In my last post I discussed the virtues of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, and encouraged you to eat them up during the few short weeks that we can get them. In this post I’ll talk about how to preserve them so that you can spread your morning whole wheat toast with exquisite marmalade long after the season is over.
First, the disclaimer: nearly all my ideas about marmalade came from John Thorne, a remarkably quirky, idiosyncratic, and interesting food writer. I strongly advise getting his book Mouth Wide Open and reading the chapter “Maximum Marmalade,” because you’ll learn good marmalade-making technique, get all the comments and asides of a working cook in his element, and have a great time. I happened to reread his book at a time when I was thinking about the concentration of beneficial flavanoids such as naringenin, hesperidin, and rutin in citrus peel, and wondering how to make them taste good. Naturally, a chunky and delicious marmalade was the way to go.
First, catch your blood oranges. There are two basic types on the market right now, one the size of a lemon or a little bigger, deep red inside, and filled with tart juice with a definite note of raspberry. The other is the size of a navel orange and only lightly blushed inside, and the juice is sweet. The former type is best for marmalade. I have only found it at the Nob Hill branch of La Montanita Co-op this week, so act fast if you want to get some. If all you can find is the other kind, you can still make a great marmalade, but it won’t be quite the same. Buy about 15 of the small ones or 7-8 of the big ones. The two types are shown below:
Next, get a really sharp knife. For my local readers I advise a trip to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market with all your knives in hand. Look for Pat Romero’s sharpening booth, and he will sharpen them to lethality while you shop. Please let him know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you, and be damn careful when you unwrap them at home, because a knife sharpened by Pat has no margin for error.
Now wash the 4 prettiest small oranges, or the one best if using the larger sort. Cut off the two ends enough to reveal the flesh, cut in half lengthwise, and slice each half crosswise into the finest slices that you can manage. Remove any seeds, but keep everything else. Put your slices in a bowl, and juice the remaining oranges until you have enough juice to cover the slices. Cover the bowl tightly and let the slices macerate in juice overnight at room temperature.
The next day, put the entire contents of the bowl in a saucepan of at least twice the volume of the mixture, bring to a boil briefly, and simmer gently until the peel is as tender as you like, remembering that it will firm up some when cooked with sugar. When the peel is softened to your preference, measure how much orange goop you have and add 3/4 that much sugar. I recommend white sugar only, to avoid distorting the wonderful orange taste. Now bring to a boil briefly again, and cook at a fast simmer until it’s ready to gel. John’s test, which is the best one I’ve come across, is to put a heavy plate in the freezer before you start cooking. After cooking the orange-sugar mixture for 15 minutes, start putting a half teaspoon or so on the cold rim of the plate. Return to the freezer for a minute and then prod the dribble with your finger. When it softly holds its new prodded shape, it’s done. Pour it into clean jars, let cool, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator, or see the Ball Blue Book for directions on how to heat-process so that it can be stored in the pantry until opened. In the morning, toast and butter a piece of very good bread, spread it with butter and marmalade, and eat. Oh my.
Incidentally, cooking any sugar syrup requires a watchful cook hovering over the stove to stir and prevent boil-overs. This is not a forget-it-until-it’s-done recipe. The result is worth it.