Despite being an English-born child, my first recollections of ‘marmalade’ as an edible substance are rather ambiguous. In fact, my earliest memories of the word seem to be linked to my grandmother’s ginger tabby cat of the same name, with second place being given to Paddington and his marmalade sandwiches.
Image credit: Victoria Stitch, from ‘A Bear Named Paddington’ by Michael Bond (1958)
Oh, how I loved Paddington. If you’ve had a deprived childhood, I’m referring to a children’s story by Michael Bond that was first published in London in 1958. The storyline centres around a displaced bear from ‘deepest, darkest Peru’ who turns up at Paddington station in a duffel coat with a suitcase and note saying: ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’. The family who eventually adopt him, the Browns, learn that he survived on the boat to England by eating only marmalade sandwiches, as ‘bears like marmalade’.
The story is quintessentially English, rippled with references to London landmarks and cultural eccentricities. Despite my later migration to Australia, the spirit of Paddington (in the form of a stuffed toy) stayed with me, as did my love of marmalade, hot tea and that other English cultural idiosyncrasy, Marmite.
To all Australians reading this, I do admit that 25 years later my yeast-spread loyalty has switched to our national staple, Vegemite (though I still eat it the English way, on toast soldiers with a dippy soft-boiled egg). But despite venturing into the world of peanut butters, Nutella, jams and conserves my marmalade loyalty remains strong. And the more bitter and ‘Old English’ it is, the better.
So, what is marmalade, other than a now-deceased ginger cat? Well, according to various sources the term is thought to have originated in Europe during the 16th Century, when Roman cooks first discovered that fruit could be preserved in honey. This method spread to Portugal, where the term marmelada was coined to describe preserved quinces. This product soon spread to the United Kingdom and British cooks began to apply the same methods of preservation to common citrus fruits such as Seville oranges. The rest is, as they say, history.
So, fast forwarding to today, it’s fair to say that English use of the word marmalade is still being largely restricted to the sale of citrus-based sweet preserves (though sales of the product have been dropping! Sacrilege! Well, unless people are making their own… I hope). However, in Australia and many parts of Europe, the word is being reclaimed to describe everything from quince paste to onion marmalade. Though the little expat inside of me screams at this departure from tradition, there’s also a twinge of excitement in witnessing the continued evolution of food. It’s awesome, and it’s the way that we discover new and exciting flavours, textures and nutritional benefits.
In fact, I’m also departing slightly from tradition in the recipe that you’ll find below. Though there’s a hefty amount of traditional citrus, there’s also the warmth of ginger, a splash of whisky and the sweetness of tender carrots. It’s an acceptable adaptation that’s loyal to the original whilst also being… different. It’s an expat adaptation. Like me.
Whisky, Carrot and Ginger Marmalade
Makes 4 cups
- 1 organic, pesticide-free orange
- 1 organic, pesticide-free grapefruit
- 2 cups peeled, coarsely grated carrot
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 2 cups white caster sugar
- 1 cup raw (brown) caster sugar
- 3 tbs whisky or Grand Marnier
- 2 tbsp finely minced fresh ginger
Prepare your citrus: Using a sharp knife, remove the top and bottom of your citrus fruits. Place the fruit on a flat surface, and using firm downward strokes, remove the outer rind and white pith completely.Prepare your rind by using a sharp knife to remove any remaining pith on your citrus zest. When only a thin layer remains, finely shred your citrus zest as desired (I usually leave it about 2-3mm wide). Set aside.
Segment your citrus fruits by removing the juicy flesh within each membrane with a sharp knife. You should end up with clean pieces like this:
Squeeze the juice from the inner membranes into a large saucepan, making sure that no seeds escape. Place the seeds and membrane into a clean piece of muslin, cheesecloth or sterilised stocking. Sew or tie the end firmly, then add your ‘pectin bag’ into the saucepan with the juice and your citrus segments (see ‘notes’ for an alternative to making a pectin bag).
Place your prepared rind into the saucepan with the rest of your citrus, adding enough water to cover. Over very low heat, allow the citrus to soak for about 30 minutes (do not allow to boil). This will allow the fruit pectin to steep into the water from the seeds, whilst also infusing the natural oils from the citrus peels into the water.
