You know the saying, “when life gives you mandarins, make marmalade”?
What? That’s not the saying? Oh. My mistake.
Well anyway… Life gave me mandarins last week, so I made marmalade.
Mandarin marmalade is not a common marmalade – have you ever seen it on the supermarket shelves or had it with your toast at the hotel buffet? – but ever up for a challenge, I was keen to give it a try.
After picking up a three kilo bucket of mandys on a visit to the Hillside Orchard, I went searching for a recipe online. There weren’t a lot of options, so in the end I picked one from a foodie blog (it had pretty pictures…). Combined with a quick chat to Mum on the details (the Queen of marmalade) and I was all set (pardon the pun)!
First I peeled, leaving me with a lovely soft pile of mandys (and a whole lot of yellow in my fingernails).
I threw out half the skins, then julienned the other half.
I cut the mandys in half horizontally and picked out the pips.
I peeled as much as pith as possible from the fruit and added the pips and the pith into my newly acquired ‘bouquet garni’ bag (bought especially for jam making and slow cooking stews!). I was ready and armed with pectin – this jam was damn well going to set!
So this is perhaps the point where I admit to my setting problem… Apart from the first batch of jam I ever made (plum jam), that it seems was just beginners luck, I struggle to get my preserves to set. Which is fine when it’s Peach & Plum (as it was this summer), because you can simply call it ‘conserve’ (I can always count on my Mum to make me feel better after a kitchen disaster). According to a search on the web, Mum is absolutely correct: “The consistency of a good conserve is usually a little more syrupy than ordinary jam and much sweeter and richer in flavour”. Which means I have got conserve making knocked on the head! But jam, not so much. This includes marmalade. When I made lemon marmalade last winter, I used so much “jam set” to make the damn brew set, I’m not even sure you could call it home-made in the end…
This time, I really was determined. I wanted jelly, not syrup.
So in it all went – fruit, peel, pips, pith, lemon juice, sugar and water – into the jam pot. I was feeling confident…
I did everything right. I stirred regularly as the sugar dissolved. I let it come to the boil (sugary froth going crazy), I turned it down to a simmer, stirred occasionally and let it do its thing. Except it didn’t do its thing. With each set test, there was no set. The colour was good, the flavour was good (tang at the back of your tongue, but still sweet), the fruit had fallen apart, for good hearty consistency. It was all good. Except it was runny. Like syrup. Not set. Like jelly.
It looks gorgeous, don’t you think? Bright orange and chunky. But it doesn’t change the fact that I still have a setting problem.
After letting rip a range of swear words (for said syrup reasons, as well as burning my finger tips while bottling), I googled. A risky choice. It was either going to make me feel a whole lot better or a whole lot worse.
Well, it didn’t make me feel worse and it taught me a few tidbits (too late on this occasion) that might help with future jam endeavours, like: preserving is a science, so buy a sugar thermometer (I can be a jam geek!), don’t add too much water to begin with, you can always add more later and sometimes it’s best to make it in batches.
It’s this one that I’m blaming for my syrupy mandarin marmalade… My pot was too full. Or I just don’t have a big enough jam pot!
But I will not be defeated by runny marmalade. After all, we are heading straight into strawberry season. And everybody loves a good Strawberry Conserve…