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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Orange ya glad ya I didn't say banana?

My father loves his orange marmalade.
Well, not his marmalade. His area of expertise within the kitchen domain is limited to oatmeal. The best oatmeal, mind you, but that's another story. Growing up we always had a jar of the bitter, orange stuff in the icebox. Yuck. Bitter, bitter, bitter. I just didn't get it. Maybe it was strategic planning knowing we kids wouldn't touch it. But he also likes Miracle Whip. The man's mind is a mystery.

Topped and tailed oranges.
After watching a video of June Taylor on Chow making marmalade I got inspired to face my fears and decided to make my own. This process is an old school method and requires time, a sort of zen-like state of mind and a fair degree of nerdiness which I proudly possess. There are two stages of cooking the marmalade. The first stage is cooking the orange segments and zest in water along with a jelly bag containing the membranes and seeds of which you just separated from the segments.

Let me back up here. There's a bit of prep work involved. When I say "a bit" I really mean a TON of time consuming prep work or "handwork" as June calls it. First wash about ten pounds of oranges with soap and water. I use a sponge and really scrub them removing any wax or coating that may be present. Set aside four oranges. These you want to remove the zest with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp boning knife (which I like to use since it's very thin and flexible) you filet the orange peels removing all of the white pith. This takes a bit of practice but it's worth the effort because in doing so it removes a lot of the bitter element you find in most marmalades. The peel then gets chopped however you like it. In my case I prefer to julienne them.

Then you cut off the peels from the rest of the oranges with a knife. You top and tail each orange to provide a stable base. Setting the orange on a cut end slice off a section of peel following the curve of the orange with the flat edge of your knife making sure to remove as much of the pith as possible and continue all the way around until the peel is removed. When this is done you hold the orange over a bowl to catch the juice as you very carefully slice along the membrane towards the center of the orange and back up removing the segment. Then you continue this procedure to about ten pound of oranges. See what I mean about prep work?

Now we can move forward to the first cooking stage. So as I mentioned above, the zest, segments, water and jelly bag with the seeds and membranes all get boiled for about 20 minutes until the zest is tender. Now comes the fun part. After the jelly bag is cool enough to handle (I stick in in the icebox for about 20 minutes) you have to knead, and squeeze the bag until the pectin, which is the whitish gel, seeps through the bag. And you knead and squeeze and scrape the bag over the cooked oranges for, oh, I'd say about 20 minutes to half an hour until it seems like your hands are going to fall off.

After this is done you continue the cooking process to finally make the marmalade. With the addition of sugar and lemon juice it's boiled for another 30 or so minutes until it reaches the setting temperature  (222˚ on a candy thermometer) at which point it's ladled into hot sterilized jars and sealed. If you'd like to try her recipe you can find it here (scroll down a bit to see the recipe). I've altered it to suit my tastes but the basic method is the same. Here is my basic recipe:

First cooking stage:
8 cups oranges & juice
3 cups water
1 cup orange peel

Second cooking stage:
⅔ cup lemon juice
2 lbs 10 oz sugar

By the way, I found a simple method to sterilize jars. Wash jars and lids thoroughly, dry, then place the jars on a baking sheet and sterilize in the oven set to 200˚ for ten minutes. Follow the instructions for the lids which usually entails softening the rubberized lids in a pot of warm water. Leave the jars in the oven until ready to fill.