madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking

chunky Italian-style sweet orange marmalade

30 Comments

a beautiful display of oranges at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

a beautiful display of citrus at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

I have made a scientific study of making marmalade with sweet oranges. Bid deal – you will say – the whole world makes marmalade!

Indeed, but the “famous” British-style marmalade is made with bitter oranges.

However, there are no bitter oranges in rural Umbria. We grow no oranges at all actually, it’s too cold.

Try to ask an Umbrian greengrocer for bitter Seville oranges. He’ll think you are crazy. Then, with a bewildered look, he will proceed to offer you some fantastic Sicilian sweet oranges.

I also have a problem with marmalade making. It’s fussy. I make massive amounts of jams mostly based on the principle of chopping the fruit, adding sugar and pectin, boiling and voilà, all ready. This is a no go with oranges. The variation in  marmalade making methods is head spinning. Why?

The problem, my friends, is in the rind. Citrus rind is bitter, but it’s full of essential oils. The rind of lemons and of bitter oranges is particularly rich of lemonene, an oil which smells like oranges. That’s why it makes magic when added to food and marmalade.

Extract those oils in your marmalade and you will have captured the stupendous orange-yness of a perfect marmalade.

After much research and experiments I have adopted this is old recipe from Artusi’s The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891. It’s still popular in Italy as it’s simple to make and the results are wonderful.

As a plus is based on my favorite chopping-everything-and-voilà-method. Almost :) .

I have slightly modified the proportion of ingredients and included explanations of the important steps.

Recipe

  • 10 large sweet oranges (I used about 2.5 kg /5.5 lb, organic, unwaxed Washington Navels)
  • 3 organic unwaxed lemons
  • sugar: same weight as oranges after soaking
  • water: 1/2 of the weight of oranges after soaking

Method:

1. Pierce oranges all around with the prongs of a fork. Alternatively score them lightly with a very sharp knife. Don’t pierce or score through the flesh or you will loose flavor.

Place oranges in a large bowl and cover with water. Place a plate on top of the oranges to keep them completely under water. Soak for 3 days changing the water twice a day. This will tenderize the oranges and dissolve the bitter taste of the zest as well as preserve  the essential oils which are insoluble in water.

Soak oranges in a large pot or bowl

Soaking the scored oranges in water. The plate has been removed for the picture.

2. on the 4th day, drain the oranges, quarter them and cut into chunks. This is a quite messy operations particularly if you like small chunks. I quartered the oranges and pulse-chopped 2 at a time in the food processor to obtain smaller pieces. Then I quickly transferred them into a bowl to avoid loosing precious orange juice all over the kitchen.

If you don’t mind bigger chunks just quarter the oranges and slice them 1 cm / half-inch thick. Try to collect all the juice dripping off the slices.

3. weigh the chopped fruit and juice – I will call this pulp –  transfer it in a tall pan and add water. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add half kg/lb water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 min.

Always use a tall pan to make jam to protect yourself from hot splatter. Use low heat and a heavy bottomed pan so you won’t need to stir too often to prevent burning.

Don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of water. In fact, adding water increases the cooking time so the zest will be tender at the same time the marmalade is ready.

4. After 10 min add sugar. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add 1 kg/lb sugar. Bring to the boil again, then lower the heat and simmer very slowly stirring occasionally.

5. After 1 hour start working on the lemons. Making marmalade with chunks of rind involves caramelizing the rind before the jam gets too thick. You can’t really use pectin to make this jam as it will set too fast without cooking the rind.

Adding lemons will relatively increase the speed of setting because they contain pectin. In addition it brings out the flavor of the oranges and preserves the color of the marmalade.

Zest the lemons.  I grate the zest directly into the marmalade pan using a microplane. Remove the white part of the rind, then chop the flesh roughly and transfer it in the marmalade pan. Simmer for approximately another hour.

6. Cooking time of this marmalade will vary depending on size of oranges, level of heat and thickness of the pan.

To test if the marmalade is at setting point use the classic frozen dish method. When the mixture has thickened, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes or until chilled. Drop 1/4 of a teaspoon marmalade on the frozen plate, the jam will cool instantly. Turn the plate sideways at 45°. If the jam is thick enough to set it will wrinkle up in little folds. If it is not yet thick enough then the jam will spread without having the top of the jam wrinkle. The thicker the wrinkles, the harder the jam will set.

If you are unsure, switch off the heat, cover and wait until the next day so it will cool off completely. If the marmalade looks good at room temperature  bring it back to the boil for at least 5 min. It will become liquid again. Pour into sterilize jars, top, and place upside down on a worktop until cool.

Let it rest for at least a month before using. It is gorgeous on toast but it’s so intense you can use it to flavor puddings, make a crostata or a sauce for pannacotta by mixing it with a little brandy and a sprinkle of dark chocolate curls.

Makes ten 0.5 kg/ 1 lb jars.

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmamalde

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmalade

Author: madonnadelpiatto

Former scientist, I now run B&B and cooking school Alla Madonna del Piatto in Assisi, Umbria, central Italy, together with my husband Ruurd, daughter Tea and truffle dog Google. We love good food and wine, travel, beautiful handicrafts like textiles and pottery. We feel fortunate to be able to share our magical mountain with many friends from all over the world.

30 thoughts on “chunky Italian-style sweet orange marmalade

  1. Your charming story and photographs, so effectively capturing the low-angled winter sun, take my mind whirling back forty years. I spent a winter in Rome on the Aventine Hill, adjacent to the Giardino degli Aranci, with its spell-binding view of the city. Curious youths that we were, no amount of explanation would convince us that such decorative fruits were merely decorative. A friend was more curious than I, and his spitting and sputtering convinced me that I needn’t try one myself. I don’t know if the local housewives gathered any of those aranci amari for marmalade, but if I lived there now, I certain would be tempted. As it is, I now live in a place abundant with both bitter and sweet oranges… and now we have the recipe to enjoy them! Many thanks!

