I think of blood oranges as the jewels of the citrus world: superficially, because each and every time I cut one open inevitably I hold my breath: but mainly because they're *so* seasonal (unlike most other varieties of citrus which are a little disconcertingly, readily available year-round). When I see them, I buy them. Full stop.
If I'm stressed or procrastinating about something, or I simply find myself with *too many* strawberries, apricots, beetroot, artichokes, cherries, blood oranges... I usually retreat to the kitchen for a couple of hours of washing, chopping, stirring and waiting, surrounded by bottles and jars - 'preserving the season'; be it with sugar, vinegar, salt or oil. I always seem to feel much better for it and there's a lot to be said for being able to open one's pantry and find it chock-full of jars of homemade pickles, jams, bottled fruits and chutneys.
Once opened, a jar of blood orange marmalade doesn't last long in our house. Not 'just' something to be spread thickly on toast; we eat it on cheese plates, spooned onto creamy rice pudding, with Greek yoghurt at breakfast, as a quick sauce for a couple of duck breasts, it makes the best glaze for a Christmas ham, and recently found its way into cake batter when I made the little orange and almond cakes below (recipe adapted from my first blog post).
Make this once and I promise you'll want to make it again, and again...
Blood Orange and vanilla Marmalade
Makes 8-9 340ml (12oz) jars
1 kilo blood oranges (approx. 5-6)
1.5 - 1.8 kilos raw sugar (or up to 2 kilos for a more jam-like preserve)
120ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice (from approx. 2 lemons)
1 vanilla bean, split (optional)
Scrub oranges well in hot water to remove any wax, cut them in half, squeeze and reserve the juice, and finely slice peel including the pith. Put juice and peel into a jam pan or non-reactive (stainless steel or glass) bowl and cover with 2.5 litres cold water. Leave to soak for at least 12 hours and up to 24.
Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the peel is tender and everything has reduced by about 1/3 (approx. 1.5 - 2.5 hours).
Increase the heat to high and add lemon juice and sugar, stirring only until the sugar has dissolved. Throw in the vanilla bean, if using, and boil rapidly until the marmalade registers 104.5C on a candy thermometer (about 30 minutes), remove from the heat and check the setting point (as below). Allow the marmalade to sit for about 8 minutes, then skim (if you wish) and stir gently. Bottle hot (above 85C) marmalade into hot, clean jars (see previous post for instructions on sterilising bottles and jars) and seal immediately with screw-on lids. Leave undisturbed overnight, check the seal, and store in a cool, dark place. Provided the jars were sterilised and the seal is effective the marmalade will keep for up to two years.
C(h)ook's notes -
- A stainless steel preserving pan that widens at the top is preferable, but a large, wide, heavy bottomed stock pot will work also work well. I am lucky enough to own not one, but two copper preserving pans, but these are unsuitable for use with high-acid fruits such as blood oranges.
- Don't be tempted to try to hurry the process. The initial soaking and cooking time is important as it will soften the peel and help draw out pectin. Adding the sugar too early will halt this process.
- The initial cooking time will depend somewhat on how thinly (or thickly) your peel is sliced, but also on the time of the season (i.e. early or late fruit).
- A few cardamom pods (bruised with a mortar and pestle or rolling pin) make a nice alternative to the vanilla bean, but equally the marmalade is delicious simply fruit and sugar.
- A funnel with a wide spout that fits neatly into jars, while certainly not essential, is inexpensive and well-worth having.
Notes on 'setting point' -
- There are a few ways to test setting point, including the crinkle or saucer test, and the flake test. I find the temperature test (using a candy thermometer) the most reliable, but I'll often double-check with the crinkle test. Place a small plate in the freezer before you begin boiling the fruit. To test, remove the pan from the heat, spoon a little marmalade onto the plate, and return it to the freezer for a minute or two. Push with your finger, if the marmalade wrinkles gently it will be soft set once cool. For a firmer set, the wrinkle should stay in place when you push the marmalade.
- Pay close attention to the bubbles on the surface of the marmalade; you will notice that their appearance changes as the mixture reaches setting point and this will be an additional guide for future batches.
- Increasing the volume, stirring the marmalade after the sugar has dissolved, or using a pan with sides that are too high will increase the time it will take to reach setting point.
- After waiting several hours for the marmalade to completely cool, check that it has set. If it is too runny, re-boil and bring the marmalade back to temperature, then test again. Re-bottle, as above.