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Dec 20, 2002 02:00 PM

What went wrong with my marmalade?

  • k

This week I attempted making and canning marmalade for the first time. I thought the tricky part would be the canning part, but it turned out it was the jam that caused the trouble. (Actually, the truly tricky part was finding mason jars in NYC.) The problem is that it never set up.

I had a recipe for tangerine vanilla bean marmalade. And here is where I may have taken too much liberty -- I substituted limes for tangerines, though using the same amount (two pounds). The recipe said it would take around 1 hour, 20 minutes to jell (or is that gel?) about the same time it would reach 210 degrees. Most other recipes I looked at never cooked the jam for more than 30 minutes.

I know pectin would be the obvious culprit. I didn't add any commerical product (the recipe didn't call for it). And citrus fruit should have adequate pectin by itself, right? Unless, it was completely over ripe, perhaps...

Does anyone know where I went wrong? I intended to give home made marmalade as Christmas presents and now I'm back to the drawing board. Please help my second attempt this weekend to be less traumatic.

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  1. There should be plenty of pectin in your limes (you are using rind too, arent you?) What exactly happened? Did it reach the desired temp and cook the desired time without thickening? What's it like now?

    4 Replies
    1. re: jen kalb

      It did reach the temperature and cooked for about 1.5 hours (though the recipe called for a gentle boil, where others I saw seemed to call for a more vigorous boil for a shorter duration). When I left the house this morning, it seemed syrupy, and not jelly-like at all. I canned the marmalade anyway, on the off chance it'd set up overnight. Apparently it didn't. Could I have overcooked it?

      1. re: Krista G.

        Call it syrup and give it as gifts! It sounds somewhat similar to the syrup served w/french toast at the Firefly Bistro in Pasadena. Have you tasted it? Give yourself a break, sounds as though you created a tasty syrup.

        1. re: Babette

          It isn't the small amount of pectin that might naturally occur in the citrus fruits you are using that would thicken your marmalade. It is getting the sugar to the right temperature. A gentle simmer will reduce the amount of water in your pot, but won't get the sugar hot enough to thicken (? soft ball stage). The best thing to do is to use a candy thermometer. Or go ahead and use pectin. You don't lose points for it.

        2. re: Krista G.

          Could your candy thermometer be off? Can you calibrate it? 5 or 10 degrees could make a big difference in syrup viscosity.

      2. I haven't done it for a few years, but I used to make lots of orange marmalade. I used the recipe from "Great British Cooking, A Well Kept Secret" by Jane Garmey. Here are a few points to remember

        1. The setting temperature is, I think, 220 or 222 degrees F, not the 210 you mentioned. Any canning cookbook or general cookbook, such as "Joy of Cooking" will have the exact temperature.

        2. The recipe I used was for a very large quantity, 9 oranges, 6# of sugar and 21 cups of water, and it always took what seemed like FOREVER to get to the proper temperature. The amount of time given in the recipes was always too short.

        3. Overcooking would not make it syrupy, rather it would make it more solidly jelled. I always went a few degrees over the required temperature to be sure to achieve a good set.

        4. Much of the pectin in the fruit is concentrated in the seeds. I always included the seeds, tied up in cheesecloth in the cooking process, and removed them when the marmalade was done.

        5. My marmalade always took a few days to set fully, escpecially if the weather was hot or humid.

        You can dump everything out and reboil it to the proper temperature, and recan it in sterilized jars with new dome lids.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ruth arcone

          Thanks to everyone for their advice. All I can figure is that my marmalade did not reach the proper temperature, even though it seemed like it was cooking for ages. The recipe I used called for a "gentle" boil and I may have taken that too literally. Every other one I've looked at since uses terms like "brisk" or "rolling."

          I'm debating whether or not I should add the vanilla beans in my second attempt. They seem harmless enough, but maybe they threw off the ph or something (though this doesn't seem likely). I did include the seeds, membranes, rinds -- all that good pectin-containing matter.

          Far-away friends will now be recieving these as New Year's gifts rather than Christmas ones. But as they say better late than never.