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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