I’m entering a marmalade competition! The Culinary Historians of Canada are hosting a Seville Marmalade competition at Fort York on 2016 February 20th.
… I’ve never entered a culinary competition before, so …
Since the judging criteria (available at the link above) include clarity of the marmalade, evenness of the peel size and shape, and an even distribution, I’ve somewhat modified my standard method of making Seville Marmalade. I’ll note specific changes below, but essentially, I cut the peel more carefully for the competition batch, and I did not add any additional pectin into that competition batch.
My Basic Method
- Sort and wash the Seville oranges
- Cut the Sevilles roughly into eighths. I make the first cut through the equator of the fruit (to open the large cells into pieces, maximizing the release of juice). Then — and this is a particular change to produce more even-sized and shaped pieces of peel — I cut make parallel cuts rather than classic ‘smiles’. (See one of the images below for a visual understanding …)
- Put all the Seville slices and any escaped juice into large cooking pots and just barely cover with water. Slowly bring to a boil, and then simmer the fruit until the peel ‘rubs to soft stage between thumb and finger’. You’ll know the feel when you get it …
- Soak the peel down in my cold room for two or three days in the water. The liquid thickens and the flavours and pectins seem to draw out.
- Filter the juice from the pulp using a colander.
- Scrape the pieces of peel using sharp-edged tablespoon. I have a special spoon from an old set of cutlery. I don’t remove anything forcefully, just what comes easily off. The pulp goes into one bowl, and the peel into another, with the liquid draining through a sieve into a third bowl.
- Stack the peel pieces in parallel on a cutting board and then use a sharp knife to cut the peel into shape. Normally, I don’t care whether the peel is terribly even in size or shape. I like thick-cut peel that adds a gentle pleasing texture to the softness of the body of the marmalade itself. For the purposes of the competition, I paid particular attention to the parallel-sided pieces of peel as cut in step #2. (See one of the images below …)
- Often I use a Foley Food Mill to mash the remaining pulp to extract more substance which I then add back into the juice. I care more about the final flavour than overall clarity. However, for the competition batch, I did not add any mashed pulp back into the juice.
- In total, starting with 26 huge Seville oranges this year, I ended up with 24 cups juice or ‘liquor’, 15 cups ordinary hodgepodge cut peel, and 8 cups carefully sized- and shaped peel.
- To actually boil the marmalade, I start with 9 cups fruit (i.e., peel + juice) — which takes a bit of ratio-and-proportion calculating — and then add 11 cups white sugar. … I use a big pot …
- Slowly heat the peel + juice mixture, stirring to avoid burning the peel on the bottom of the pot. When the fruit mixture is well warmed, I slowly add in the sugar, stirring constantly. I make very sure that the sugar is fully dissolved and not accumulating on the bottom of the pot before I turn up the heat.
- Once the peel + juice + sugar is boiling gently, I simmer it for several hours with the lid off.
- If I want relatively light coloured marmalade, I will carefully add half a cup of sugar at a time, stirring fully and letting the temperature stabilize upwards with each addition of sugar. Once the mixture ‘looks’ finished (either by sound, by actual look, by the wrinkle-on-a-frozen-plate method, or the sheeting-off-a-spoon method), I quickly heat the marmalade to a brief rolling boil. My best success is to consider marmalade ‘finished’ when the temperature reaches 6 Celcius degrees above the measured boiling temperature of plain water that day. (This is higher than usually recommended, but it works for me.)
- Often I will add perhaps just a couple of tablespoons of powdered canning pectin into each big batch to ensure a good set with peel that doesn’t float. (For the competition batch this year, I did not add any pectin.)
- Once the marmalade is off the stove, I stir it gently and occasionally for 20 or more minutes until the temperature drops into the low 90sC.
- Then I ladle the marmalade into jars — hoping desperately that the peel doesn’t float — and put the lids onto the jars, wiping the jars clean as they cool.
- I’ve been known to despairingly take ‘floaty’ jars and turn them upside down for a few minutes while they cool. This is probably not ‘officially allowed’ — but it works … (See my note below for recent thoughts on why peel might possibly float some years worse than others …)
- This year’s results: 10 * 500ml jars, 41 * 250ml jars, 12 + 125 jars = approx total of 16.5 litres of wonderful Seville Marmalade to have with toast and more, to bake with, to share with family, and to gift to friends! Yum!!!
- And I still have 6 Seville oranges with which to practice what I’ll learnt through this competition!
A partial Visual Guide
2016 Sevilles from Coachella, CA. I have a good-sized hand — these are the biggest Sevilles I’ve seen in about two decades! 48 of these Sevilles in a box cost me $70 this year. Last year, the same-sized box of Sevilles, also from California, cost me about $65 and included 109 much-smaller still excellent Sevilles.
Seville oranges cut 2 ways: parallel in back and smiles in left front. This year for the competition batch, I used the back parallel cuts of peel.
On the left is the lovely sharp-edged tablespoon scooping out peel. On the right is the scraped peel carefully lined up to be cut into uniform pieces for the competition batch.
A view of the two piles of scraped peel and the cut peel. Above the knife is the parallelograms and uniform pieces of competition peel; on the bottom is my normal style of smile wedges of peel, and the higgledy-piggledy more random pieces of peel.
I was fascinated with the story that my first-year Psychology prof told of his father working with Wilder Penfield, the brilliant Montreal neurosurgeon and early brain researcher. Penfield was the first brain researcher to selectively put electrodes into the brains of conscious and consenting human patients. My prof told of one bricklayer who upon particular stimulation could relate the details of each brick he was laying in a particular wall several decades previously. Fascinating! Each year I pay attention to some of the ‘odd’ shapes of my normal irregular peel, noting several unusual pieces, be they triangular, or in some other way particular. … I’ve never yet found one of those pieces in any marmalade later in the year … But maybe some year …
A portrait of the marmalade artist as an old man …
To Float or Not to Float
I’ve puzzled for many years as to why some batches and some years produce more floating peel than other years. This year was particularly ‘bad’. For the non-competion jars, I turned them upside down while they were cooling, sometimes for as much as ten or fifteen minutes. The marmalade doesn’t taste any different, whether floating or not. But I do agree that it looks better.
This year, my zoologist wife suggested to her botanist husband that perhaps floating has something to do with the proportion of aerenchymatous tissue (i.e., airy pithy cells) in the white of the peel. BINGO! What an obvious possibility that this plant-obsessed marmalade maker has never considered. In retrospect, the small oranges of last year had thinner skins, and also produced very little floating peel. The huge oranges this year had thick white layers under the also-thick orange epidermal layers of peel — and nearly every jar floated.
I’d previously thought that slow simmering would help the sugars infuse into the peel and even their density so as to minimize floating. That hypothesis never did quite explain everything, but …
I have six huge Seville oranges left, and next week, after I see what the marmalades of other people look like, and after I talk with other competitors, and hear from the judges, I will make a final test batch to see if I can improve the quality of my marmalade.
I tried to pass this photo off to my family as one of my late wonderful mother. One of my ever-gracious sisters pointed out that it was undoubtably of me — and that despite the particular grimace I share with my mother, my mother never wore a hat like that, and that my chest was too flat … Ouch!
This is actually my annual eating of a section of fresh Seville orange. Try it! Sour, bitter, juicy, sweet — and so much promise!
My hopes rest on this jar … (And I think I know what’s ‘wrong’ with it — though taste isn’t one of those things!)