The Right Kind of Marmalade- Made with Bitter Seville Oranges

I have a lot to say about marmalade.  If you want to read a lot of personal marmalade stories from my childhood, college years and young adulthood read on.  If you just want a recipe for marmalade scroll to the bottom!

I grew up eating marmalade with butter on the world’s best scones, baked by my Grandpa. I read Paddington Bear books as a little girl.  For those of you who did not have the pleasure of meeting this character as a child, Paddington Bear is an orphan bear from Peru who travels to England and who always carries a jar of marmalade.  For me, marmalade is a deeply comforting food.

When I was nine, I moved from British Colombia to Hawaii, where I discovered that marmalade was not a common fixture in the United States.  In the USA, no one had jars of marmalade in their kitchens.  You only ever found it in little single serving packages to put on toast at diners.  The marmalade in the little single serving packages was neon orange and tasted like someone had made jelly out of “orange” soda.  It was too sweet, even for me (and I was a sugar fiend).  Marmalade is supposed to be bittersweet and its supposed to have orange peel in it and it is supposed to be the most beautiful shade of dark orange.  

There were other things (mostly British) that my mother and I could not lay our hands in Hawaii…good strong tea, sausage rolls, butter tarts, trifle…but after a while they were replaced by many culinary treats and delights that Hawaii had to offer…except for the tea, which my mother brought back from Canada in the half of her suitcase that she reserved for this purpose every time she went home  to visit.

When I was eighteen I moved to New York to go to Sarah Lawrence College, which is located on the border of Yonkers and Bronxville just outside the New York City.  Bronxville was (maybe still is) the wealthiest square mile in the USA.  There was not much of interest (or much that I could afford) in Bronxville.  It has the BEST hospital thrift store and it had a really good fancy cheese and gourmet provisions shop.  I did not actually buy cheese from the shop, but I did occasionally go to gaze longingly at ingredients.  The shop was tiny and it was run by the owner who spoke with this odd, not quite British accent, like a butler in a 1930’s Hollywood movie about New York High Society.   This was the kind of shop where very fussy, well dressed little old ladies came in with their maids and said things like…”Don’t forget that so and so is coming over for lunch.  We will need a quarter pound of the right sort of ham”.

One day, while visiting the cheese shop, I noticed that the purveyor had a row of different kinds of marmalade on a shelf behind the counter.  I could not tell from the names which one might be the kind of marmalade I remembered from my childhood…St Clements, Tawny, Crystal, Old Times, Orange and Malt Whisky…I stood there for so long that the owner, who usually ignored me, finally asked me if he could help me.

I looked him in the eye, raised an eyebrow as my Grandma Orr would have and said, “I am looking for the right kind of marmalade.”

The man nodded knowingly and said “You are looking for marmalade made from Seville Oranges.  They give the marmalade the proper bitter flavour.”

I spent NINE DOLLARS and change on a jar of  Wilkons and Sons Tiptree Tawny Marmalade and it was worth every penny.  Later, I found cheaper brands of marmalade made with Seville oranges (these were probably the kind that my grandpa used) but that Tawny marmalade truly is the best.

A few years later, I was finished with college, less broke and learning how to cook properly.   I was reading cookbooks cover to cover the way other people read novels.  I read Jane Grigson’s “English Food”, which I highly recommend if you are into reading cookbooks like novels.  It has lots of directions which are more amusing than informative.  The directions for how to properly process canned goods are summed up with “Pot the jam in the usual way” but she will spend an entire paragraph fretting on whether a meat pie should be served hot or cold.  In this book, I find two recipes for  Whole Orange Marmalades made with Seville Oranges.   Sigh.  If only I could find Seville Oranges!  I kept on spending way too much money on  Tawny marmalade and reading cookbooks.

Then I read Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (which I also highly recommend if you are into reading cookbooks like novels).  In this book, Rick Bayless includes lots of information about traditional ingredients, their cultivation, where they might be available and what to use in their stead.  One of the ingredients that he writes about are Sour Oranges which, he says, are also known as Seville Oranges or Bitter Oranges.  I learned that these oranges are grown year round in Mexico and used in Yucatan cuisine.   I learned that they are the most disease resistant variety of orange that are bumpy and a bit ugly-looking.  I learned that Mr Bayless acquired sour oranges for his restaurant in Chicago from a Caribbean food wholesaler.  This is when I started to get excited.  There are a lot of Caribbean people and grocery markets in Brooklyn, where I live.  Sure enough, a West Indian market near my house carried sour oranges.  They were ugly and cheap and they made the right kind of marmalade.

