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Saturday, December 29, 2012

7 7 7 Marmalade

Last Winter, I made marmalade and wrote about it. The marmalade was great, the recipe acceptable, and the writing kinda bad. 

Last week, I made another batch, because Cara Cara oranges were on sale for 88 cents a pound. A lucky double-eight smiles on fate in many cultures, so I took it as a sign that I should fill a couple bags and get to cooking. Even without mystical callings to make jam, cheapskates like me know that 88 cents is about half the usual sale price, and that it's a good bet the citrus is dead ripe and they're in a hurry to move it. Deal lapse and fruit rots, but every once in a whole fate smiles and if you're alert you can capture it in jars, preserving it til you need it.

With enough for a couple of batches, I had opportunity to improve on last year's operation. So here I am again, reporting, but this time not burdened with writerly pretensions.

It's called 7 7 7 Marmalade because there are 7 pounds of oranges, 7 cups of sugar, and it makes 7 pints. The amount of water isn't 7, but I'm gonna ignore that. Here's the recipe.

7 7 7 Marmalade

Get 7 pounds of oranges, (Cara Cara is what I use, but the main thing is to get something with an aromatic skin.)

Peel the zest from 3 oranges, and then halve and slice the whole batch. Make the first cut from naval to where the stem was, and the slices should be a half centimeter thick. (That's a skinny quarter inch, Americans.) Cut up the zest however you want. I go for a random chop that yields everything from slivers to uncut pinky-sized pieces (That's over 5 cm, everyone else in the world; in the US, "pinky" is your small finger, and is an acceptable unit of measure.) Put the zest aside.

If you're smart, lazy, or both, you'll be sliding the orange slices directly into a 12 quart stock pot, which will be about full when you finish.

Pour 4 cups of water into the pot and start cooking.

I start at the low end of Medium High on the stove, and once the boil begins, start to inch it up to high Medium High. (That's, uh, nobody really knows what temperature stove knob units correlate to. Sorry, citizens of earth.) Let some of the water evaporate, but the goal is not to boil off the liquid; go for a long low boil that dissolves the pulp and a lot of the pith. The end result will remain liquidy and most un-jamlike.

After the first boil.

Now, let it sit til the next day. It gives you a break, and I think it helps maximize the natural pectin. Yeah, that's right, don't add pectin to marmalade. It makes its own. 

When it's time, get your canning set-up in order, and be sure you're ready to stand at the stove and stir for a while. Put on "Blowout Comb" by Digable Planets, or some other hour-long album, and then put the pot back on a low Medium High stove. 

Add 7 cups of sugar and the zest and stir them in well. I also experimented by grating half a nutmeg into one batch at this point, and about an inch of ginger root into the other; not sure if I really taste it.  Watch and adjust the temp as necessary until you have a hearty simmer. No lid this time, because you do want to cook it down. At first, no need to stir constantly, but by about Track 7 (titled "Dial 7," see why this CD fits this recipe?), you should see the marmalade beginning to emerge. I've been using a large metal spatula for the stirring, because it's long handle keeps my hands away from the sugary lava, and it's good for scraping the bottom so nothing sticks. 

There are all sorts of recipes that say the jam must reach specific temperatures, or recommend tests like dropping some jam on a cold plate to see if it is thick enough. But the risk of burning yourself to get thermometer readings or the hassle of another dish to wash are not necessary. Here's how you know it's ready:
  • You see the jam getting darker, and that more of it is sticking to the side of the pot.
  • You hear the boil change from simmer to thick ploppy bubbles, and finally to a rumble bubble that explodes each time you stir.
  • You feel your arm muscles burning as you stir through thickening glop.
Cut the heat and get the jars ready. Make sure your canner water is boiling before you put anything in the jars. I usually start that at the same time as the marmalade boil, dialing down once it reaches its own boil, and then crank it up again along with a smaller pot of water to sterilize the lids when the marmalade is ready.

Leave a centimeter or a skinny half inch of headspace as you fill half or whole pint jars. (I put a spoonful of bourbon in the bottom of two pints, but will wait a while to sample those.) Screw on the lids loosely and process for, you guess it, 7 minutes. 

For those of you who cannot abide stream-of-consciousness recipe format, here's the listy version:

  • 7 pounds oranges, sliced thin after removing the zest of three oranges.
  • 4 cups water
  • 7 cups sugar

Boil 1: oranges and water until pulp dissolves and skins soften
Wait overnight
Boil 2: and sugar and zest to the mix and slowly return to a boil, stirring increasinly often
Use your sense and the done-ness list above to know when to stop.
Boil 3: process half or one-pint jars in boiling water canner for 7 minutes.  

Yields 7 pints.