There are several theories about the origins of marmalade, a sweet jelly with suspended fruit rinds and chunks. Some say Mary Queen of Scots had seasickness and her French physician created a sugar-based citrus spread to help her. “Marie est malade” or Mary’s sickness became ‘marmalade’. Myth or fact, the likely origin is marmalade’s derivation from the Portuguese word for quince “marmelada”, a dense jelly eaten after a meal. By the 1600s marmalades were created with citrus and eaten in England and Scotland for breakfast.

Marmalade lovers are particular folk! Some like it runny, some firm; some like it bitter, some sweet. Some will tolerate the addition of vegetables, some absolutely will not. There are as many views about marmalade as there are recipes and methods. Over the years I have made marmalade with almost every citrus variety and even some vegetables. I’ve had successes and failures! Here are a few of my learnings.

Basic marmalade recipes call for the thinly slicing of the peel of citrus, removing of the white bitter pith, chopping the pulp and using the natural pectin of the seeds and fruit (put in a cheesecloth package). Some recipes add 1/8 tsp of baking soda to soften the peel, but I didn’t find this made a difference. I tried to speed up the process by using a recipe that added commercial pectin. Not helpful! It didn’t gel. The take-aways: develop skill at testing the “set point”; and remember, some good things in life take time and marmalade is one of them.

Set point can be determined a few ways such as the “wrinkle test” dropping hot marmalade on a frozen saucer or watching the mixture drop off a spoon as it transforms from liquid to thick droplets. I have concluded that a candy thermometer is the most accurate and reliable method. At sea level, the set point is 220 F but altitude affects boiling point and therefore set point. Even at 1000 ft, the set point is between 218 and 220 (I go for 218). But if you live at higher altitudes (Dundalk Highlands), the set point will be between 216 and 218. I would use the lower point as the marmalade continues to cook during water-bath processing. Another learning is that marmalade can take up to 48 hours to set up. So even if it looks loose give it 48 hrs before deciding whether to start over.

Marmalade for breakfast is wonderful but don’t just save it for mornings. It is also excellent as a glaze on meats, or as a dollop on ice cream, in a thumbprint cookie, or atop of a cheesecake. This is the time of year to embrace the marmalade challenge!

Want to learn more about canning?

Join me on Feb 3rd in a class offered by Agriculture Grey-Bruce via Zoom. To register:

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