Lady Marmalade

26 Jan 2012

I’m not gonna lie. Making marmalade this weekend nearly killed me. It also came very close to destroying our beloved kitchen in a single swoop of a sugar boil over. What started as a fun, sweet smelling adventure….even Zen-like at times, turned into a study in wrong utensils, burnt orange peels, arms and fingers, and a massive citrus manicure that would make bathtub shriveled hands look as smooth as a baby’s bottom to boot. So, no, no, no, a Lady Marmalade, I am not.

It was a good lesson. This blog has received a few nice foodie mentions lately, which are wonderfully cherished & remarkable given that I am still only learning the ropes in the kitchen. And, while I’m having a great time getting acquainted with a food culture that is very exciting to learn and share, it can still feel very unfamiliar to me at times.

When I lived in America, I would marvel at the pretty marmalade packaging at my local co-op, but never really indulged. At the time, there was not the same variety of flavours…a couple of brands peddling your straight-up orange marmalade is what was mostly on offer. Then, I moved to Ireland and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first walked down the jam & preserves aisle at the supermarket or at our local Milk Market.  I was fascinated by so many versions of marmalade: whiskey marmalade, bitter orange marmalade, thick cut, fine cut, chips style, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, orange and ginger…the list goes on.

I presumed marmalade making was a traditional preserving skill that would be easy and fun to try in the kitchen. After all, I had made Peggy’s Gooseberry Jam without fail. But, marmalade is a different beast, it takes an extraordinary amount of patience. For the cooking of the oranges, for the cutting of the peel, for the waiting of the set. I suppose there is still a part of me that craves quick and convenient, even though my life is anything but!

A staple in cupboards across the country, marmalade is the perfect accompaniment to a slice of toasted bread for breakfast, a new tradition that I have come to enjoy. In fact, the principal at Geoffrey’s school told me that long ago children were given marmalade in the morning to brighten their moods. I could understand, marmalade is like sunshine in the morning.

Since this is the time of year for Seville oranges and I had just received my Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management book in the post, I decided to give it a go. I found the oranges in Superquinn. It was very exciting. I had never seen a bag of oranges labeled “for cooking only.” They cooked for two hours in a large pan of water covered with a plate. The following day, it was time to slice and ream out the oranges. Luckily, I had a reamer, but it still was an awful mess. I guessed the peel would take roughly thirty minutes to complete. Three hours later, I was still trimming. I had started out cutting the peel thin, and kept going increasingly thinner and thinner until paper thin, as I obsessed about all the advice I received on making sure the peel wasn’t too thick.  After an hour, my hands were already sore and raw and I was nearly ready to throw in the towel despite having a kilo of oranges left to ream and peel.

I was making two versions, straight up marmalade and marmalade with cardamom so I divided everything up into two saucepans, which seemed to be large enough. I brought them both up to a fast boil and planned to keep them at a low rolling boil until the setting point. After about fifteen minutes, I tested the consistency with a plate. Watery. Five more minutes, syrupy. Six more minutes and a happy dance later, the cardamom version had set so I turned it off to cool. 15 minutes down the road and the other batch still had not set. It was boiling over and turning very dark. I had to keep turning it down. I burned myself more than once.

Thankfully, I ended up with six pots of delicious orange-cardamom marmalade. The rest of the marmalade never did set, and is bitter and burnt to the taste. I still don’t know what went wrong. I also managed to make two jars of Seville orange curd with three reserved oranges which turned out absolutely delicious, so will share the recipe here.

Seville Orange Curd

Combine the grated zest of 3 Seville oranges & juice of one lemon,

125g butter and 250g sugar in Bain Marie over simmering hot water until completely melted.

Slowly stir in 2 whipped eggs, stirring constantly until mixture is thick on back of wooden spoon (15 mins or so)

careful not too have the heat too high or your eggs will scramble.

Put into jars and let cool

Refrigerate and eat within a week

I am sure in a year’s time the memories of sweat, burns and tears will have faded….

….and I will try, try, try my marmalade again.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2012

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21 Responses to “Lady Marmalade”

  1. […] …or Spotted Dick as my mother-in-law calls it. I can’t seem to refer to this wonderful tea bread as Spotted Dick without turning red and giggling like a teen girl, so I’ll stick with Spotted Dog. When Peggy creates this cake-like bread formed in a rectangular shape, it becomes Railway Cake, which is lovely as well…but doesn’t look as pretty as the round loaf to me. All three variations are essentially a sweet version of white Irish soda bread. In England, Spotted Dick is considered a steamed pudding with currants. In Peggy’s day, it was an absolute treat to be able to add currants or raisins to bread, something really special to savour. At the farm, here and now, we simply devour it before it gets cold. How times have changed. I love it smeared with fresh butter and marmalade (this one…. not mine). […]

  2. Marina says:

    Also suffered marmalade failure this year & would love to try your curd recipe. Wondering if “Combine the grated zest of 3 Seville oranges & juice of one lemon,” should include juice & zest of oranges and juice of 1 lemon? Thanks!

