When it comes to marmalade, respect for timeless generational wisdom needs to be given. Just about every current marmalade recipe is a variation on the basic multi-day process and proportions as the once ubiquitous 1963 Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook. In it there is also a treasure trove of folksy statements, including gems such as: “Even town women who have no gardens or orchard – nor a fisherman or hunter in the family – can use these recipes and secrets from farm women…”
Traditional English marmalade is famously made with bitter Seville oranges. Since Seville oranges rarely show up at the markets in Georgia it seems more fitting to make a more geographically friendly Southern marmalade using seasonal Florida juice orange varieties such as Valencia or Hamlin. Don’t use thick skinned oranges because they aren’t ideal for marmalade. Organic oranges are best since the peel is an essential part of the marmalade and any pesticides residue on conventionally grown oranges will make their way into the marmalade.
Natural pectin in the oranges helps set the marmalade. Soaking the oranges in water overnight releases some of this pectin. Pastry chef David Lebovitz’s recipe for Seville marmalade cleverly suggests tying up any orange seeds in a cheesecloth and cooking the sachet in the marmalade. This extra step helps also helps to extract every bit of pectin in the seeds. Valencia oranges don’t have as many seeds as Seville, so every precious seed is put to good use!
Recipes differ widely in how the oranges are measured. To be more consistent, I’ve measured and remeasure how many pounds of oranges it typically takes to make a cup of cut up oranges. The number always comes out to roughly 1 lb orange = 3 cups = about 3 oranges. The size of the orange is the variable, so measuring 6 cups of orange slices it the most consistent way to ensure recipe accuracy.
Sugar quantity can also be deceiving when it is measure by weight. One pound sugar equals 2 ½ cups and it seems the more sugar a recipe calls for the more likely pounds are used as the measurement. Yet there’s no way around using lots of sugar to make marmalade sweet enough to eat. Sugar also helps set the marmalade and preserve it longer. If the marmalade will not be canned, there is a bit of leeway in adjusting the sugar slightly to taste. I often hold back a cup and add it to taste, keeping in mind that the flavor gets more intense once the marmalade cooks.
The most precise tool to ensure marmalade is not too runny or thick is a candy thermometer. Another less exact way to test if the marmalade is set is the popular frozen plate approach. I described this method in the recipe below.
For me, the greatest benefit to making homemade Valencia Orange Marmalade is how little it costs to make large quantities of delightful deliciousness. If I make a batch, I don’t have to hoard it away from my family the way I do when I buy my favorite $12 jar made locally by a neighborhood bakery market (It’s called Alon’s if you’re in Atlanta and need a quick marmalade fix!)
Canning doesn’t seem necessary since Valencia Orange Marmalade is so easy and straightforward to make almost any time during the year. If I’m not preserving the marmalade, I can also use a bit less sugar because I’m not worried about keeping the exact ratio necessary to ensure safe preserving.
The following recipe makes about 6 cups which is enough for a jar in the refrigerator, a few jars to give to friends and a small container or two to put in the freezer to brighten up another day.
Valencia Orange Marmalade Recipe
makes about 6 cups of lusciously sweet and slightly sour marmalade
6 cups orange slices – from about 6 oranges cut into eight even pieces then sliced thinly. Save seeds and use cooking string to tie into a sachet in a small piece of cheesecloth.
9 cups water
5 cups pure cane sugar
1 pinch kosher salt
In large nonreactive stainless steel or glass bowl add orange slices, water, and seed sachet. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.
Add sugar to orange, water, seed sachet and stir to combine. Pour into large non-reactive wide pot or pan. Over medium to high heat bring to a boil and take off heat when sugar dissolves. Let cool and pour back into bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for another 12 to 24 hours.
Pour orange marmalade mixture into large non-reactive wide pot or pan and bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until temperature reaches 220 degrees on candy thermometer. Time will vary, but it usually takes between 20 and 40 minutes.
If you don’t have a thermometer, set a few small plates in the freezer before cooking marmalade. When marmalade is reduced and syrupy, take a teaspoon of the marmalade and drop on frozen plate. Let sit for a minute or two. If it doesn’t run, marmalade is done.
Let marmalade cool before storing in covered containers in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 6 months.