Dave's 1-2-2½ Marmalade
The essential and forgotten ingredient in a batch of marmalade is a lemon. (Except in lime marmalade, which is different.)
Your lemon provides sharpness and contributes to the setting qualities of the finished product. If marmalade is not sharp it can be cloyingly sweet and bland. Just try some of the commercial varieties. I have made marmalade without grapefruit, but not without lemon.
After the lemon you're on your own. (Incidentally, I've been told that Meyer lemon won't do. Don't know the detail.)
I made some marmalade recently out of lemonades from Louise's lemonade tree, and thought I might be able to dispense with the lemon. But when I tasted it after I'd dissolved the sugar I decided to add extra lemon juice. I wound up with a nicely tart result and a subtle and delicate flavour which is what lemonades are all about.
In my garden at present is a young Rangpur lime. It looks and peels like a satsuma mandarin, but is probably the most acidic fruit I have ever tasted. I am told it makes the ultimate marmalade, right up there with or better than Seville oranges. Currently they're not available through nurseries, though they do feature as rootstock, so somebody's growing them. If you have the patience and know someone with a tree, they do grow from seed. I'm still waiting for the first fruit from this tree.
Seville oranges make the classic sharp and bitter marmalade. They're rarely available in NZ shops even when they're in season, and the season in any case tends to be a very short one. If you hunt around you may be able to find a nursery that stocks them, but they're not common. They do bear heavily and after the first year or two, you'll have heaps to trade with or give away. We normally use grapefruit to get a bitter flavour in our marmalade but Seville oranges are even better. But they're not an eating fruit.
(Incidentally, the longer citrus is off the tree before you use it, the more intense the bitterness, whatever fruit you use. Don't know why. It just is. Also, small fruit, with a higher skin to flesh/juice ratio, generates a more intensely flavoured marmalade.)
Preparing the fruit
Start with a kilogram of citrus fruit including at least one lemon. Slice it up finely into small pieces. As with slicing tomatoes, this will tell you whether you own a KNIFE or just a knife. Put the sliced fruit into a large ceramic or glass or plastic bowl, and cover with 2 litres of water. Leave it to soak overnight. (You can omit this step but the result will be chunks of peel in the marmalade that are chewier than you really want. Especially the case with grapefruit.)
Limes are a little bit of a law unto themseves. See lime marmalade
You'll need a bunch of lidded glass jars of the kind that pasta sauce or vegetable pickle or chutney is sold in, and for general convenience no bigger than 500g capacity - about 6 to a batch depending on size. (I have some Rose's Lime Marmalade jars - 375g - that get recycled year after year. I reckon they're ideal, but mostly I use the Five Brothers 500g pasta sauce jars because that's what I have most of. You'll need a few smaller jars to use up the last bit of marmalade in the pot. They're for giving to special people. My mother's generation used cellophane tops secured by rubber bands,but unless you're competing in A&P shows, lids are just fine.
To sterilise these I have usually washed them thoroughly in hot water, dried them with a clean tea-towel and placed the jars in the microwave oven set to 6 minutes on high. About 7 minutes before you finish cooking, switch the microwave on. To sterilise the lids, I place them in a small saucepan of boiling water for about 5-10 minutes on the back element. Dry with a clean tea-towel.
I don't have a preserving pan. If I got one, I would probably want a stainless steel one rather than an aluminium one, and they're not cheap. I found an 8 litre stainless saucepan in a Farmers sale for about $50, against a normal price of around $100, and that works fine. You are going to be cooking the pulp and sugar at a rolling boil for 20 minutes, and in a small pot if you take your eyes off it for a minute it's all over the stove. Trust me.
I'd also use a heavy base pan for preference. That way you won't get the hot spots that always seem to arrive with thinner based pans. And you won't get the slightly burnt flavour either.
Pour the fruit and soaking water into the saucepan. Bring it to the boil and turn the element to low for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. When you can squeeze the peel easily between thumb and finger, it's ready.
The next bit is what really disqualifies the jam from A&P competitions, if the screw-on lids haven't already done so. Get your electric hand blender and reduce the hot fruit and water to an acceptable fineness. This will cause your marmalade to be slightly cloudy, but I also think it intensifies the fruit flavour and the setting quality in the finished product.
Note. If your original fruit chopping was on the coarse side, you're going to wind up with a very fine cut indeed by the time the blender has dealt to all of the big bits, so I recommend you slice fine with a knife first up, and then you have a greater degree of choice about the final result.
Experiment with this. I like the presence of chunks of rind throughout, so I make it a little coarser.
Add the sugar
If you're a perfectionist, you will now measure the volume of the fruit pulp and add exactly the same volume of sugar. Depending on how much water you've boiled off, you'll have about 2.5 litres of fruit and water, and you'll add around 2.5 kg of sugar. Simple.
Place a standard dinner plate handy by the stove. (More later) Place the jar lids in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil on the back element and simmer for about 5 minutes, then leave until you are ready.
Stir to dissolve the sugar. I use a flat wooden paddle about 75mm across, with a square end that I can move slowly and still shift a fair volume of pulp. Turn the element on to about 6-7 out of 12 and bring to a boil, stirring steadily and gently. From now until it's done, you are on the job. Increase the temperature of the element to between 8 and 10 out of 12.
When it reaches a rolling boil, note the time. In 20 minutes you are going to start testing for ready. Keep stirring so that the rolling boil is maintained without ever rising too close to the top of the pot. Just keep up a gentle stirring throughout this part of the proceedings.
About 12 or 13 minutes in, turn on the microwave oven to sterilise the jars in it, and place a wooden chopping board on the bench ready to receive the jars when they are done.
[Note for purists. There is a school of thought that says you should not stir your marmalade through the rolling boil period as this will make it cloudy and you will not win A & P show competitions with it. My own perception is that a little cloudiness does not hurt, and stirring prevents the mix from sticking on the bottom of the pan and burning, especially as it thickens towards the end.]
At 19 minutes (15 minutes for seville oranges), dribble a little pulp from the paddle onto the dinner plate and wait about thirty seconds for it to cool. Push gently into it with your finger and see whether the surface begins to crinkle. When it does, your marmalade is ready to set. Lime marmalade typically takes a little longer, Seville oranges a little less. Keep testing a new line of dribble at intervals of about a minute. If you are still testing ten minutes later, something has possibly gone horribly amiss, but I have kept up a boil for 40 minutes for an eventual set. [Have you ever tried marmalade ice cream topping? You can also use it to baste a ham with, or as sauce for a steam pudding.] Nearly always with this recipe and method, it will be done by 25 minutes, usually before. (Seville oranges will often generate a set after only 15 minutes.)
Place the saucepan on a cold element while you retrieve the jars from the microwave and line them up on the chopping board. Use a teatowel for this. They are bloody hot. Bring the marmalade over and pour it into the jars, leaving about 2 cm airspace at the top. (IF YOU ARE NOT STRONG IN THE WRISTS, USE A PYREX JUG TO FILL THE JARS WITH.) Carefully - it's hot - wipe the sides of the jars clean of any spills with a sponge, take the lids out of the boiling water and dry them on a clean teatowel before attaching them to the jars. As the jars cool, the vacuum seal on the lids will kick in.
I don't like cooking anything acidic in aluminium. The jury is probably still out, but enough evidence is around to suggest problems with dissolved aluminium for me to take the extra step and buy stainless steel.
But even there you can find problems. I bought a Warehouse thin bottom stainless steel stockpot, Chinese made, and when I used it on an electric element to make a batch of marmalade, found a strange vapour coming away from its base which stained the white enamel surrounds of the element a very resistant brown.