Friday, February 25, 2011

My Year of Brethren Food: Orange Marmalade

My first attempt at making marmalade, Feb. 2011.
It's been several weeks since I attempted making orange marmalade and I'm still so exhausted from the experience that I haven't had the energy to sit down and write about it until now.

My first attempt was not a great success, but I did eventually end up with something edible.  Runny, but edible.  My friend Daniel is already in the middle of finishing off his second jar, so it can't be that bad.  If I tried to be objective about it, I would say that it tastes delicious, but it's texture leaves something to be desired.  It's just too drippy for my taste.  I think I may use the rest of it to make some kind of sauce for baked chicken.  Or even infuse a pound cake with it.  If anyone out there has recipes that call for marmalade, I'd love to hear about them.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm in the middle of a year-long project to make recipes using my great-grandmother's Brethren cookbook.  We also have a tree full of sour oranges in our backyard.  So I figured I should make marmalade using some version of a recipe from my great-grandmother's cookbook.  Her cookbook, which was the 1911 edition of the Inglenook Cookbook, had three recipes for orange marmalade and none of them was more than four sentences long.  Clearly, these were recipes for people who already know how to make marmalade.  Or at least know how to make jam or jelly.  Which I don't.

After realizing that this cookbook didn't contain enough information for me to actually make marmalade, I scoured my cookbook collection for ideas and did some online research.  I even consulted Jeff Ward, grandson of E. Waldo Ward, and current proprietor of E. Waldo Ward and Son Ranch in Sierra Madre, California.  Jeff Ward's grandfather became famous (and wealthy) making and supplying marmalade to several train lines in the western United States.  I figured that if Jeff Ward approved of a recipe, it must be pretty good.  I'll admit, it wasn't his family's secret recipe-- the one created by E. Waldo Ward himself-- but it looked good to me and I incorporated some of the ideas from it into my own recipe.  In the end, I relied on my most trusted source for all things food-related.  I called my mother.

After much consultation, we came up with a recipe we thought would work.  And I suspect that in different hands, this recipe might have worked.  Unfortunately for the oranges, I was in charge and I believe the failure was in the execution of the recipe.  I was so terrified that I would over-boil the marmalade that I suspect I didn't boil it long or hard enough.

I present the following recipe for educational purposes only.  I caution you against trying it and accept no responsibility if it goes wrong.  If you are an expert marmalade maker, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the recipe I pieced together from many reliable sources.

Weighing oranges.
Barely Orange Marmalade
by Susan Lutz



  • 6 large sour oranges and 2 lemons totaling 2 1/2 pounds
  • 2 1/2 quarts water (or 1 quart of water per pound of fruit juice/pulp)
  • 4 1/2 pounds of sugar (although I think I mistakenly added almost 5 pounds of sugar)


  • Peel oranges and lemons with a knife to remove peel.  Save pith and seeds.
  • Cut citrus peel into small strips about one-eighth of an inch long.
  • Juice the oranges and place in a large food-safe plastic container.
  • Wrap pith, seeds, and any remaining membranes in cheese cloth.
  • Add citrus peel, water, and cheesecloth wrapped bundle to your container of juice and let sit overnight.  
  • The next day, place mixture into a large, tall non-reactive pot and boil mixture until it has reduced by half.  (I think this is where I made my fatal mistake.)
  • When mixture has reduced by half, take off the heat and weigh it.  Add 1 pound of sugar for every pound of fruit (I added 4 1/2 pounds of sugar) and boil until mixture becomes thick.  (This never happened for me.)   Some of my recipes said that the marmalade should test it by placing a small spoonfull of marmalade on a glass plate and let it cool.  If it's thick when it's at room temperature, it's done.
When I realized my marmalade was never going to fully set, I was so frustrated that I yelled out from the kitchen, "I give up.  This isn't working!"  Within seconds, my 4 year-old called back, "Never give up!"  (Sometime I'll tell you about the potty-training song my daughter invented using this very line as the refrain.  But this is not the time to share that delightful bit of family trivia.)  Suffice it to say, I couldn't possibly give up after hearing her sweet words.  I kept going, even though I was worn-out and felt sure that my marmalade was doomed. 
Waiting for jars to cool.

I boiled my jars in hot water, soaked the lids and screw caps in hot water and poured my molten marmalade carefully into the jars using a wide-mouthed funnel my mother had lovingly sent me when I first made sweet pickles.  I popped a lid on top of each jar, tightened a cap down on each lid, and one by one turned each jar upside down to rest.  After about 10 minutes, I turned the jars right-side up and waited.  I even warned my stepson, who was staying home with the jars while I fled the scene, that if he heard "pinging" coming from the kitchen, he shouldn't worry.  All was right with my marmalade.  I said this almost as a joke because I was sure the canning process wouldn't work.  But just as I was about to go out the door, I heard the beautiful "PING!".  And I couldn't help smiling.  Maybe there was hope after all.

When I got home several hours later, all the jars had miraculously sealed.  I was delighted.  At least something had gone right.  When I turned a jar over, the marmalade even stayed where it was supposed to be-- in the bottom of the jar.  Unfortunately, the marmalade didn't stay as thick as I had hoped.  But it was good.  We ate it on toast for dinner that night.  And I was proud that I hadn't given up, even if the end result wasn't all I had hoped it would be.

I have a sneaky suspicion that my next orange-based project will be candied orange peel-- not Round Two of marmalade production.   I feel a little guilty about all the sour oranges going to waste on our tree. But who knows-- if I don't get around to it in the next couple of weeks, there's always next year.  


  1. Love the hue of the marmalade! Can't wait to hear (and try??) the candied peels... yum!

  2. Thanks! I'm looking forward to the candied orange peel myself. No luck on finding great-grandma's recipes on that one so I've moved on to alternative sources. I'm hoping to get to it next week.

  3. A great, entertaining post. I don't think marmalade is in my future. My mother used to make blackberry jam from the wild blackberries in our woods, but I never really watched how she did it! I think I'll stick to buying jam and jelly!!

  4. Thanks, Shirley. I must admit that there may not be much homemade marmalade in my future if I don't have better results next time...

  5. Have you seen this recipe?

    Definitely works - I know because even a non-foodie, non-cook friend was able to pull it off. I'm going to use it to make some one of these weekends.


  6. Bharati- I haven't seen this recipe, but I certainly am excited to know about it. Thanks. I can't wait to check it out!