Marmalade? I’ve got whisky in my jars!


Lucky 13 jars – with and without whisky

I HAVE to do it. Although I still have jars of marmalade from previous years in the cupboards and cellar I have to make some more the moment I see Seville oranges in the shops.

And every year, although I seem to keep saying it, this seems to be earlier than the one before.

There are plenty of recipes available like this one here  so I’ll just give a few tips.

Don’t buy more than a couple of pounds at a time. One pound of fruit requires two pounds of sugar and two pints of water and that will give four or five jars. Adjust the water, more or less, if you want a thinner or thicker preserve.

Sevilles freeze well if you can’t make your marmalade immediately.

Preserving sugar is a waste of money: use granulated or caster, a brown sugar for a darker colour.

Making marmalade is rewarding but tiresome. Spread it over two days to avoid it monopolising your whole day. I normally wash, halve, reserve the juice and pips and pith separately, then shred the peel with a sharp knife. Patience is all. Then soak the shreds in the water and juice overnight to soften.


Seville oranges make the best marmalade

Remember to take the volume of juice into account when calculating the amount of water. You’ll also need the juice of at least one lemon per pound for pectin. Theoretically Sevilles don’t need it but I find they do.

Next day tie the pips and pith into a secure cheesecloth bag to dangle into the pan, then bring to the boil and simmer until the peel is soft. Only then add the sugar, after removing the pips.

Add it bit by bit to ensure all the sugar has dissolved.

Bring back to the boil, stirring every so often. The liquid will reduce somewhat until, when it reaches the correct volume at the right temperature with the right amount of pectin, thicken to become marmalade.

But very often things don’t run that smoothly.

Put three or four saucers in the freezer.

When you think it might be ready (the mixture thickens, coats the back of a spoon, starts sticking to the sides of the pan, or, irritatingly, none of this), about 15-20 minutes in, take out a saucer, scoop out a spoonful off liquid and leave it in the fridge for five minutes. meanwhile, turn off the pan.

Then check. If it wrinkles or drips slowly off the spoon it is ready. If not, try again.

Some people swear by jam thermometers but I swear at them as they always lie.

If it hasn’t set by the second saucer add the juice of half a lemon.

When it has, stir to distribute the shredded peel, allow to cool slightly and add a tot of your favourite whisky. if you want to make a jar or two of marmalade without booze, fill these first before adding the spirit.

Don’t worry about any scum. You can skim it but it usually disperses. If it doesn’t, stir in a knob of butter. If that doesn’t work scoop it into a bowl or jar for your own use. The scum will rise to the top and can be spooned off.

Beginners may find the shred slowly rises to the top of the jar. This means it hasn’t been stirred properly or was potted too soon. This generally works: invert the jars so they rise again. Then keep doing it until the little buggers give up and are more or less evenly dispersed.

Marmalade can be eaten as soon as made and keeps very well.


The orange peel, water and sugar is bubbling nicely





Marmalade Monday



It’s not just Paddington Bear who loves marmalade. I do, too, but it can be a faff making it. By the time you’ve finished you could be halfway to Peru. I was telling an Indian friend about the cutting, squeezing, shredding, soaking, simmering and boiling that goes into every jar of marmalade and she said “That’s an awful lot of work.”

So it is. Even Saint Delia never uses more than two pounds of oranges at a time because it is time consuming. So I decided to spread the job over two days and it was a doddle.

Seville oranges were 79p a pound and I bought two. My basic recipe is two pounds of sugar and two pints of water for every pound of oranges. If you add more water you get a thinner end result, more sugar and it’s sweeter. Brown sugar makes it darker. And it’s your choice if you add a tot of whisky at the end.

On the Sunday I washed, halved and juiced the oranges, reserving the juice and scooping out the pith and seeds into a separate container. A grapefruit spoon helps. Then I cut each half in half, flattened and shred it with a sharp knife. This is the really boring bit. You might start out intending to make very thin shreds but soon lose resolve.

I put the shreds into a preserving pan and added the water and juice. I got 14 fl oz, or 350ml, so deducted that from the amount of water. Leaving it to soak overnight helps to tenderise the peel but not by much. I still had to simmer for an hour the next day, Marmalade Monday.

Meanwhile, you’ve got the pips and peel, which contain the pectin to provide a set, to deal with. Put them in a sterilised jelly bag, tie up with string and dangle it in the pan. Cover with a cloth and forget about it. You shouldn’t need preserving sugar or lemon juice but I like to add that from half a lemon just to be sure.

The next day put the pan on the heat and simmer until the peel is tender. Check by squeezing some with a spoon against the pan. Careful, it’s hot. Once you put in the sugar it won’t soften any more. I like to add my sugar in batches on a moderate heat, making sure all is dissolved before adding more.

But before all this you need to remove the jelly bag with pulp and pips. Put it in a dish, allow to cool, then squeeze out any juices. It’s a bit like milking a cow.

Now there is a lot of myth and magic about achieving a set. I don’t use a sugar thermometer because I find they are inaccurate and gave me several years of prdeserves set rigid when commonsense told me otherwise. You can’t beat the wrinkle test with a blob on an ice cold plate. And if the marmalade is coating the side of the pan or clinging to your wooden spoon, that’s telling you it’s ready.

I did my first test for a set ten minutes after bringing the pan to the boil. Put a blob on a plate and stick it in the fridge and don’t be in a hurry. Give it a good five minutes and have a cup of tea. Meanwhile, turn off the heat under the pan. A lot of recipes don’t tell you that.

It was going the right way but needed five minutes more. I filled two jars and reheated the pan for another five minutes for another, firmer, set. Turn off the heat, give the mixture a good stir to distribute the peel and allow to cool before filling clean and sterilised jam jars. I filled nine of different sizes with some left over in a dish. And though I say it myself it’s lovely.

Follow this recipe and you should be right. Oh and don’t forget that last plate left in the freezer!


There’s scum in the pan. Ignore it and put it all in the first jar, skim it off or add a knob of butter. I don’t know why but it works.

My peel has all floated to the top of the jars. You didn’t stir enough and allow to cool properly. It’s still good to eat. Try upending the jars as they cool every ten minutes so eventually the peel disperses.

Help, it’s not setting! Don’t panic. Just leave the jars somewhere quiet and it should set overnight. That’s what mine did yet the leftover marmalade in a dish set almost immediately.