As Fortnum’s marmalade masterclasses get underway, we consider the pleasures of making your own marmalade - and learn a few tips from the experts.
Words: Jo Swinnerton
Making marmalade is a wonderful way to spend a spare afternoon, not least because the house is filled with the scent of boiling citrus fruits, one of the most uplifting smells to come out of a kitchen. If you made marmalade with your mother – or father, for that matter, as many men are keen marmalade-makers – this warm, citrussy scent will be tremendously nostalgic; and making the family marmalade is a lovely tradition to pass on to your own children (and a very good way to use up a wet weekend). But if you’ve never made marmalade before and would like to try your hand, the good news is that Fortnum’s is holding marmalade masterclasses at its Piccadilly store over the next few weeks, to encourage its customers to discover the delights of this very British pastime.
One of our masterclass experts is Jane Hasell-McCosh, a great supporter of homemade marmalade, who has first-hand proof of the enduring popularity of marmalade – and not just in Britain, but right across the world. As the founder of the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, Jane receives more than 1000 entries each year, which arrive from as far afield as Alaska and Japan, each keen to be crowned best in show. Fortnum & Mason – long a champion of marmalade, especially the handmade, artisan kind – is a key sponsor of these awards, and offers a special bonus to the winners; the best marmalades will be sold at Fortnum’s, alongside its own historic range. For the dedicated marmalade-maker, this is surely the ultimate trophy.
The important thing to know about making marmalade is that it is something that everyone and anyone can do, regardless of age, sex or culinary competence. Indeed, the many entrants in the World Marmalade Awards range from experienced cooks to complete beginners, children and families, men and women alike, clergymen, MPs and peers of the realm (Lord Henley was last year’s overall winner). This year, Jane has introduced a Novice category to encourage the first-timer - so if you've never tried making marmalade, this is the perfect time to learn.
Fortnum’s masterclasses will be held in our First Floor Demonstration Kitchen in January and February, with a further session, ‘Cooking with Marmalade’, in March. Each expert will take you through the pleasures and secrets of marmalade-making, proving how fascinating a hobby it can be. The sessions are designed to encourage the beginner, but there will be plenty of ideas for the more experienced, too. For example, although Seville oranges are available for only a few short weeks around January, marmalade can, of course, be made all year round using other citrus fruits such as sweet oranges, grapefruit, kumquats and limes. So these variations will be discussed, along with technical details, such as sterilising and sealing the jars and how to know when the marmalade is at setting point. The true pleasure of making marmalade is that it is very simple, but can be made more complex if the cook so wishes, promising a lifetime of happy experimentation.
How to make Marmalade
Click below to watch Jane guide you through making your own marmalade...
The one thing that unites most marmalade makers is that they each have their own secret recipes and tricks that they swear by. Some of us stick closely to our mother’s recipe; others experiment over the years, tweaking and refining until perfection is achieved. But there’s no perfect formula, as you’ll soon see if you compare the recipes and advice of any two cooks.
In advance of our masterclasses, and in case you can’t wait to get started, here are a few tips from the great and the good of the cookery world.
Jane Grigson in English Food advises that you let marmalade stand for 10-15 minutes before potting, or the peel will sink.
Constance Spry in The Constance Spry Cookbook suggests that before using the preserving pan, you should rub it with a cut lemon to preserve the pure colour of the marmalade. (Note that the recipe was given to her by a Colonel Gore – marmalade has long been a male preserve, if you’ll pardon the pun.)
Tamasin Day-Lewis in Good-Tempered Food advises that you use unrefined sugar, as refined seems to leave a scum on the surface.
Bee Wilson, writing in the New Statesman agrees; ‘unrefined sugar is essential and brown sugar even better’. She also says be careful not to overcook the mixture – knowing when the marmalade is done is the real skill.
Lord Henley, the overall winner at the 2011 World Marmalade Awards (his winning marmalade is pictured above), revealed in post-award interviews that he minced his peel rather than cut it by hand. He modestly put the habit down to laziness, but it may, in fact, have been the secret to his success.
Delia Smith says that it’s vital to keep the marmalade at a rolling boil, as this is necessary to make it set, but the average domestic hob can’t achieve that if the pan is too large. So her advice is to make your marmalade only in small batches. Her second tip is that you shouldn’t start boiling the marmalade until all the sugar has dissolved, which should be done on a gentle heat – otherwise the end result is rather liquid and sugary. Her final tip is to leave the marmalade for 30 minutes, to stop the fruit rising to the top in the jar.
All of this just goes to show that everyone’s marmalade secrets are different – and that is why we should all try making our own.