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!

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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.

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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.

Silver medal Seville orange marmalade 2011

February 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

I posted recently about my silver medal winning marmalade at the World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain in Cumbria and promised to divulge my new marmalade recipe. OK folks here’s how it’s done:

Recipe for Thin Cut Seville Orange Marmalade

This is the recipe which was enclosed with my Riverford Organics “marmalade kit” (a big brown paper bag containing 1.5kg of spanking fresh Seville oranges and 2 lemons, all unwaxed and organic of course). Many thanks to Riverford and owner Guy Watson for this recipe which Guy demonstrates at www.riverford.co.uk/marmalade
I’ve quoted it exactly as printed with my editorial comments included in brackets.

Ingredients

1.5kg Seville oranges
2 lemons
2.5 litres cold water
Approximate 2kg granulated sugar

1. With a sharp knife (or vegetable peeler) peel the skin from the oranges and lemons, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Chop the peel into 3mm strips (or thinner if you have the patience) and put into a large pan (lidded stock type pot rather than a preserving pan best for this stage).

2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the oranges and lemons 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 2.5 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 for 15 minutes, until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. (Knowing what I know now, I would start testing after just 5 minutes of rapid boiling especially if the oranges are very fresh).

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 10 minutes. (I would in fact retest every 5 minutes). 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. If using screw top lids, put the lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 minutes (surely should be 5 seconds?) to sterilise the lids. If using cellophane, put a wax disc on the marmalade while warm, then seal with cellophane and an elastic band.

So that’s it – the time consuming part is cutting the peel into appropriately thin shreds, and removing the glue from recycled jam jars of course…

After attending a really helpful marmalade making workshop given by Jane Maggs at Dalemain, I have a few extra pointers for success. Jane runs an artisanal preserving business “Wild & Fruitful” from her home kitchen in Cumbria and took double gold in the artisanal producers category at last year’s Marmalade Awards with her Lemon and Lavender Marmalade so could not be better qualified to advise all us would-be winners. An added bonus to the workshop was the presence in the audience of previous amateur winner Dr Yen-Chung Chong. Dr Chong, a retired biochemist now living in Brighton struck gold with his Campari and blood orange marmalade. He helped us out by adding a good dose of scientific method to marmalade-making and debunking one or two marmalade making old wives’ tales along the way.

Pointers for marmalade success:

1) DO try and use really fresh Seville oranges from early in the season – they become available in late December. The fresher they are, the more flavour they have and the higher the pectin content meaning a set will be achieved with less boiling. Less boiling means more fresh flavour and no caramelisation (a marmalade fault in the judges’ eyes).

2) DON’T omit the lemons – these sound in some recipes as if they are optional but a good set can only be achieved if the mixture has the correct acidity – a pH of 2.5-3.5 is apparently optimal. No need for litmus paper, just aim for breakfast orange juice acidity. Jane tasted her mixture after adding and dissolving the sugar, adding the juice of 2-3 more lemons to the mix at this stage. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

3) DO soak the peel, juice, water and muslin bag of pith mix overnight. This helps dissolve the pectin and soften the peel. Given that it takes a while to cut up all those oranges, it helps in terms of time management to be able to spread the process over 2 days.

4) DO make sure the peel is boiled until it is thoroughly softened. This may take 2 hours or even more. Tough peel is a common marmalade making fault picked up by the judges. And don’t imagine that the peel will continue to soften when the sugar is added – in fact it firms up a little at this stage.

5) DON’T be afraid to add extra water during the peel softening stage if it boils off too quickly. And you can measure whether your mixture has reduced by half by using a wooden spoon handle or chopstick calibrated with a discreet pencil mark.

6) DO squeeze your muslin bag to extract all of that vital pectin – it really won’t make your marmalade unduly cloudy.

7) DO consider warming your sugar in the oven to make sure it dissolves quickly.

8) DON”T bother with expensive big-crystal preserving sugar (no need for jam sugar with pre-added pectin either). Ordinary white granulated sugar is just fine. There was a consensus that cane sugar just had the edge on beet sugar in terms of flavour, clarity and set. You can salve your conscience about the extra food miles in cane sugar by buying the fair trade version.

9) DON”T add too much alcohol if you like a boozy marmalade as it will prevent it from setting. Keep the alcohol content down to 2% of the finished product if you want to achieve a set without boiling for too long. Dr Chung informed us that alcohol will help to clarify your marmalade and will not all be boiled away but will reduce proportionately with the rest of the liquid.

10) Don’t try and reduce the sugar content in your marmalade recipe too much. Sugar, acidity and temperature are all contributory factors to achieving a good set. Jane reckons that a 65% sugar content for marmalade is about right and counsels not taking the percentage below 59%. In fact for anyone selling marmalade commercially, 56% is the minimum sugar content set by Trading Standards so go below this at your peril…

11) DO start testing for a set early on in the boiling process. Jane reckons on achieving a set with really fresh oranges early in the season after just 4-5 minutes. So start testing after 5 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter.

12) DON’T overboil as a rubber set is not good! Jane removed her pan from the heat during the testing process and spent quite a bit of time testing for a set, waiting for the marmalade to go cold before pushing the surface of the gel with a clean finger to test for that all important wrinkling. Experienced marmalade makers can simply lift the spoon from the pan and if the liquid falls in thick droplets “flakes” from the spoon, they can tell at a glance that it’s ready.

13) DON”T wait too long before potting if you want your marmalade to keep well and not go mouldy. Waiting 15 minutes before potting is probably too long. We’re told to do this to make sure the peel is evenly distributed and doesn’t all rise to the top. Jane reckons that if the peel has absorbed the sugar syrup correctly it will have the same specific gravity as the surrounding liquid and won’t rise to the top even if potted when very hot. She advises potting hot, filling the jars very full, screwing on the lids straightaway and, with a hand suitably protected from the heat, gently inverting the filled jars after 10 minutes to correct any tendency in the peel to rise. Doing it this way stops bubbles forming in your marmalade too.

14) DO use new lids if you want to a win a competition – also try and fill your jars with a jam funnel so the jar top is left completely clean. And only use the wax discs if you’re covering with cellophane rather than a screw top lid – some entrants were marked down for using a redundant wax disc with a screw top lid.

All that remains is to affix a pleasing label neatly to the side of your jar, package the jar well in bubble wrap and cardboard and pop it in the post.

Best of luck for next year’s competition!

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