Once the mixture is fragrant, add about another 3-4 cups of water (as your pot capacity allows). Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a low simmer for 60 – 90 minutes. You’re aiming for the citrus rind to be very soft and for about one cup of liquid to remain (if the liquid is reducing too fast and your citrus rind is still firm, add more liquid as required). Remove your pectin bag, squeezing residual liquid back into your saucepan.
Add the grated carrot, ginger and lemon juice to your mixture, then bring it back to the boil. At this point you can add your sugar, stirring to dissolve it well (if required, add more water at this point so that you have a loose mixture); there should be no remaining granules in your pot as this will spoil the consistency of your finished marmalade. Once the sugar has dissolved, taste for sweetness – if it is a little tart, add a little more sugar or if it is too sweet add more lemon juice (whilst keeping in mind that your mixture will be further reducing, concentrating the sweetness, and that you’ll also be adding whisky later on).
Once at your desired level of sweetness, simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until your marmalade reaches ‘setting point’. This can be tested by placing a small teaspoonful on a chilled (refrigerated) plate. Leave for 10 seconds, then push the mixture with your finger to test if it has ‘gelled’ like this (you can see the place where my finger was on the left):
If your mixture is at setting point, add your whisky and stir well to combine. Pour your hot marmalade into sterilised jars and seal immediately. The sugar content and temperature of the marmalade should be enough to provide some natural preservation, however if desired you can process your jars in just-boiled water (fill your empty sink with enough water to completely cover the jars) for 10 minutes.
- Marmalade is traditionally made from Seville oranges, which have a strong, sharp flavour and a high amount of pectin which aids in the ‘jam setting’ process. However, as Seville oranges are seasonal I often find myself substituting organic Navels or Valencias, both of which are easy to find in Australia. Blood oranges are also a delicious alternative.
- The peel of an orange has more vitamin C and fibre than the flesh, so marmalade is actually a very nutritious breakfast food (yes, I know there’s lots of sugar but… well, that’s not my point). However, due to the high concentration of pesticides, chemical sprays and herbicides that remain on shop-bought fruit, I’d recommend seeking out organic, pesticide free citrus for your marmalade. That way you can eat your peel the way nature intended… well, if it was actually intended. Either way, I’m still eating it.
- As aforementioned, there is an alternative to making a ‘pectin bag’ by which you can still end up with a beautifully set marmalade. It’s called Jamsetta, a granulated mixture of caster sugar, dried pectin and citric acid that works every time. Where I live, it’s commonly available in the baking section at the supermarket in 50g packets. Add one packet per batch of marmalade.
- If your marmalade jars have been processed correctly, you can store them in a cool place pretty much indefinitely. Once opened, they should keep reasonably fresh (there may be some mild sugar crystallisation on the surface) for a few months in the fridge.
- Don’t be afraid to play around with this recipe. Bump up the ginger, whisky or carrot elements as desired, as long as you make sure that your pectin bag still contains sufficient seeds or citrus zest to aid the ‘jam setting’ process.
- Homemade jams, chutneys and marmalades make beautiful gifts when embellished with your own personalised labels. The ones you can see above were made with brown paper and twine before being decorated with an ‘L&A’ (Laura & Aaron) wax seal that my husband and I designed for our wedding invitations last year. I love it, not just from a romantic point of view, but… well, wax seals just make everything look more special. If you’d like to order one for yourself, sites such as this offer a similar product.
- The base recipe for this marmalade also works well with added spices, mimicking the flavours of both carrot cake and Christmas. If you’d like to give this a try, I’d suggest soaking 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves and 1 tsp of grated nutmeg in a muslin bag during the first stage of the soaking process (over low heat). Alternatively you could add a little powdered cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the overall mixture, tasting for desired intensity.
- Original and spiced carrot marmalades make a delicious base for jammy winter puddings whilst also being perfect atop a steaming bowl of morning porridge… warm, sweet and comforting. You can also spoon marmalade into a fancied-up trifle with madiera cake (mimicking a jam roll), slather it over a leg of ham with some seeded mustard prior to roasting it or eat it atop some crusty French bread with aged cheddar (trust me, it’s delicious!).
*If at the mention of Paddington you’ve been travelling down memory lane, take a look at Marmalade Mayhem. It’s Paddington, marmalade and gaming goodness all wrapped up into one. Oh, and here’s an admission: yes, the game is aimed at children and still, I failed quite dismally.