Blood Orange Marmalade II: A Story of Despair, Hope and Redemption

by Wendy Copley on March 23, 2011

Marmalade Fail

Today, I want to share a story of despair with you.

A story of pain.

A story of smoke and goo and blackness.

But this is also a story of hope. Of trust and optimism. A story of the power of the human spirit!

Blood orange marmalade and I have a very weird relationship. A year ago, it put me in my place, but after all the work I put into it, it turned out to be quite tasty and it was one of the prettiest preserves I’ve made so far. So when I started seeing blood oranges at the markets a few weeks ago I decided to try to make it again with a different recipe this time.

I chose a three day marmalade recipe. That sounds complex, I know, but the first two days involved barely any work. The first day, I chopped the oranges, covered them with water and then let them sit over night. The next day, I simmered the fruit mixture for 30 minutes and again let it sit over night. Then yesterday it was time to make the preserves.

The recipe told me to measure the fruit mixture, then combine it with an equal amount of sugar. OK, fine…but I had 5 1/2 cups of oranges and the recipe said I’d need about 3 cups of sugar.


I decided I’d better split the fruit into two batches and cook them each individually. The cook time for the marmalade was only 30 minutes so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad. This is what my fruit looked like before I added the sugar:

Marmalade Fail

Pretty, isn’t it?

This is what it looked like 10 minutes later:

Marmalade Fail

Slightly less pretty, I think.

The recipe said to boil the sugar mixture for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. I brought it to a boil and stayed right by it, listening to a podcast and twirling it with a spoon every few seconds. After about 6 minutes, it started to smell a little like it was burning. More stirring. Then it started to get a little darker than I thought it should.”But the recipe said 30 minutes,” I thought. “Surely it’s not even close to being done!” I’ve read that one of the benefits of skipping pectin in your preserves is that they develop a slightly caramelized flavor. I decided that’s what was happening.

And then the smoke alarm went off. The kids, both home sick from school and watching a movie in the other room started to cough. My work-at-home husband came out of the office to see what was happening. I turned off the stove and we ran around the house throwing window sashes up and opening the doors to let smoke out.

Marmalade Fail

At this point, I realized that my marmalade had gone around the bend. I tasted it and it wasn’t so bad.

“It’s kind of like orange caramel,” I thought. “We can warm it gently and put it on ice cream.”

Ha ha ha!

I was so deluded that I went so far as to put some in a jar!

Marmalade Fail

Of course it kept cooking — or burning, I should say — and it got darker and darker.

Marmalade Fail

Mmmmm…doesn’t that look like it would be delicious spooned over some ice cream?

Silly girl.

Marmalade Fail

It was really fun to empty out that jar of rock hard burned sugar. I uttered not a single expletive while I went about that task. Not a one.

I had quite a bit of time to contemplate what had gone wrong with my marmalade as I soaked and scrubbed and scraped everything it had come in contact with in it’s short 20 minute life. Here’s what I came up with:

1. There wasn’t enough water in my fruit mixture.

Somehow, I ended up with more chopped oranges than the recipe intended. The recipe called for 6 large oranges so I used what I perceived to be 7 medium oranges. That would have pushed my orange mixture up, of course, but it shouldn’t have doubled it. In any case, I had too many oranges, then I added the right amount of water and then I split it into two batches thereby halving the water in each batch.

2. I haven’t figured out the stove in our new house.

Switching from one stove to another is always an adjustment, but I’m also switching from gas to electric so it’s been pretty hard for me to get my cooking right lately. I think I had the stove up too high.

OK, so too little water + too much heat = disgusting black goo.


Later in the afternoon, I tried again with the second batch of oranges — I told you there was resilience of the human spirit in this story — but I made a few changes. First off, I added an extra 1/2 cup of water to the fruit. Then I cooked the marmalade slow and low with the burner set to 5 instead of 9. It came out pretty well. It’s yummy and a pretty reddish orange, but it’s also a little more stiff than I would like.


Of course, I can always warm it gently and put it on ice cream.

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