Marmalade… and my apology to Prue Leith

This recipe isn’t anything to do with baking or fermenting things but it came out of my kitchen and caused me such a lot of grief that I wanted the eventual triumphant result recorded here for posterity.

January is the time of year that Seville Oranges are in the shops – it’s such a short season so you have to grab them when you can. I do love marmalade – there’s nothing quite like it on wholemeal toast or homemade soda bread (I have a great recipe for this). Now there is no escaping the fact that making marmalade is a bit of a faff. You do need a preserving pan or a wide-mouthed stockpot. You need a fair bit of patience to chop up all the peel into the right sized pieces and a fair bit of time to actually do the boiling, jar sterilising and potting up.

Because it is such an infrequent activity I do find it hard to recall exactly how I did it the previous year. I also know that it has been the one kitchen project that has the worst success rate in my house. I reckon the edibility ’hit rate’ I’ve managed to achieve is only about 60%. Probably the randomness of my recipe choice hasn’t helped (they do vary) and although last years batch definitely had ‘spoonable’ quality about the texture it did set enough to call it marmalade. This years first attempt, after studiously examining several recipes, resulted in something that really resembled runny orange syrup…with bits in. It didn’t set AT ALL. I even reboiled it and bunged in a bottle of pectin hoping that would do the trick but no. It was way too liquid. The recipe I tried to follow was from ‘Leiths Cookery Bible’ which has to be one of my most revered cookery books, the quality and reliability of the recipes has been excellent… until Le Grand Marmalade Debacle of January 2013. Over the course of 48 hours I scrubbed, juiced and chopped the oranges. Left the pips soaking in the juice and 3 Litres of water overnight before simmering… for hours… which meant copious mopping up of condensation from the kitchen walls and windows on a cold January day before boiling furiously after adding the previously warmed preserving sugar. It reached the prescribed temperature 106ºC but it didn’t appear to set when I tested it on the plate freshly plucked from the freezer. So I boiled it some more… mopped the windows again… tested it again… still not setting. After 90 minutes or so repeating this routine I tired of it. The sterilised jars had been kept in the oven all the while - staying sterilised. So I potted it anyway. Of course it didn’t set in the jar. (My fuel bill preparing this must far outweight the cost of buying the darned stuff from the supermarket several times over). I despaired and in my mind I was threatening to slap the back of Prue Leith’s legs if I ever got hold of her (homemade preserves get me like that). The next day I added a bottle of pectin and tried reboiling, washed and re-sterilised the jars (yawn) but still no joy. Orange syrup prevailed. 

SO with my weekend in tatters I decided I’d give it another bash the following weekend if there were still any seville oranges on the shelf. I’m not easily thwarted by failure. There were oranges available but the shelves had been stripped bare of preserving sugar. I did manage to find some towards the end of the week in the third shop I visited, though a bemused shop assistant had to fetch some from the back of the store – he didn’t understand why this normally slow moving line was leaving the shelf as soon as he’d restocked it. It made me realise I’m not the only one spending their weekends this way. After binning the many jars of syrup that had been taunting me all week I started again. This time I thought – no naughty Prue Leith , no, no, no – I reject your recipe. I will try the one attached to the (second) 1kg bag of Organic oranges I bought from Waitrose. 

1kg seville oranges (11 of them in the bag)
1 organic lemon
2 kg preserving sugar
2 litres water

Wash fruit, juice them, scrape the pith and pips into a muslin bag. Chop orange peel into whatever sized pieces you prefer (discard lemon peel). Put peel, juice, pips and water into a preserving pan and simmer for an hour or more until peel is soft. Squeeze out the muslin bag and discard. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then bring to a rapid boil. Boil for 15 minutes removing any foamy scum that rises to the surface, bring it up to jam setting temperature (105 ºC) and do the ‘wrinkle test’ on a plate from the freezer. Boil a bit longer if it isn’t ready. Mine was ready after 15 minutes. Pot up in sterlised jars. Voila!  This made five jars of clear, glossy marmalade that has set beautifully.

Seville Orange scum

Scum (tasty) - but still scum

Homemade marmalade

Successful end product










So now my apology to Prue Leith. As I sat down to write up this blog I thought that I would compare the two recipes I used. I know my first attempt was hugely more runny than the second batch, and for the same quantity of oranges I seemed to produce 4 jars fewer the second time around. What rot I hurumphed to myself, a weekend had been wasted on a duff recipe. Where could it have gone wrong? Ah. Yes… imagine my surprise when I recalled adding 6 jugs of water to the first batch of marmalade. 6 jugs = 3 litres – um – Prue’s recipe says to use 3… pints! I had misread the unit of measure. Oh dear.

I am so glad I never got the chance to mete out my imagined punishment to Saint Prue. She was quite right, I should have known better than to have doubted her for one minute. My complete faith in her recipes is thankfully restored. Sorry Prue :-D

I’m also pleased to have a batch of marmalade that will last me many months and this culinary anguish is over for another year.