipe for Hedgerow Chutney

Adapted from a recipe found on

Makes 4-5 lbs

2lb mixed hedgerow fruits – e.g Hawthorn haws, rose hips, elderberries, blackberries, rowan berries, sloes
1 pint malt vinegar
2 lbs onions chopped
2 lbs apples peeled and chopped (ideally half eating apples and half Bramleys)
4 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
1lb Muscovado sugar
1 tsp ground cloves
1 generous pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Place the chopped apples and onions in a bowl, cover and leave overnight.

Next, make the fruit vinegar. Remove any large stalks and leaves from the berries, rinse and dry them and put them into a large pan. Cover with the malt vinegar, heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the berries are losing their colour. Strain off the liquid and discard the fruit. You should have about a pint of deep purple fruity vinegar.

The following day put the apple and onion mixture, the fruit vinegar and all the remaining chutney ingredients into a preserving pan and boil together for about 2 hours, stirring frequently. The chutney is ready when it has reduced considerably and when you draw a wooden spoon across the surface of the chutney, a channel remains for a second or two before filling up with liquid.

Put in sterilised jars and cover or seal. The chutney is best left for a month or so to mellow before eating.

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