Sunday, January 27, 2008

In a Citrus Frenzy: An Homage to June Taylor

Yep, you guessed it. This is another crazy midwinter canning post! I was reading the GardenWeb's Harvest Forum recently, and I came across a mention of Honeybell Marmalade. What's a honeybell, I wondered? Apparently, it's a super-sweet, super-juicy tangelo (tangerine x grapefruit cross) with a very short season, basically only during the month of January. So intrigued was I that I quickly ordered up two dozen honeybells to be sent from Cushman's in Florida...pronto! I was feeling quite smug and pleased with myself on my acquisition of this citrus marvel, until I was bragging to my friend June about my order, and she asked, "Oh, are they like mineolas?" I told her yes, that according to my extensive internet reading to figure out what in the world I had just ordered, they are close cousins, crossed with the same tangerine (Darcy) but different varieties of grapefruit (Duncan for the honeybell, Bowen for the mineola). And she replied, "Oh, I love those! You can get them at Hannaford!" Hannaford is one of our regional grocery chains, and I should have known to check there first, as they were the ones that had my nearly-impossible-to-find quinces in the fall. Drat! Oh well. No harm done. I still look forward to the arrival of my Cushman honeybells.

In the meantime, I stopped by Hannaford to see if they had any other interesting fruit for me, and sure enough, they had a beautiful crop of Moro blood oranges, also known as raspberry oranges for their deep, dark flesh and hint of berry taste. They were so beautiful and fragrant with rinds that looked like a sunset, and since I need to practice my marmalading skills before the honeybells arrive, I bought a dozen, naively trusting that I would be able find a good recipe for blood orange marmalade when I got home. Easier said than done! I have done an exhaustive search of the internet, the cookbooks on my shelves, and even a few on Amazon, and came up with very few marmalade recipes that deal specifically with blood oranges. Traditionally, marmalade is made with Seville oranges, which are quite sour. So following a traditional orange marmalade recipe would, I theorized, yield a product that would be too sweet. What to do, what to do?

When looking for jam-making inspiration, I idolize two women in particular: Christine Ferber of France and June Taylor in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, I could not consult Ms. Ferber, as I do not have her book, Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber. Mind you, I have given it twice as a gift, but procrastinated too long to order one for myself, and now it's out of print! BOO! Used copies on Ebay and Amazon and the like are going for between $80 and $160 (three to six times its regular price)! So until the good people of Michigan State University Press get around to printing some more, I'm out of luck there. :-( Now June Taylor doesn't have a cookbook (more's the pity!), but she does have a video interview on Chowhound where she's shown making and talking about...blood orange marmalade! I thought I had hit pay dirt until I realized that Ms. Taylor had not offered up a specific recipe for the marmalade, just the technique. It was a start, anyway. And I did find three of her marmalade recipes online (grapefruit and Meyer lemon, thick-cut orange, and tangerine and grapefruit), along with a lengthy New York Times Magazine article which yielded further clues. I then consulted my trusty Ball Blue Book and also considered the approaches of every other blood orange marmalade recipe that could be found, and I think I have managed to develop a method in the style of June Taylor that worked perfectly for the blood orange marmalade and will, I believe, also compliment the Cushman honeybells when they are delivered. Here we go...and be advised, no one said marmalade was going to be easy, or quick. Indeed, most methods advocate a two, if not three-day process!

