Marmalade as we know it has a great history, with the Scottish town of Dundee being reputed to have created the first jellied preserve set with shreds of orange peel. Prior to this, marmalade would have been of a more solid consistency, paste like, and usually made from quinces. The name comes from the Spanish "marmalada" – the predecessor of membrillo – the sticky quince paste found all over Spain, Portugal and re-created in Latin America.
It is written that King Henry VIII was gifted “a box of marmalade” from a gentleman of Exeter, in 1524. This would have been imported from Spain, and made from quinces, but started the English tradition of creating “sweetmeats”, set fruit pastes, which were formed in decorative moulds of animals, flowers and family crests.
The consumption of candied peel, both as a confectionery, and to flavour baked goods was a common practice through the Tudor times, and already oranges were noted for their medicinal qualities, so it was a natural progressing for small pieces of peel to find their way into a breakfast preserve. In 1797, Janet Keiller opened the first commercial marmalade factory in Dundee. Her husband had received a delivery of Spanish bitter oranges from Dundee harbour and Mrs Keiller took the decision to create a very different marmalade than was being written in English cookery books at the time. Instead of pounding the fruits to a paste, and concentrating the pulp to a thick paste, she followed a French method – a quicker recipe, where the peel was finely cut, and the juice boiled with water and sugar, and the marmalade we eat today was invented.
In 1861, Mrs Beeton wrote “the appellation of marmalade is applied to those confitures which are composed of the firmer fruits, as pineapples, or the rinds of oranges; where as jams and made of the more juicey berries...Fruit pastes are a kind of marmalade”.
Marmalade was quickly becoming an integral part of the British breakfast table, and an increasing number of confectioners were producing the preserve in the early 1900s, companies such as Wilkins of Tiptree and Frank Cooper of Oxford, who are still producing the countries highest quality marmalades.
Today, almost all of the bitter oranges grown around Seville are destined for the British marmalade market.
The season is at its peak now, find boxes of the fruit in greengrocers and farmshops, but only for a couple more weeks – the Seville orange season is always brief. I got mine from Daylesford, with green stalks and healthy leaves still intact.
This is how I make marmalade, which gives a rich, dark jelly, with a very deep citrus flavour and bright acidity. Up the sugar to taste if desired.
12 Seville oranges
1200g sugar (1000g preserving sugar, 200g muscovado)
2 lemons, chopped
3 litres water
Using a very sharp pairing knife, remove the skin of the oranges, with 2-3mm of white pith intact. Shred the peel to the thickness you like, I prefer a very fine cut.
|Finely shredded peel|
Cut the peeled oranges into quarters, and squeeze all the juice, flesh and importantly, pips out of each quarter. Place the squeezed oranges in a pan, and strain the juice over, so in theory, there are no pips, and minimal flesh in the pan.
|Seville orange juice and pips, to be strained.|
Gather the shredded peel in a piece of muslin, and tie tightly before placing in the pan. Add 3 litres of water and the chopped lemons, and simmer for 2 hours. Pick out the muslin bag of peel, and strain the juice from the now pulpy orange quarters, gently squeezing to extras as much juice as possible without breaking up the oranges too much.
Add the sugar and shredded peel, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Take to a rolling boil, and cook until it reaches 105˚C. This may take 30minutes or more. The syrup should darken, and thicken slightly. Drop a teaspoon on a plate (cold from the freezer) to test the gel. To ensure the peel is evenly distributed through the marmalade, leave off the heat for 15 minutes to begin to thicken, stirring often, before pouring into sterile jars.
|A jar of the finished product.|