Marmalade making tips – what to aim for
Use these notes as a guide, as the specific flavours and textures of marmalade will vary according to the fruit, the amount of natural pectin and sugar, and your own taste. We spoke with Pam Corbin, judge and founder of Thursday Cottage marmalade and author of the River Cottage Marmalade book, and Jonathan Miller, Sweet Grocery Buyer at Fortnum & Mason, London.
Thick Cut marmalade
Jonathan: Here, the aroma I’m not too concerned with as it will probably be quite caramel, and the marmalade will probably be well cooked, so not so much of the orange aroma will remain. Whatever aroma remains will probably be quite subtle. The key is in the peel, which must be properly cooked but also retain the bitter essence of the orange. It should be reasonably evenly cut as well, sometimes the cut is overly irregular and that isn’t a good thing. Irregular cutting affects the way it cooks, and also the way it hits the palette. The jelly should be fairly dense with peel.
Pam: I think it’s probably quite robust and dark, and embracing that bitter-sweet character with a molasses feel to it. Not too heavy, though. A light combination of that rich dark bitterness plus the sweet. Because you have such large pieces of peel you need a good jell in order to suspend the pieces through the jar, whereas with a fine cut you can have a much more delicate set. But not too firm: the jelly shouldn’t bounce when you put your spoon in. It’s got to feel that it has life in it, rather than feel rubbery or syrupy when you spread it on your bread. The set from the pectin should be subtle.
Medium cut marmalade
Jonathan: It should be altogether more of a finer marmalade than the thick cut, and expect to see rather more of the flesh of the orange as opposed to the peel. Unrefined white sugar is good here as it makes it slightly less bright but gives the flavour more depth. The flour and texture mustn’t be thin, I’m looking for a marmalade with body here that will stand up to toast with a lot of butter on it.
Pam: The colour should be more golden, with a good suspension of the fruit through the jar and more clarity than with a thick cut. The flavour should be rich and fruity, and not too sweet with a good balance of acidity. What I’m looking for is something that’s really fruity, with a soft tender peel – I don’t like hard peel at all – and not too sweet or overcooked. And that’s one of the biggest things that people do with their marmalade, they overcook them.
Fine cut marmalade
Jonathan: This should be the lightest and most delicate of the lot, and should have an elegant set and appearance with very fine evenly cut peel suspended through the jar in a soft jelly. The flavour and aroma should be light and cleanly citrus, refreshing to eat, with a good balance between bitterness and sweetness. Some of our judges prefer the jelly to be crystal clear, but I’m not so worried about that. The jelly should be bright and translucent.
Pam: I expect the set to be delicate, the peel evenly cut and the colour to be bright and light. It must also have a whole-fruit flavour, a sense that you’ve captured the essential oils from the zest to give it a delicate orange flavour as well as the characteristic bitterness from the pith, balanced but not overwhelmed by the sugar and lemon. It needs a fresh and fruity flavour.
Any Citrus marmalade
Jonathan: Absolutely paramount is the flavour of the fruit. It shouldn’t be an excuse to simply use up leftover citrus but aim to capture the true flavour of the zest and the pith. So if it uses cumquat, it should taste of cumquat and simply a generic orange flavour. And with something like a lime marmalade, the challenge is getting the peel cooked and tender, harder to do than with a Seville. Grapefruit, especially the red variety, is quite perfumed. So the challenge in making, say, a “pink grapefruit marmalade” is not just capturing the grapefruit flavour, but capturing the specific pink grapefruit aroma and flavour.
Pam: We’re looking for an overall clarity of flavour, and sometimes we get into a muddle in those “Any Citrus” jars. A three-fruit, for example, will often contain a lot of orange but that needs to be brightened up with some lemon and/or grapefruit. Though blood orange can work very well, a navel orange can be a little dull and overly sweet if you’re not careful.