Adventures in making marmalade a triumph of teamwork


The season for Seville Oranges is short, it runs from the end of December to Mid February. Realising time was running out Jenny ordered a box from our green grocer Simon last week. He queried whether she really wanted a whole box “that’s a lot of oranges” but Jenny knows what she wants. Our sister Kim came down for a weekend visit. Jenny decided this would be a nice sister bonding activity for the two of them. The plan being to make the Marmalade in our kitchen the wander down to Cantina later for a spot of Sunday lunch and to enjoy the music. Things did not quite go to plan.

When I arrive home 8 hours later they had just finished juicing and zesting the oranges. It turned out that Simon was correct. A whole box is a lot of oranges. Kim was tasked with the juicing, she started out with a little wooden hand juicer (apparently it’s called a reamer, who knew!). These are fine if you are after the juice of one lime for a mojito but less effective when you have a whole box of oranges to juice. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted on top of our bookcase an old metal juice press. Kate had found it at Totnes tip years ago and picked it up for £1.

Jenn peeled and zested the oranges using nothing more than a kitchen knife. Yes that’s right, she took each orange and peeled it then sliced the pith free peel into fine shards. Each and every piece of orange zest in our marmalade was cut by hand. The oranges were then passed to Kim who juiced them one by one. And a mere 8 hours later (lunch missed, live music missed but much bonding achieved) they had a massive pan full of orange juice.

It was all boiled up in huge saucepans on the hob with water and the left over already juice orange remnants. I made the mistake of arriving home from work at this stage and offering to help. “Yes please, you can squeeze the oranges through muslin cloth to get all the juice out”. Ok I think, that sound like a nice mother earth, get your hands dirty kind of job. Not only did I get my hand dirty but by the end of the process I was covered head to foot in bits of orange. And I managed to burn myself repeatedly, it hadn’t occurred to me that recently boiled oranges would be quite so hot.

So now we have 30+ litres of orangey liquid. At this stage Jenn dug out her recipe again and started to do the maths to work out how much sugar was required. If you, like so many others have joined in the anti-sugar movements then this might be a good time to look away. She needed 25kg of sugar for her recipe, she had almost 15kg, then she emptied our cupboards and found another 5kg so when Barry got home from work she sent him out to the shops for another 5kgs. If you are wondering why so much sugar is needed I suggest you taste the juice of a Seville orange. It is tart and bitter and really not very nice.

We all made the mistake of thinking that the hard work was over at this stage. The jam jars had been sterilised, our “marmalade” was bubbling away on the hob. We sat down with a glass of wine each to wait for it to get to setting stage so that we could decant it. Little did we know that the setting stage would not be reached for some time. When I say some time I actually mean days. Yep days.

Due to a technical error – not boiling for long enough (possibly something to do with the glass of wine) and insufficient pectin (the setting agent) – the marmalade did not set.

The following day, Kate joined the marmalade team, she added extra sugar and boiled it up again. Still it didn’t set. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it took 3 more attempts before the blasted stuff, go to the right consistency and turned itself into proper marmalade.

And quite splendid marmalade it is, delicious, fragrants and a gorgeous colour. I defy anyone to show me marmalade with a more perfect orangey shred. 40ltrs of the delicious stuff is now gracing our pantry. Hopefully you’ll love it……….On your toast, coating your gammon at Sunday lunch, gracing a cake with your afternoon tea, dressing a salad and even in a gorgeous breakfast martini.

Note – if you are a shred free marmalade lover I would suggest it would be wise not to mention this to Jenny.

We used a Riverford Farm recipe