Aside for those of you who live in Brooklyn, that market is now  the dreaded Natural Land, a market so overpriced and gentrified that I have seen shoppers cry or scream about the prices while being rung up on multiple occasions.  Where else are you going to get your gourmet what not at 2AM?  You have to hand it to the owners for identifying their target market and milking it us for all we are worth.  Back in the 9o’s though, it was a Caribbean market.   If you live in Brooklyn, you can still buy sour oranges at the Caribbean markets on Nostrand Ave.   I got this batch from the one near Eastern Parkway.  I have been reading fancy modern British cookbooks lately and Seville oranges are used in a lot of recipes from Ottolenghi, Cafe Moro and Nigella Lawson.  In Britain though they are only seasonally available!   In Brooklyn, you can get them year round!

I have recently become less rigid in my marmalade tastes.   My friend Bethany has been perfecting an orange marmalade with mulled wine that is crazy good.  I might try making blood orange marmalade, because blood oranges are on sale now and I can never resist buying a bunch of cheap fruit and putting it up.

THE RIGHT KIND OF MARMALADE- MADE WITH BITTER SEVILLE ORANGES

adapted from Jane Grigson’s recipe for Oxford Style Marmalade in English Food

“The simplest, quickest, best-flavoured Marmalade”-  Jane Grigson

makes 5 half pint jars

  • 6 pints of water
  • about 3 pounds of sugar
  • 3 pounds (about 6) Seville oranges
  1. Simmer the oranges in water for about 1 and 1/2 hours or until the skin is tender and easily pierced.
  2. Remove the oranges and let them cool.  Measure out and save 1/2 pint of the orange cooking liquor.
  3. Cut the oranges in to quarter and remove  and save all of the pips (seeds).  Sour oranges have lots of seeds!   I also like to remove the tough membrane from the center of the oranges, so that there is only peel and pulp left.  Tie all of the seeds and membranes up in a square of cheesecloth.  They get boiled along with the marmalade so that their pectin will help to thicken the mix.
  4. Slice the peels into strips of the size you like to find in your marmalade.  Weigh the pulp and peels and measure out an equal amount of sugar.  If you don’t have a scale, just use 3 pounds of sugar and it’ll be about right.
  5. Combine the pulp. peels and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot, along with 1/2 pint of the orange cooking liquor and the cheesecloth pouch of pips and membranes.
  6.  Stir the mixture over medium high heat, stirring frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot.  It should simmer until the jam has reached 220 degrees and stayed there for one minute (that is the highest temp on a standard meat thermometer). If you do not have a thermometer, place a plate in the fridge to cool off while the marmalade simmers.  When the marmalade has simmered for about 20 minutes put a small spoonful of it on the cooled plate and return it to the fridge for five minutes (you can keep the jam simmering meanwhile).  After 5 minutes you should be able to tell if the jam is set.  If it is still runny repeat the testing process in another 5 minutes.  One the Marmalade is done, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 15 minutes before potting (if you don’t wait all of the peels will sink to the bottom).  Don’t forget to squeeze all of the pectin filled juice out of your pouch of pips and add it to your marmalade!
  7. Meanwhile on another burner, you can be sterilizing 5 half pint canning jars.  Boil the jars and lids for 10 minutes in a canner or a large pot with some sort of rack in the bottom.  Be sure to add the glass jars before the water is boiling (to prevent cracking) and start the timer only after the water has reached a full boil. Allow the jars to air dry on a clean rack.
  8. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space at the top.  Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean cloth and seal the jars with the lid and the ring.
  9. Drop the sealed jars into to a boiling hot water (don’t forget the canner or rack) and process for 10 minutes.
  10.  Remove the jars and leave them alone.  The next day, tap the top of the can to make sure that the lid is sealed.  If the lid gives at all, the seal is no good.  Just put the unsealed ones in your fridge and eat them soonish.
  11. I used to like to eat this marmalade with my favourite buttermilk drop biscuit recipe.  Now that I eat gluten-free I eat it with plain whole milk yogurt, gluten-free popovers, gluten-free buttermilk biscuits, gluten-free custard topped spoonbread, Irish soda bread inspired gluten-free scones or on gluten-free pancakes.  I look forward to trying it on Silvi’s cornmeal, molasses millet muffins.  Silvi also once put of dollop of this marmalade in one of her improvised stir fries and it was soooooo good!
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About Big Sis Little Dish

This is a blog run by two sisters. Erin is the big sister who lives in New York, and Silvi is the little sister who lives in Vancouver. They both love to cook! They created this blog to share and store recipes for the food they make.

