January a great time for making marmalade

Two elderly women influenced me in making my marmalade. When I attended university in Edmonton, I boarded at Mrs. Mae Head’s home.

She always made marmalade in January from Seville oranges. I can still hear her English accent as she tells me, “January’s the best time to buy oranges, you know. That’s when they’re in season. Yes, they’re the best quality then and they sell for the lowest price. Seville oranges always make the best marmalade, you know.”

I didn’t know. In fact, I don’t agree that Seville oranges make the best marmalade because I prefer the three-fruit variety, but I’ve noticed that January is the best time to buy any citrus fruit, and that’s when I make my marmalade, too. That is, if I make it at all.

When I do, I always find there is something heartening about cooking quietly in my kitchen while it’s snapping cold outside. The bright, orange fruit, bubbling away on the stove, filling the air with its with warm, sweet fragrance, the bright colour brightening up the darkening kitchen in their shiny, glass jars gives a person just the lift we often need in winter on the Prairies.

My Aunt Mattie brought many delicious recipes to our family collection and one was her marvelous three-fruit marmalade.

After I grew up and started preserving my own creations, I asked her for her recipe. Of course, I make it in January, following Mrs. Head’s sage advice. Summer is too busy anyway, with gardening and other canning so it’s nice to have something cheery and delicious to make in winter.

My mother didn’t like marmalade and never made it even though she liked to create a flow of other jams, pickles and relishes out of her kitchen, but it was my dad’s favourite and he always bought the Co-op brand of the three-fruit variety from his flagship store since he was a proud Co-op board member.

  • 1 orange, or 2 if small
  • 1 heavy grapefruit
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 6 c. or so of white sugar; see directions below

Cut the fruit in thin slices with a sharp knife. Aunt Mattie cut her slices paper thin, something I’ve never been able to reproduce, even with a sharp knife.

Set to soak in 11 cups of water overnight.

In the morning, put on the stove to boil down to two-thirds volume.

To this, add an equal amount of sugar.

Stir well. Add the butter. Boil gently to jelly test. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Now here’s my thoughts on the jelly test:

A jelly test is done with a large, clean, cold metal spoon like a soup or serving spoon. Dip it in the cooking fruit and when lifting it out, turn it to a horizontal position. To begin with, you’ll see a flow of drops run off the side of the spoon. As it cooks a little more, you’ll see two drops fall off more slowly, and after a few more minutes, those two drops will combine and fall off in a sort of sheet. That’s the point of a successful jelly test.

However, I’ve only seen this happen once. Therefore, I rely on a thermometer for success.

It’s a nice, romantic idea to try to make jellies using the old-fashioned methods, but there’s just no point in taking the risk of cooking it so long it results in a product that’s too stiff to get out of the jar, or so runny it runs off your toast. Modern technology wins out over old school ways in my kitchen.

The jelly test is a reading of 220 F on a candy and jelly thermometer (the same thermometer is used for making both these foods).

Points to remember while making marmalade:

  • Cook in a very large pot. After you add the sugar and start it boiling, it will rise up one-half again the original height. Bring to a boil slowly and watch closely. Think of it as a small child on a chair — it will try to escape the first time you look away.
  • Stir very well after adding the sugar and before you start cooking it.
  • Seeds will rise to the top during cooking and can be scooped out with a spoon.

Have a happy January day in your kitchen.

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