oranges

These Cara Cara oranges are gorgeous! I love the variagated colors within them. This is after I had skinned the zest off of them and before I cut them into supremes.

I’ve always liked orange marmalade. It comes in the cute little containers with your biscuits at the local diner. Hey, what’s not to like right? It is just a sweet orange jam–with little flecks of peel in it.

Well, $mucker’s had me fooled. The real deal is tart and tangy and chunky and so different from those bland little sterile containers of jam I was led astray with.

I figured that I would be making marmalades throughout the winter when local produce became scarce. Actually, I still have plenty to do with apples, pears, kiwis & frozen berries. Anyway, I still wanted to try my hand at it.

I started reading through recipes online to see what I wanted to do. I didn’t just plain old orange, so I went with a citrus marmalade recipe that contained grapefruits, lemons and oranges. So often my test batches of jam turn out so well that I end up selling them. I assumed that this would be no different, so I wanted to come out of the box swinging.

I used a peeling tool and a sharp knife to take the outer layer of skin off the fruit. I love citrus zest. Please, don’t waste your time or money with store bought zest. For some reason, I did years ago and it had about as much orange flavor as the cardboard box that oranges are shipped in. I didn’t know how easy and amazing fresh or even home dried zest can be. That’s a story for another time.

BTW, there is a lot of real estate to a grapefruit compared to its other citrus cousins. I ended up with a ton of zest and pith from it. –Yet another side note– The inner membrane of citrus fruits is one of the main sources of pectin. This recipe has you boil the zest, oh, and chop it how you want to eat it. I got a little lazy and ended up with some unspreadable chunks of it in the batch. (totally tasty though)

Like to cook? Make sure your knife is sharp!! If you do much cutting at all, you will need to sharpen your blade at least monthly. I know that might sound foreign or at least excessive, but with a little maintence, your knives will make cutting a breeze. Ok, back to the story…

I found a recipe that I liked. You cut off the colored part of the peel, mince it and boil it for 30 mins. While that is brewing, cut the segments out of the citrus fruit. It is called making supremes, (sue–prems). Youtube is a great place to see it in action. A ton of the fruit is wasted in the process, but you end up with lovely, membrane-less segments. In fact, they are so pretty that others in your proximity will want to pop them into their ungrateful little mouths. Another reason to keep your knife sharp… You will realize that a couple big bites and all of your hard work will be gobbled up. So, keep the family at bay or they will grow to fear you when they hear you are making marmelade again.

The next step is to cook the supremes, zest and zest water with sugar. To help with the set, they have you wrap all of the odds and end pieces from your knife work in cheesecloth and boiling it with the zest mixture–thus getting the natural pectin from the membanes in the bag.

Yes, I know many, many people get good sets from the “natural pectin” of the fruit. Buuuut, for me, I will add pectin. Maybe I’m impatient–I am–but this “natural pectin” NEVER works for me. I also have a tendency to burn the jam to the pan while trying to get a “natural set.” I’ve still got some “natural set” on one of my pans from a quince incident….

Anyway, the spread is cooking and will set nicely when I pull out my refractometer to test the sugar level. No, homecooks do not need to worry about this. However, as a commercial producer, I have to have a brix, or sugar % of 65%. Yes, every commercially made jam, jelly or preserve is at least 65% sugar. It is actually mandated by the Fedreal Gov that you have to have this sugar level to call your product a jam, jelly or preserve. I will write more about this later.

It is only 30% sugar, so I start to add more sugar. And more sugar. And more…. Cripes, I had started with 6 cups of sugar already. It seemed like the sugar level was really slow to rise. After seeming buckets of sugar were added, the marmalade was ready. I jarred it up and processed it for 10 mins in a waterbath.

Oooh, it was pretty. As I was cleaning up, I licked the jam ladel and got a good taste of it. Yes, it was sweet, but even worse, it was grainy!! WTF?!!?

I popped open a jar and confirmed my fear, it was grainy!! I started searching the web for “grainy marmalade fixes”, and didn’t get much help–ok, not surprised. But, I did learn that if you add sugar late in the jam set/boil stage it may not completely dissolve. Ohhh, that makes sense. Figures.

Well, I am a stickler for quality, so I decided to not sell that batch. I think I only have a jar or two of the grainy, but heavenly sweet and tart, big zest chunk marmelade left. It is ahhh-mazing! No, you can’t taste the grains at all when you put it on toast! It is the best orange-peely candy taste in a luminous sweet gel. Oh my, it wasn’t hard to eat this “bad” batch at all!

So lessons learned: don’t add sugar late in the batch and always eat your mistakes! This next batch with the Cara Cara’s will be epic! Here’s the recipe from which my marmalade adventure began. http://www.foodinjars.com/2010/02/three-citrus-marmalade-recipe/

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