33 comments

  1. Tanya

    You’ll have to come to Edmonton – we make marmalade (using a recipe that features Seville oranges from the Laura Secord cookbook ) from oranges we grow in our living room. We have an orange tree (shrub is more accurate) that produces like crazy and guaranteed the oranges are good and bitter – you wouldn’t want to eat one off the tree. If I could safely ship you some of our marmalade to try, I would (we just made it a few weeks ago). The tree produces a lot, so I’m sure we’ll be making marmalade for years to come.

  2. Tanya! I am so impressed, and desperate to try your marmalade! How long have you had the tree? You must have a very sunny living room! The tortiere is delicious by the way. I will probably wait until next holiday season to post about it, but I took some great pictures.
    Erin

  3. Rima Fand

    I love your marmalade stories! Delicious. xo

  4. I’m so glad Vadim’s hot tip came through! My marmalade technique is much lazier and doesn’t involve cheese cloth. The Trijaminal and the frittata are totally going to be posted.

  5. Rima,
    You are so sweet. I feel so certain that you must have heard all of my stories already but you still like them! I have recently aquired some cookbooks that are really making me think of our trip to Andalusia. Sigh.
    Erin

    Bethany!
    The hot tip was excellent AND I just a bunch of new cookbooks with all kinds of recipes calling for Seville Oranges. Hey, with your permission, I would like to steal your frittata recipe. I want to make in quiche form (I never have good luck getting frittatas out of the pan)with swiss chard stems (because I have an ongoing swiss chard stem dilemma, as you know). Does Trijaminal refer to three jam competition? I’d like ot link to your spiced marmalade in this post when you get it up.
    xo
    Erin

  6. Mona Banek

    In September, when we were going to the Salmon Arm Fair, we stoped at a British shop between Sorento and Salmon Arm. I bought Roses Lime Fine Cut Marmelade. It is so unbelivably good. The shop is a campground office/ Grayhound Bus Agency/ British Shop. A strange mix. They also had black current licorice candy.
    My other marmalade this summer was peach and clementine marmalade. I used peaches from Janets tree. It is realy a jam, not a marmalade but soooo good.

    • Ohhhh! Black current licorice! YUM! Roses lime fine cut marmalade…I’ll have to look for that one. I love odd little businesses like that. When Chris and i had to stop to get a filter on out truck replaced in the mountains in Oregon, we bought it from a combination car repair and wedding supply rental place! Peach and clementine sounds like a great combo!

      xo
      Erin

  7. Glenda

    Love the photos of your gorgeous marmalade. Wish I was there to help you eat it all up!!

  8. I squealed when I read that you bought the Wilkon and Son’s Tawny Marmalad cos that’s my favourite! I’ve come round to the merits of Marmalade very late but have been making up for it ever since. The darker the better. I can’t get Seville oranges here in Doha, but am tinkering with the idea of making it with regular sweet oranges and lemon to approximate the bitter, tangy taste of Sevilles. How blooming jammy (pardon the pun) are you to be able to get them year round!

    Delia Smith’s marmalade recipe has quite a following (though I don’t warm up to the woman herself, yet most of her recipes are trustworthy.), which you can find on your website. But to be fair, Jane Grigson is the bees knees on traditional british foods. You really are an Anglophile, aren’t you :-))

    From what my Scottish mother-in-law tells me, Marmalade was ‘invented’ in Dundee, Scotland, by a thrifty, canny housewife. She bought the Spanish Seville Oranges, not knowing how bitter they were. Being thrifty and not wanting to waste the purchase, she set about making jam out of it, and that’s how Marmalade came into existence.

    I really enjoyed your writing immensely here, and that moment of “….the right kind of marmalade.” That’s one for the foodie memory vault 🙂

    • Oh I love that story about the invention of marmalade! Foods that were invented out of thrift just make my little, frugal heart sing!
      Goodness, even your comments are charmingly written. I think that food conversation must be a real calling for you!
      I think that you could approximate bitter orange marmalade somehow…maybe by including a bit of lime as well? Lime pith is VERY bitter.