The first day, I prepared the fruit, breaking down the dozen blood oranges. If you can find organic blood oranges where you live, knock yourself out. But in my tiny 'burgh, it's Sunkist from California or nothing. So first, I scrubbed the fruit under very warm water to remove the stickers, the wax, and any pesticide residue. Then, following the technique of Ms. Taylor, I spent every bit of three hours cutting up all of those oranges. First, you cut off the top and bottom of each piece until you can see the flesh. Then you supreme the fruit (cutting out the segments between the tough membranes--this is what takes forever), leaving the peel on, then slicing each segment into thin little squares, reserving the discarded bits to be cooked in a jelly bag later. I added the little orange pieces to a large, heavy-bottomed pot along with the juice of two lemons (reserving the seeds and rinds for the jelly bag), and added water to cover, then submerged the jelly bag (I tied everything up into one of my flour sack towels). I brought the mixture to a boil and simmered it for five minutes, then covered the pot and let it sit overnight. If your house isn't as cold as mine, you might want to refrigerate it to be safe. June Taylor does not do this step, but nearly every other marmalade recipe that I consulted recommends soaking the fruit overnight--with or without a brief initial cooking. I have no idea what this is for. My guess is that it helps to soften the citrus peels in stages rather than cooking it in one long session and risk scorching it. Maybe the water also helps leech out some of the bitterness? Who knows? But since it was very late when I came to the end of the eternal fruit-cutting part of the program, I decided to employ the common let-it-soak method. Some recipes just say overnight (which I take to mean eight hours), another said 12-18 hours, and many said 24 hours.

The next day, I brought the pot back to a boil (uncovered) for the next stage of cooking, to soften the peel fully, evaporate some of the water, and render the natural pectin out of the fruit and reserved bits in the jelly bag. This takes 20-30 minutes. After that, many recipes recommend letting the mixture cool, and refrigerating it for up to another 24 hours! But since it's Sunday, and I had to get my marmalade on today before returning to work tomorrow, I opted to just keep going. I removed the jelly bag, and after it was cool enough to touch, I kneaded and squeezed between a third and a half a cup of pectin out of the bag (as demonstrated in the June Taylor video). Unfortunately, in doing so, I destroyed my flour sack towel which simply could not withstand the abuse. So next time, I will seek out muslin bags or perhaps try 4-6 layers of cheesecloth instead. In any case, I mixed the pectin that I rendered from the jelly bag back into the pot of fruit and then measured the whole business. I had just over two quarts (eight cups) of fruit and thickened juice. Now, here was my biggest dilemma. Almost every marmalade recipe on the face of the earth calls for a one-to-one ratio of fruit to sugar. But Ms. Taylor is famous for making conserves with as little as 20% sugar, and still just 50-60% sugar for marmalades (so sayeth the New York Times article). So for eight cups of fruit, that would mean only five cups of sugar at most, as opposed to the more typical eight cups. I was worried that, without enough sugar, perhaps it would be hard to get the preserve to set properly. Plus, I suspect that Ms. Taylor, being a Brit, enjoys a more bitter marmalade than I would with my wussy American palate. So I started with five cups, but when I tasted it, it was indeed too bitter to my taste. So I decided to up the sugar to six cups for a 75% ratio of sugar to fruit. I gave some to Cyd to try, as she tends to like things less sweet, and she thought it was perfect. I'm still undecided. If I was making it just for myself, I still might opt for the classic one-to-one proportion. However, with all of that rendered pectin from the jelly bag, I needn't have worried about the set, even when reducing the sugar.

Once you get it as sweet as you want it, it's time for the final "cooking off" stage. You will want to bring the pot rapidly to a roiling boil, and let it go like gangbusters for 25-40 minutes until it reaches the set point. How will you know? Well, there are a few ways to check. The surest way is with a candy thermometer (it should reach 221 or 222 when it's ready). You can also put a dollop on a chilled plate and see if it mounds up a bit ("like a fresh egg" says June Taylor) and if it forms a skin after a minute or two (it will crinkle when you drag your finger through it). You're going to hate me for saying it, but mostly, it's just instinct. It's the way it looks and feels that tells you it's done, and you get to know what you're looking for once you've made a lot of jam. For the novice, I would suggest erring on the side of it being too loose than overcooked. After all, the marmalade will still taste great even if it's a little runny on your toast, and it'll firm up in the fridge anyway. Ms. Taylor says that marmalade has a very short window--just five minutes between set and overdone. And if you misjudge it and end up caramelizing the sugar, both the color and flavor of the fruit will go off irreparably, and then all that work will be for nothing. So be careful, and keep a close eye on the marmalade toward the end of the cooking.

