It’s easy to get used to nice things, and then so hard to do without them ever after. Homemade preserves are such a thing. I remember I used to buy jam and marmalade from the store, and I even remember they were pretty good. But once you taste your own, there’s no going back. It’s not as great of a commitment as it sounds. Small batch urban canning is spontaneous, fun, simple, and gives out a huge, almost undeserved, payoff of apparent domestic virtue (that’s the sanguine part). Actually, it’s just cooking up some fruit and some sugar- one of the simpler lifestyle upgrades. And the scent fills your home for days afterwards.
Stone fruits and berries follow one simple ratio that works for them all. Citrus fruits, on the other hand, need a lot of water and a little finesse. This is only logical- they’re complicated- with zest, pith, membrane, flesh, pits. They also have a complicated personality- sweet, tangy, and- what makes them so distinctive- bitter.
Blood oranges – sanguini in many languages- have plenty of zing and make very beautiful, rosy marmalade. To round out its alluring bitter-tangy-sweet complexity, we add a fourth note: floral. A spoonful of orange blossom water at the end gives the marmalade an ethereal fragrance.
This needs a little planning, as the prepared fruit needs to soak overnight. The day before you plan to boil the marmalade, get your ingredients together.
- 500 g / 1 lb small blood oranges (4 or 5 )
- 800 ml/ 3 generous cups water
- 600 g/3 C sugar
- a little lemon juice
- 1 spoonful of orange blossom water
Scrub the oranges well. Cut them in half, place the cut side down on a board, and cut lengthwise in half again. Then, holding the two halves together, slice crosswise into thin, quarter-round slices. A serrated bread knife works well for this.
Your cutting board may have a rosy stain by the time you’re finished.
Put the orange slices in a bowl and add the water. Cover the bowl and keep it on the counter overnight. This will give the peel time to soften. Also, put three small white plates in the freezer. You’ll need these chilled plates for testing to see when the jam is done.
The next day, arrange everything you’ll need on the counter:
- 2 or 3 small (250 to 300 grams, or 8 oz) sterilized jars, with fresh lids
- A wooden spoon with a long handle
- Fresh kitchen towels
- A ladle
- A wide-mouthed funnel, if you have it
Pour the orange slices with their now very flavorful water into a large tall pot and bring to a boil. Only once it reaches a full rolling boil, add the sugar- we do this to facilitate the release of pectin so the marmalade sets up beautifully. Keep boiling the fruit and sugar mixture, stirring nearly all the time and keeping contact with the bottom of the pot. After about 15 minutes, there will be less froth, the bubbles will be larger, and you’ll hear the jam sticking to the bottom of the pan. Turn it down if you’re worried about it burning, and now stir constantly, keeping a watchful eye. It seems to take forever, but once it finally starts to thicken, it thickens very quickly.
As soon as it looks syrupy, test it: put a dab on one of the frozen plates, let it cool a moment, and run your finger through it. If the trail left by your finger closes back up, the marmalade needs a little more time on the stove. If the trail more or less remains, it’s done. We’re not looking for a clean trail that doesn’t close at all- that will be too dense once it sets.
Give the cooled marmalade a taste. If it seems too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon juice. Then add as much orange blossom water as you like- a full teaspoon is not too much, and you might use more.
Ladle the marmalade carefully into the jars. After making sure that the rims of the jars are completely clean, put on the lids. It’s less work to just let the jars cool and then keep them in the refrigerator.
The marmalade is beautifully rosy. The floral perfume of the orange blossom water is intriguing, the citrus flavors bright, and the elusive hint of bitterness adds a note of sophistication. It’s a gift-worthy preserve, if you can bear to part with any of it.