      • Oh thankyou! If only I could be as eloquent when I speak O_o!!!

        Yes lime does sound good too, must give that a shot. Oh and you must do a blood orange one, if only for the ridiculously jewel hued, ruby colour!

        • Oh by the way, the seedless Raspberry Jam of the same brand is divine! My mother took a box of the stuff back with her and berates me to this day for not helping stock up when I left the UK! Also, their chutneys and relishes are excellent too. I actually love their bottles, perfect size, clean ’em up and use for my own homemade preserves. Waste not, want not!

          • I am a fan of their jams in general, but I have not tried their relishes or chutneys. I’ll have to do that! I think that the key is that they do not use pectin…or if they do (sometimes you have to) they use just a bit so you get a pure fruit flavour.

        • Well it so happens that I have been trying blood orange marmalade recipes for the last few days! They are on sale here now. The color is the main selling point, but they also have a nice perfume to their flavour.

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  10. Elisabeth

    Hello! love your blog. I found while searching on the web for a recipe for making marmalade with only one orange. I found one, but I don’t think I am willing to risk my only seville orange on it!

    I am British, and I have lived in Tokyo for over 30 years. These days we can get English marmalade here, but I so know what you mean about the orange soda tasting orange jam from America, which for years was the only kind you could get here. That’s just Ok at teatime maybe, but breakfast requires the real stuff.

    Back to my one orange. My mother started a Seville orange tree from a pip in a batch of oranges my father bought one January about 20 years ago to make the year’s supply of marmalade. That summer I smuggled the treelet back to Tokyo in my suitcase, and to quote Alice, it growed and growed! It is now two metres, in a pot. blows over in the wind because it is so spindly, and is altogether a nuisance, EXCEPT three years ago it produced a few flowers, which all dropped off, two years ago it produced 6 oranges, and this only one orange.

    So does anyone have a recipe for marmalade made with only one orange? I can probably manage something, but any help gratefully accepted!

    Elisabeth

    • Elisabeth!

      What a wonderful story of dedication to proper marmalade making! I will throw this question to my cousin Tanya who makes tiny jars of marmalade from wee oranges that she grows on a tree in her living room in Edmonton, Alberta.
      I do think that you could do the following…
      boil your orange in enough water to more than cover it (maybe a pint in a very small saucepan) for 1 and 1/2 hours (keep and eye on your water to be sure that it does not boil away and replenish as needed). Follow exactly the same recipe as is written here (bag up the pips, slice the rind, weigh the pulp and rind and combine it with an equal weight of sugar). The only difference would be that you might combine the sugar and orange mixture with only 1/3 of a cup of the cooking liquid and you will have to keep a close eye on it because it might do it’s thing faster. Keep the orange liquid handy in case you need to add more. I have never made marmalade with only one orange but my sister and I used to make tiny batches using two oranges following this technique! Good luck!

      Erin

  11. Elisabeth

    Thanks Erin,

    The only recipe I found online said to whiz the orange in a food processor and boil the results for 15 mins with 2 tbsps sugar. It didn’t sound right to me! Thanks for your ideas, especially about boiling it in a small saucepan! of course, why didn’t I think of that? It’s a bit labour intensive for such a small amount, but hey, the whole thing has been labour intensive!! Including dragging my ungrateful tree into the house in typhoons. Actually tree is a bit of a euphemism — I said it’s 2 metres but actually, looking at it, maybe it’s nearer 3 now, with just a bunch of leaves on the scraggy top!

    I have a yuzu tree in my tiny garden. Do you know yuzu? A kind of heavily scented Japanese citron.. It makes divine afternoon tea marmalade!

    Elisabeth

    • I have never had yuzu, but sounds like something that I would like! Maybe I can try it sometime when I am visiting my mother. She lives in Hawaii and all things Japanese are more readily available there! I will look for it!

  12. Elisabeth

    Erin,

    I was rereading your recipe. In Britain we never can jams and marmalade, and I have never had a jar go bad on me. Just heat the jars in the oven or the microwave, turn off the marmalade when cooked, wait ten minutes then pour into the hot jars, put a circle of waxed paper on the top (in England they sell those with jam pot covers) if you have it, put the top on immediately and tighten as much as you can. When the jars are cold, tighten the tops more (Don’t open the jar). I opened a jar of marmalade this week which I made two years ago. It was stored at room temperature, which can get hot here in the summer just like NY, and it was in perfect condition, really mellow.

    Elisabeth

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