I decided at practically the last minute to join the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, and this is my actual last minute entry for January. This month’s preserve is marmalade. I’ve made marmalade once before. A coworker brought a huge bucket of backyard Meyer lemons into the office and let me take 3 pounds for free. I made 5 half pints, I think, and I ended up giving all of them away as gifts. Time to try it again and actually keep some this time!
This is a wordy post! You can scroll to the bottom for a very wordy recipe/walk-through of my method.
For my second shot at marmalade, I was inspired by Putting Up with Erin’s Angostura Blood Orange Marmalade. This post hit a couple sweet spots for me: we have two shelves of bitters, it uses a different method than the overnight soak I tried last time, and I always get good results with Erin’s recipes. And I like alcohol.
As I read the recipe, it occurred to me that I was almost making an Old Fashioned in a jar. Old Fashioneds are a classic Midwestern cocktail. They’re usually made of sugar muddled with bitters, whiskey (usually bourbon or rye), and a fruit garnish of an orange peel/slice and/or cherry.
For the marmalade, I could use cherry bitters and add whiskey. Using blood oranges for the marmalade would even give it the right Old Fashioned color. One of the better Old Fashioneds I’ve had locally featured a brown sugar ice cube, which I could reference by using brown sugar instead of white sugar. I could even use this marmalade to make Old Fashioneds at home! We don’t usually keep preserved cherries or fresh oranges around and I love jam cocktails.
At this point I fell down a rabbit hole of marmalade research. I had two basic questions: how much whiskey do I add, and when? I definitely wanted to be able to taste the alcohol, but I didn’t want to end up with an inedible ethanol sucker-punch.
Most of the whiskey marmalade recipes I found suggested adding the booze at the end of the process. My inspiration recipe agreed. Erin says: “Depending on your preferences, I’d suggest adding 3-5 tablespoons of bitters. Adding the bitters right before the set point ensures that the flavor of the bitters doesn’t burn off.”
Whiskey marmalade recipes varied widely in how much whiskey they added, anywhere from 3 tablespoons to an entire cup for 3 pounds of fruit. I figured I didn’t want to add more than 1/2 cup extra liquid to the semi-finished product. This was an arbitrary decision based on anxiety about set and no actual knowledge. But would 1/4 c bitters (4 tablespoons) and 1/4 c whiskey be too boozy or imbalanced?
I didn’t want a recipe so much as an explanation of what alcohol does to marmalade and how to figure out a good proportion without ruining a batch. I found three interesting approaches:
- The Rhubarb Fool: “DON”T add too much alcohol if you like a boozy marmalade as it will prevent it from setting. Keep the alcohol content down to 2% of the finished product if you want to achieve a set without boiling for too long. Dr Chung informed us that alcohol will help to clarify your marmalade and will not all be boiled away but will reduce proportionately with the rest of the liquid.”
- For a six cup batch, that would be just about 2 tablespoons. That doesn’t sound like enough.
- Amy Pennington: After simmering and cooling the marmalade overnight, “Measure the marmalade…For every cup of citrus, measure out 1 tablespoon of bourbon and set aside.”
- That seems sensible and would put me at about 6 tablespoons if my yield is on target. But she doesn’t explain why!
- Beyond the Quail: “Once it reached setting point, I added cognac and orange liqueur to taste. Actually, I probably added a bit too much. It’s a boozy jam.”
- Good point, why don’t I just taste as I go?
I decided to go ahead and experiment using my 1/2 cup, 1:1 whiskey to bitters ratio as a starting point. I mixed 1 T whiskey and 1 T bitters, tasted it, and found the bitters were overpowering the whiskey. I ended up filling my 1/2 cup with 3 T bitters and 5 T whiskey, which was still a little strong on the cherry flavor.
