Adventures in Marmalade Making

by Harry on December 13, 2023

This is my marmalade-making time of the year. Not because it’s the only time I can get hold of Seville oranges – I can get hold of the MaMade tins any time of year, and have only ever gotten fresh ones to use one time that I happened to visit a friend in Arizona who complained about the fruit trees outside that produced oranges that were inedibly bitter (I picked 10lbs and brought them straight home). It’s actually because of the grapefruit.

Only being able to get hold of MaMade (very inexpensive, at Amazon, makes excellent marmalade) gives rise to a problem. MaMade is only sold in a thin cut version. So, what if you like thick cut? I finally figured out the solution, which is to buy two white grapefruit, that are only available, here, December-February, and chop the rind roughly. You simply add that to the marmalade and you have a rough cut Seville orange marmalade with just a hint of grapefruit flavour, but really just a hint.

I’m not finished with the regular marmalade yet. I specifically like Oxford marmalade – once you’ve had that its hard to go back. And I like it bitter. Conventional recipes tell you to substitute black treacle or molasses for some of the sugar, but no recipe has gone far enough for me. And the 4lbs of sugar recommended to accompany a tin of MaMade makes for too sweet a result. So – I use 2lbs of sugar and 1lb of treacle/molasses, which gets exactly the flavour I want.

Still there’s a problem. With only 3/4ths the recommended level of sugar, how do you get the marmalade to set properly? One way is to add phenomenal amounts of pectin. But almost as good is just to simmer the concoction for much longer than recommended, just to reduce the liquid, until you have something that, while runny, is adequately viscous to stay on toast (or if you are Paddington or the late Queen, in a sandwich). I generally cook for about around 3 hours, most of it on a very low heat, but occasionally boiling it while stirring vigorously. You’ll end up with less than 5lbs of marmalade, but with an intense flavour so you use less at a time.

A student the other day revealed her obsession with grapefruit and that prompted to me attempt fully grapefruit marmalade.

Now – As mentioned already I can actually buy fresh white grapefruit for a couple of months of the year, and this is exactly the season, so I bought 5lbs of grapefruit. Even white grapefruit is nowhere near as bitter as Seville oranges (indeed, delicious with no sugar at all), so I thought I should probably halve the sugar recommended in the various recipes I saw, and add some black treacle/molasses. So… I chopped up the grapefruits, added some water (not sure why) and 3/4 cup of sugar per grapefruit and some molasses on top of that.

After about an hour of cooking at a lowish heat I saw there was a problem. Basically it looked nothing like marmalade, just a mass of darkish rind. Grapefruit rind is thick and, apparently, there’s a lot of it. It looked absurd and unmanageable. And when I tasted it – it was bitter beyond imagination. My wife pointed out to me that when I eat a grapefruit without sugar I don’t actually eat the rind – which, it turns out, is astonishingly bitter and of which, it turns out, there’s a lot.

The bitterness was easy to manage. I just added sugar until it was edible. My estimate is that I ended up with about 7 cups of sugar for 5lbs of grapefruit, plus a cup of treacle molasses. That was fine. But – I still had the problem that of a melee of rind, rather than actual marmalade. Just as I was about to give up I hit on the solution. I put about 2/3rds of the mix in a blender, which created a traditionally jam-like substance, which, when mixed with the remaining rind looked like a sludgy marmalade.

Some of you will be revolted by some aspect of this description (bitterness, rind, sludge, molasses, whatever). But if you are not – my new grapefruit marmalade is entirely delicious. An excellent Christmas gift for the right person, if you can find them!



NomadUK 12.13.23 at 5:21 pm

Sounds lovely. It’s so difficult to find proper thick-cut, bitter, orange marmalade here. I may be inspired to try your recipe.

Or I may just remain a lazy bugger and order something online.


SamChevre 12.14.23 at 2:28 am

I learned to make marmalade because my wife loves English marmalade, and when we were newly married it was neither easily available nor at all affordable. Like you, I use grapefruit for the bitterness: I dilute it with orange and add lemons to get the acidity as we prefer it.

My recipe is 3 lemons, 3 juicing oranges, 1 grapefruit, 2x as much water as fruit by weight. I boil it every 24 hours for 3 days, and then make it into marmalade by adding an equal weight of sugar and cooking until it sets. For great detail, and troubleshooting and experiments, see <a href=’,8510.msg343172.html#msg343172″>here.