When your marmalade has reached the set point, you should remove it from the heat, skim any excess foam, and pour immediately into hot, sterilized jars (I got nine half-pints). Ms. Taylor would call herself done at this point, letting the jars seal themselves in the venerable open-kettle method that your grandma used. Though grandmas rarely kill anyone with their jams and jellies made this way, I'm a safety girl (name the movie), so I went ahead and processed the preserves in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. Finally, 85 years later, I had nine lovely jars of blood orange marmalade, bringing a little sunshine (more like a lovely sunset!) into these dark, wintry months. I believe June Taylor would be very proud.


Anonymous said...

That looks wonderful!! I checked it out form your link on the Harvest Forum. btw, I find that marmalade's bitterness softens after just a week or so. I suspect you will be happy with the end result.

Also, I live in Burlington, VT and my local co-op store (City Market) usually has organic versions of most of the fun fruits you may want to make jams and such from. Right now they have blood oranges, tangelos...


Anonymous said...
Re: Christine Ferber book
Love your blog! How is your french? It appears to be available from for $11.50 in french.
Sally and the peebs

Susan aka Chicken Mama said...

Thanks so much for your notes on the marmalade! I don't know which I enjoy more - eating marmalade or making it!

TAG! You are it! Could you please share 7 things we don't know about you?

The rules are on Eastside Farm Chronicles. Have fun!

Randi said...

omg, I'm exhausted just reading this. Ya know, I had that book in my amazon cart for ages and never ordered it. Drats!!

Anonymous said...

FYI - A new edition of Christine's book is out from the publisher and available on Amazon - currently at $19.77. It is an interesting book.

Joy Bugaloo said...

Robin: Howdy, neighbor! Thanks so much for your post! I am glad to hear that the marmalade may mellow. And I love the City Market--although I can't afford to buy much there. ;-)

Sally: I saw that, too, but my French probably isn't good enough, and neither are my math skills for the metric conversions!

Chicken Mama: Ooh, how fun! I'll get to working on that meme ASAP. Thanks for your comment.

Randi: As you can see from the comment after yours, the Ferber book is finally back in print. So get thee to Amazon before they sell out again!


Anonymous said...

Maybe a little late to add this, but - i just checked on, and saw a copy of c. ferber's book for about $17 - there were other copies of it for sale, but i only saw that one price as i glanced at the page. worth checking on, as it is decidedly a keeper!


Unknown said...

While listening to NPR, reference was made to June Taylor and her incredible preserves. This led me to a Web search, and your blog on making marmalade and preserves- including your lament regarding the lack of availability of the French book (Ferber)you have purchased for gifts, but none for yourself...
it appears to be available through for cheap money.
Good luck (better late than never?)!

Jessica said...

Thank you! I've been dreaming about marmalade and preserves, and I've watched the June Taylor video (everything about her is so lovely...) but it's great to have a home cook's description of the process step by step. Maybe I'll get into it this weekend, or just continue to live vicariously :)

mariann said...

Lindsey- I came across this post whenI google searched Honeybell marmalade- it sounds wonderful! I have been marmalade obsessed since my daughter in CA mailed some meter lemons from her tree for lemoncello and marmalade. My obsession took me to Eugenia Bone's Well Preserved Blog in the Denver Post. Her blog is fantastic- you should check it out. Also attaching her link for Honeybell Marmalade
Thanks for your research on Blood Oranges. I have a bag of them and some Honeybells on my counter right now

Anonymous said...

June Taylor was on the Martha Stewart show making candied orange peel. The recipe is available on Martha's site. The show aired in March 2011.

Unknown said...

I followed the directions carefully washing and cutting up the fruit. Although I've made a lot of jam and marmalade, I usually measure the amounts more carefully. It took over 45 minutes for the fruit/sugar/liquid to reach the right consistency/temperature. When done, I ended up with 5 pint jars. I also used a little less sugar than I normally would as this will be a birthday gift for my father who doesn't like his jams too sweet.