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    • Hi Mark, thank you for this wonderful memory! My mother was from Sicily and we often walked under “melangolo” trees in the summer nights of our holidays. The aroma of the flowers was intoxicating. I did know you were not supposed to eat them though, but I had local information ;)!

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  2. Hi Letizia, how wonderful to receive your blog post this morning! I finally received my bag last night, 2 months to the day since I arrived home! So happy to now have your lovely olive oil! I loved your recipe. I’ve been saving my organic orange rinds now for a month. Can I just use rinds or must it b made w the whole oranges? My daughter just received word to study at Sciences PO in Paris next year so I hope to maybe visit Italy then! Best regards, Lynn

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • Hy Lynn, wonderful to know that your bag has finally arrived. Well, they took their time but at least you have everything. To make the marmamalade you really need whole oranges but if your rinds are still fresh and can be cooked you can make which is fabulous even to eat on its own. Let me know how it goes!

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  3. I really enjoy orange marmalade, but have never seen this method. I just saw Blood Oranges in the store this morning. I wonder how they would work?

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  4. I know, this method is very old and not well known outisde of Italy. There must be a reason why it has survived for over 100 years though and I can testify that it works very well. Blood oranges will make a darker marmalade, you might need to add more lemon juice if color is important. Tastewise it will surely be good.

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  5. I love orange marmalade – thanks for this one. And thank yo for your especially clear and detailed directions, complete with technical info. Isn’t it something how the old recipes are often the best? Complimenti!

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  6. Honestly, Letizia, a really great orange is very difficult to come by anymore – in Alberta, where we don’t grow them, either.
    This recipe looks divine, but I could never go the store and KNOW I was getting a good orange. Not any more.
    The clementines I had while visiting you – just coming into season – were TO DIE FOR. You CAN get good citrus in Italy. Not here. :)
    V

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    • Hi Valerie, it’s the same problem all over. Even though we have good citrus here, I can never be sure how fresh they are. However I found a way to order oranges that were harvested a few days before using them. They are the best oranges I have had in years. Have you ever consideed group ordering of oranic ingredients directly from the producer? It’s very popular here in Europe.

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  7. I’m so happy to have found your blog! I am in love! I can’t wait to pour through all of these recipes. :)

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  8. Waaaay to much sugar. My Italian grandmother just puts a couple tbsp, max.

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    • Marco in the last few years people has taken the pernicious habit of using too little sugar for jams. This is quite risky because botulinum might survive in food preparations with less than 35 % sugar. I would never publish a recipe that can be potentially dangerous to anybody and first of all to my family who are the happy consumers of most of my food. It’s better to eat less jam with more sugar than a lot of jam with not enough, botulism is quite dangerous!

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  9. Very interesting way to make marmalade! I make marmalade the English way (with varying rates of success….) which is to cook the fruit for an hour or so without sugar to make the rind tender, then to add the sugar and bring to the boil for 10 mins until setting point is reached. In my method, adding sugar too soon gives you hard peel.
    I used to be able to buy a really tasty sweet orange marmalade, made in Spain, from my local supermarket, but it has not been in stock for nearly a year now, so I look forward to trying your recipe out when I have a bit of time.

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    • Thank you Fliss, I’d love to know if you like this method. I think that soaking the oranges in water tenderizes the peel beacuse mine has just the right consistency. There must be a reason why this recipe is still used after been published 120 ago, it really is good! All the best, Letizia

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  10. Hello my friend! I have a 1/2 bushel of beautiful florida oranges coming in with my parents tomorrow. I am anxious to get started. I will let you know if I am successful! Ciao

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  11. Hi Jeff! the method is really easy but you have to be patient and eat it a month or so later. The marmalade is much better if it “matures” a bit in the jar. Please report back about your results!

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  12. Letizia, Do I understand correctly that I need to put the zest of the lemons into the pot with the oranges as it is cooking?? Do I not need to soak them(the lemons) as well as the oranges?? Can you please explain? I am still soaking the oranges, so I have some time. Ciao! Jeff

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    • Yes Jeff, no soaking of the lemons. Grind the rind and add it to the oranges while they are cooking. Then chop the flesh after having removed most of the outer layer of white and the seeds. Add to the simmering marmalade. They completely disappear in the jam but the increased acidity brings out the flavor.

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  13. Thank you Letizia, but why do I not need to soak the Lemons?

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    • Jeff I have tried to soak the lemons to make lemon jam but they lose flavor why the oranges don’t. Remember you need the aromatic oil from the peel and the pulp but not the white. With only 3 lemons the easier method is to separate peel and pulp from white by hand.

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  14. Good evening my friend! The orange marmalade has been done since last weekend, and I only have 3 jars left. It is the most beautiful color, and the taste is sublime! thank you so much for your patience with me, and all of my questions.
    A presto Amico mio!
    Ciao, Jeff

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  15. I am so glad Jeff! I have also just returned with some 30 lb organic oranges, so I have to start today with soaking the oranges. I will also make candy peel and liqueur. The whole house is going to smell fantastic!

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    • You fill me with ideas letizia. The candy peel souds great, and I think children would love them around the winter. I have much of the liqueur, made from oranges, and some from the lemons. It is super, but very strong. A little goes a long way. Ciao amico mio.

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      • Ciao Jeff, the candy peel is great in cakes. I chop it very finely and add it to the batter. It imparts a wonderful flavor to cakes, better than fresh peel. And indeed citrus liqueur goes a long way. Strong and sweet is a great digestive in the winter nights.

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