My Bittersweet Valentine: An Introduction to Marmalade

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I married a marmalade man. This year, as a special treat for Valentine’s Day (don’t tell him!), I’ll be making him a tart, sultry (and dare I say sexy?) blood orange version. In case you want to join me in making marmalade for your sweetheart, here are a few things to know:

What Makes it a Marmalade?

Today, the word marmalade is used to describe a citrus jam containing bits of candied rind. We typically associate marmalade with oranges, but all manner of citrus fruits are good marmalade candidates. Meyer lemons, clementines, Minneola tangelos, grapefruit, limes, and kumquats are just a few of the fruits that can be cooked into excellent marmalades.

The Fruit

When selecting fruit for marmalades it’s best to find organic, unblemished specimens, since in many cases the entire fruit, peel and all, ends up in the jar (conventional citrus is often sprayed with a wax coating that’s time-consuming to scrub off). Overripe fruit is not recommended. The ideal source is freshly picked from a backyard tree, but for the rest of us, store-bought organic fruit will do just fine.

The Sugar

Sugar plays many roles in the marmalade jar: sweetener, thickener, and preservative. The right concentration of sugar deters the growth of micro-organisms. For this reason, reducing the sugar called for in a marmalade recipe is not recommended.

The Pectin

Pectin is a natural gelling agent found to varying degrees in many fruits. With citrus, pectin is most heavily concentrated in the peel, membranes and seeds, decreasing in concentration as the fruit ripens. Many marmalade recipes do not require the addition of commercial pectin to form a gel, relying instead on the high amounts of natural pectin found in citrus, or the addition of other high-pectin fruits, like lemons or apples.

Commercial pectin is a packaged product rendered from high-pectin fruits, often with the addition of preservatives and other agents (like citric acid) that promote the formation of a gel. Marmalades made with commercial pectin require less citrus rind and shorter cooking time, resulting in a spread where sweet often overwhelms the flavor of the fruit. Marmalades made without the use of commercial pectin often contain more peel and require a longer cooking time, resulting in a spread choc-full of tender, candied peel, with an intense citrus aroma and bittersweet flavor.

The Set Point

Identifying the set point, or point at which the mixture forms a gel, is key to making great marmalade without the use of commercial pectin. Gelling occurs when the right concentration of sugar, acid, and pectin is reached. Undercooked marmalade can result in a runny syrup or spread. Overcooked marmalade can result in an overly-dense spread with a caramelized sugar flavor that overwhelms the brightness of the fruit. The easiest and most reliable way to test for doneness is with a candy or deep fry thermometer. The marmalade is ready when the temperature reaches 220 degrees F. Subtract 2 degrees for every 1,000 feet of altitude.

Processing the Jars

Home canning strikes fear into the hearts of many, but with proper knowledge, it can be a safe and wonderful craft. There are a variety of ways to process marmalade safely. One of the best resources for information on home canning is The National Center for Home Food Preservation, an excellent reference to ensure your recipe is up to date with current practices.

So now that you know the basics, let’s roll up our sleeves and make us (and our sweethearts) some marmalade!

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Rustic Blood Orange Marmalade

By Ginny Mahar

Chock-full of tender bits of candied peel, this bittersweet blood orange marmalade recipe, adapted from A Passion for Preserves by Frederica Langeland, has a fruit-forward flavor, and is wonderful spread on toasted English muffins or crisp baguette.

Rustic Blood Orange Marmalade

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Rustic Blood Orange Marmalade

Before cooking begins, use a paring knife to cut a small notch in the edge of a wooden spoon, where the surface of the liquid is. Use this mark to easily monitor how much the mixture has reduced during cooking.


  1. 2 pounds organic blood oranges
  2. 1 lemon (for added acid and pectin)
  3. 8 cups water
  4. 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to help retain color of fruit)
  5. 6 –7 cups sugar
  6. 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter (to reduce air bubbles)


Gather the following equipment:

Cheese cloth

Kitchen twine

1 large cooking pot and 1 water bath canner with rack OR 2 large cooking pots

Wooden spoon

8 (8-ounce) canning jars with sealing lids and rings

Jelly or candy thermometer

Kitchen tongs or canning tongs

Baking Rack


Clean rubber kitchen gloves

Clean paper towels

Thoroughly clean and disinfect your work area and gather all materials. Wash jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water and set aside on a clean towel to air dry.

Gently scrub the fruit with a vegetable brush under lukewarm running water to remove any waxy residue. To chop fruit, slice off stem and blossom ends to reveal end of segments, and discard. Slice fruit as thinly as possible, into rounds no more than 1/8 inch thick. Slice rounds into small wedges. Remove seeds as you find them and set aside. When all fruit is cut, wrap seeds in a small bundle of cheese cloth and tie tightly with kitchen twine.

In a large pot combine water, fruit, seed bundle, and baking soda. Bring to a simmer, and cook until peel is soft and liquid is reduced by half* (see note), about 2 hours. Measure the contents of the pan, and combine with 1 cup of sugar for each cup of fruit mixture. Squeeze and scrape any jelly-like pectin from seed bundle into fruit mixture, and discard bundle. Add 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Clip candy or jelly thermometer to edge of pan and bring to a low boil. Monitor the temperature closely and remove from heat when mixture reaches the gelling point at 220 degrees F** (see note); this will take 40 to 90 minutes of cooking time.”

While marmalade is cooking, sterilize jars. Fully immerse jars in a large pot of fresh water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Jars may be left in hot water until ready to fill.

When marmalade has reached the gelling point, quickly skim off any foam and begin processing (i.e., filling). Put on rubber gloves to prevent burns. Use tongs to carefully remove and empty jars from hot water bath, placing upright on baking rack. Use ladle to fill hot jars with hot marmalade, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Use clean, damp paper towels to wipe any drips from jar rims.

Immediately place lids on jars and screw on sealing rings—don’t over tighten. Process jars in a water bath canner for 5 minutes*** (see note) according to canner instructions, before cooling jars on baking rack. Alternately, invert the jars on baking rack and set timer for 5 minutes (this method is acceptable, but less safe and effective than water bath canning). When timer goes off, place jars right side up on baking rack. Leave jars undisturbed for at least 12 hours. As marmalade cools, lids should form a vacuum seal, indicated by the indentation of the dimple on the lids. Jars that failed to seal can either be refrigerated and consumed within 2 weeks, or reprocessed so they properly seal.


*Subtract 2 degrees F for every 1,000 feet of elevation.

**Increase processing time by 5 minutes for every 3,000 feet in elevation.

Ginny MaharFood writer and cooking instructor Ginny Mahar currently resides in Missoula, Montana. Read about her mission to bring people back to the table on her blog,