Once the marmalade hit a good setting point, I added the alcohol 1/8 cup at a time. 1/4 c was almost perfect but a bit weak. 3/8 was fantastic, but I wanted to see if it’d get better if it were slightly more intense. The full 1/2 c was a bit too boozy, so I just brought the marmalade back up to a boil for a few minutes. This actually burned off enough booze to make it similar to the 1/4 c flavor, but it’s still pretty damn good. It really does taste like an Old Fashioned! I’m proud and excited for breakfast tomorrow.
So if you want to play with this, here’s what I did. My recipe is cobbled together from a couple sources, mostly Erin’s Angostura Blood Orange Marmalade and the blood orange marmalade recipe in Food in Jars.
Supposedly makes 6 half pints, but I got 8.
- 3 pounds blood oranges
- Mine were organic farmer’s market oranges, and I picked the smallest ones on the theory that more pith & rind might help with the set.
- 6 cups brown sugar
- 6 cups orange simmering liquid, reserved
- 2 teaspoons low-sugar pectin
- That’s what I had on hand, for whatever reason.
- 5 tablespoons whiskey of your choice
- I used St. George Single Malt (lot 8), because I’m trying to use my massive hoard of rare whiskeys instead of just sitting on them like a dragon. Bulleit will do you fine. I imagine the Spirit Works rye would be particularly nice.
- 3 tablespoons cherry bitters
- I used some great cherry bitters that a friend made. Cherry is an easier flavor to find in a nicer liquor store, and you can also make your own.
- Don’t use any equipment that isn’t non-reactive.
- Scrub the oranges and put them in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover them with water. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and put the lid on the pot.
- Simmer the oranges until the rinds are tender to your liking, at least easily pierced by a fork. This took me 2 hours.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let the oranges cool completely. This will also take a few hours, or you’ll get bored and forget about it for a few hours.
- Grab two bowls and a cutting board. Pluck the oranges from the pot one at a time. Cut each orange in half across the mid-section and scoop out the guts with a spoon. Check carefully for seeds and discard them. Put the seeded pulp in one bowl and the pith/rind shell in another.
- Measure out 6 cups of the cooking water left in the pot. Dump anything extra, and put the 6 reserved cups of cooking water back in the pot. Also throw the bowl of orange pulp and juice into the pot.
- Whisk 2 teaspoons of pectin into your 6 cups of sugar. Add the sugar & pectin mixture into the pot and stir. Set this mixture on high heat to get it warming up while you deal with your rinds.
- Deal with your rinds. Stack 4 half oranges inside each other, then cut them in half again. Take each stack of orange rind quarters and thinly slice them, aim for 1/8″ wide. Cut them wider or shorter if you want, no one is the boss of you. Throw the strips of rind into the pot as you go.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Cook it at a controlled boil for as long as it takes to get the volume reduced by half. Stir regularly. This took me over an hour, at least 4 episodes of Archer.
- Check the temperature often using an instant read thermometer or whatever cooking thermometer you can find in your drawer. The marmalade is done when you’ve achieved three things: the marmalade has reduced by half, the marmalade stays at 220 degrees F for at least a minute (even while stirring), and the marmalade passes the plate test to your liking. When you’re there, take the marmalade off the heat.
- Mix bitters and whiskey to get 1/2 cup total, or 8 tablespoons. Start by mixing 1 tablespoon of cherry bitters and 1 tablespoon of whiskey together in a small cup or bowl. Taste the mixture to see if you like the balance. The flavor will vary widely based on your bitters and your whiskey. If you want a stronger whiskey flavor, try 1 tablespoons bitters and 3 tablespoons whiskey, and adjust from there.
- Add 1/8th cup of the alcohol mixture to your marmalade and stir. Taste to see if you like it. Keep doing this til you hit a flavor you like or you’re out of alcohol. 3/8ths would have been perfect for me.
- Pour hot marmalade into sterilized half pint canning jars with 1/2″ headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings finger-tight, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 min.
- Remove jars, put them in a quiet place on a folded towel, and leave them alone for 12-24 hours.