Phil 12.14.23 at 10:22 am

I use a kilo of Seville oranges (plus one lemon) to two kilos of sugar; no added pectin, just use what comes out of the pip bag (which does mean a longer boil before you get a set – but if you like it darker you’d want to boil it longer anyway, to let the sugar start to caramelise). One year I substituted a couple of bergamot oranges for some of the oranges, which worked well (NB neither they nor grapefruits play well with some medications). Set varies year to year, but flavour is consistently great.

Since developing arthritis in my hands I’ve worried every year that this time the chopping would be too much for me, but so far so good. I think my pip-bag-squeezing probably isn’t what it was, though, which may explain the relative looseness of the last couple of batches (fortunately last year’s wasn’t too loose, just very slightly looser than I’d like it – and who wants perfection anyway?).


oldster 12.14.23 at 1:58 pm

Excellent write-up, and a very fun account of adventures in the kitchen.
I had never heard of a kind of marmalade called “Oxford” marmalade, and now I hope to try some someday, being keen on the unmatriculated variety.
Just for the sake of clarity in recipes: when you give weights for fruit (e.g. 5lbs grapefruit) these are weights for the whole fruits, in merchantable condition, or for the rind alone?
Phil is right about pharmaceutical interactions with grapefruit; it’s a serious issue for some meds, e.g. statins and some anticoagulants. The effects can be severe.


Harry 12.14.23 at 3:39 pm

One of my frustrations with MaMade is no pips/pip-bag. The one time I’ve made it with fresh fruit flown in (by me) from Arizona, setting was so much better. Sorry to hear about the arthritis.

They’re weights for the whole fruit! (handily, each grapefruit is not much less than 1 lb). Even so, very quickly, all I could really see was rind, hence the problem for which the blender was necessary.

The Arizona story, by the way, makes me despair about the probably hundreds of thousands of lbs of seville oranges that go to waste in people’s yards because they don’t know what they are, and just think they’re inedible oranges.

I’d never thought of boiling the mix regularly over a several day period, and will try that next time!


Neville Morley 12.15.23 at 7:28 am

I do like dark, vintage-style marmalade, so have always used molasses and dark Demerara sugar – I need to try treacle. This has also been my most consistent prize-winner at the local show, whereas lighter marmalades with a bit of lemon, while delicious, tend to get a third prize at best.


Ken_L 12.15.23 at 7:43 am

My favorite marmalade recipe is basically put some surplus citrus through the blender until it’s in small pieces, add an equal quantity of sugar, add some water if it looks too dry, and boil until it looks like jam.


Trader Joe 12.15.23 at 11:43 am

Thanks for the amusing story and enjoy the creation.

It reminded me of my first encounter with Sevilla oranges. Is was in Sevilla, Spain nearly 40 years ago with my parents at Christmas time. In the town the famous orange trees are ubiquitous – not lining every street, but many. That time of the year every tree was in fruit.

As a teenager full of energy I thought – dude, free oranges!

I found a likely tree and jumped as high as my then about 5’5″ frame could manage and barely managed to snag the literally lowest hanging fruit. Later that afternoon during a break I peeled my prize and proceeded to bite into the single most bitter thing I’ve ingested before or since.

I described as tasting like battery acid but I’m sure that’s unfair to batteries. Just writing about it has brought the taste back to mind – I think I’ll eat a Snickers Bar to get rid of it.

Moral – there’s no such thing as ‘free’ fruit.


Tim Worstall 12.17.23 at 11:41 am

One of the little oddities is that here in the Algarve we’re surrounded by orange trees – from great farms of them to just one or more in overgrown gardens of abandoned rural cottages. But it’s near impossible to buy marmalade (marmelada is something entirely different, made from quinces). Even though Seville is only a couple of hundred km away they’re the wrong type of oranges here (sweet, derived from Goa). It is possible to buy a doce, an orange jam, but doce amarga (ie, bitter jam) is a rarity. It’s just not a standard part of what is commercially produced.

Of course, with the number of expats here there are imports of Dundee’s finest and so on. But it’s just one of those little things that amuses, surrounded by orange plantations and yet no marmalade.

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