Do you fancy blood oranges? They’re ripe now, filled with staining juice and earthy undertones. Ripe enough to show that blood oranges aren’t … oranges but their own complicated selves. Further, we were out of marmalade, and our jam supplies are running low. We still have some damson, a little of the quince, a jar or two of boughten raspberry jam… but no marmalade.

The Spirit of Oranges Past So, consulting John and Matt Lewis Thorne (Simple Cooking, no. 76), V. delicately sliced the three nicest fruits into pretty pieces. Cut to purple hands and red stains everywhere after squeezing a dozen more moros to cover the fruit in juice.

We put the jar in the frigo to macerate for twenty-four hours. While we were sleeping (very well, thank you, and you?) and wandering in the wilderness (all of which appears to be named Groton, despite what the map says), the peels were sucking up juice until the whole chilled mass looked cohesive and jelly-ish.

Juicing the MoroWe disembottled the scarlet mess into our non-reactive pan, and, differing from the Thornes, added a pinch of salt. The idea is to cook the stuff for a quarter of an hour or so to soften the peel and get the whole proto-marmalade to integrate and pull together. Efficient people would have already have prepped their canning implements by now. Sensible people would have at least started to boil jars, simmer lids, and generally get things moving while giving the marmalade pot an occasional stir. Not us. Nope.

Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt the marmalade to let it sit for a bit off the fire while we take care of these little details after the cooking down! Sugar (3/4 the volume of the remaining mass) was duly mixed in and brought to a boil. By now, “occasional” had given way to “near constant” stirring. The tedium of standing over a hot stove imitating a stir bar was relieved by debate as to when to stop.

Cooking Down the Moro on the MorrowThe first instructions I ever encountered were “Keep and eye and the spatula and watch for sheeting as the goop runs off.” Useful, but not quite sufficient for an inexperienced marmaladier. The Thornes advocates the goop on a chilled saucer method. Pouring a little bit of marmalade on a cold saucer to see if it sets up right is not difficult to understand. It lets you suit your own notions of proper runniness or springiness for marmalade. It’s traditional. It’s pretty. It’s low tech, if you think a freezer is low tech. It also allows the circus clown effect as you run back and forth to the frigo hoping you don’t miss the magic moment while you trip over the slops pail.

We prefer a thermometer. Of course, we had failed to write down the optimal temperature last time. L recalled the magic number as somewhere around 218 degrees Fahrenheit. V thought it was in the 220s. We tried 219 and got a firm but by no means rubbery set. However, since we like our marmalade rather soupy, we’ll try 218 next time.

Again, efficient people would already be standing by, with the marmaladier’s assistant holding a shining tray full of useful implements and another tray of jars cool, dry, and ready to be filled.

Ladling Out the Marmalade“Funnel.”
“Lid dipper and chop sticks”
Glip. Clink. Glip. Shhhhkkk.

Instead, everything was still in the water, the pan with the lids was on the bookshelf, the assistant is on the wrong side, the trays on top of the mixer, and the marmaladier left to curse. With all in disarray, we were left to ladle hotter than boiling marmalade into hot jars (leaving enough but not too much head room), set the canning funnel down someplace suitably germless, fish a warm lid out of hot water and set it precisely onto the jar (without dinging or touching the lid with germy fingers), fish a hot band out of the hot water, screw it on lightly (but tightly enough to keep the lid on during boiling) and get everything out of the way and set up for the next jar.

No one was killed in the making of this marmalade.

Actually, the only really bad part is getting the lids out of their pan and onto the jars while using long metal tongs. Next time, we will glue a magnet for fishing lids out of the water to a stick. This will give us the fun of getting a lid off the magnet.

We eat sweets slowly, so we went ahead and canned the marmalade properly with a good boil. I like being around the kitchen when the jars “pop” (as the cooling air pocket shrinks down and sucks in the jar lid). It’s neat to see basic physics in action. Meanwhile, we got lick the ladle and plan what to eat with the marmalade when it was “ripe.” It’s really true that Marmalade improves if you let it sit a few days after making it.

Three (and a dozen) oranges. Two and a half jars of nearly black yumminess. Maybe we won’t share. Our friends can make do with lime.