    • imen says:

      Thanks Marina…just to clarify: the zest only of the orange (they are not great tasting oranges) and the juice of one lemon. Have fun! xx

      • Marina says:

        Righty-ho & thanks for the clarification – I didn’t think it sounded like a lot of juice! I will let you know how it turns out 🙂

  3. Adrienne says:

    I made marmalade the same weekend as you. I couldn’t decide between the method you used of cooking the orange and then chopping, or chopping and then cooking…so I decided to try both!
    The cook, then ream and chop method worked well and it set fine. However the chop then cook method took forever to reach setting point – I was still filling jars as midnight approached. And it was still runny at that stage though it firmed up nicely over the next two days.
    All in all, I’m happy with my first adventure in marmalade-making. However I’m tempted to try your cardamom version, though maybe I’ll wait til 2013!
    And btw I love your blog – and it’s about time that I told you! Keep it up.

  4. I made marmalade for the very first time this year. Have been telling myself that I have to do it so I finally took the plunge. Totally understand about the peel cutting mine was very thick cut but thankfully I like it like that and I told the rest of the family that if they wanted to eat it they would have to like it too!! It set perfectly though the method I used involved measuring a cup of the liquid to a cup of sugar. Maybe it was beginners luck i’ll let you know again next year!! Also have 3 seville oranges left over so I know what I am going to do with those 🙂

  5. imen says:

    The orange curd is gorgeous and so so easy….plus would make a lovely orange meringue pie! Thanks for your comment…good to know I am not alone! xx

  6. Elaine says:

    You got on well with the Marmalade for the first go 🙂 the curd looks really yum will have to try it. Cutting the peel small does take so long and the burnt sugar and fruit juice was all over my kitchen as well :). Will make some more next year as it’s going down well I got 16 pots from my 2kg of oranges and we have two pots gone in a week. Think I might have had beginners luck :).

    • imen says:

      Elaine, you are a natural. At least we ended up wit 6 pots and the curd. Was not a total lost cause. I’d love to taste yours….perhaps we will meet one day =) x

      • Elaine says:

        Don’t know about a natural when you look around at the state of my kitchen when I am done 🙂 but haven’t killed anyone yet . If you email me your address will send you a pot to try 🙂

  7. Maybe you should start a new blog section called Kitchen Warrior. And include pics of your war wounds !!! Poor Imen – at least you have one version & the curd to enjoy for your efforts. Any chance a wee jar of cardoman marmalade can be sent abroad??

    xxx Moya

  8. Móna Wise says:

    All was not lost Imen… and a fine lesson you had to boot.
    Next time, grate the rind of the oranges (uncooked) first and set it aside. Once you have reamed them and are mixing juices with sugar add in the rind. It is easier, and tastes lovely and unless you want thicker rind it works just as well. See you next week!

  9. Karen says:

    Oh Imen – I bet the cardamom(my) version is just delicious!! No pain, no gain I guess. Jams are rarely made in my kitchen despite spending many happy hours when younger at home making all sorts of jellies and jams with my mother in the Autumn time and she still does. I don’t ever recall marmalade being made at home though. I am going to make a few batches of the Seville curd tomorrow for spreading on fruity bread, an orange meringue and orange curd puffs too. Thanks for the recipe

    • imen says:

      Thanks Karen…I really like the cardamom version…it softens the tang a bit which suits me! Let me know how you get on with the curd, it’s really lovely xx

  10. Kristin says:

    Oh no! You never mentioned that it didn’t turn out. But hey, you still have that gorgeous-looking curd, so all wasn’t lost. Next year you can show that marmalade who’s boss!

    • imen says:

      Kristen, 1/2 of it turned out really lovely….but the other half never set! It was an adventure…we can compare notes next week =) I will bring a pot of the good stuff. x

  11. Síle Nic Chonaonaigh says:

    Really lovely post – you’ve inspired me to give it a go. My mom makes marmalade from oranges, lemons and one grapefruit. Next time I’ll ask her to show me 🙂 Sx

    • imen says:

      Síle, give it a go and let me know how you get on….your mother’s sounds wonderful! Thanks for the comment xx

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