When life gives you oranges, make marmalade

  • A copper preserving pan. HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

  • A copper preserving pan filled with grapefruit. HILLARY NELSON / For LiveWell

  • Toast with four different citrus marmalades. HILLARY NELSON / For LiveWell

  • Blood oranges HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

  • Weighing tangerines. HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

  • Bergamot, blood orange and tangerine marmalades. HILLARY NELSON—For LiveWell

  • Chopped bergamots in preserving pan. HILLARY NELSON / For LiveWell

For LiveWell
Published: 3/2/2017 4:59:41 PM

W hen it comes to kitchen equipment, I am a lover of making do with what works and is inexpensive.

Knives? All I care about is how easy they are to sharpen and do they fit my hand well. My favorite chef knife costs under $20.

So although I have been making jams and jellies for 30 years, I have never invested in an actual copper preserving pan, which is a pricey item. Instead, I have made do with large, heavy pots. These are good for fairly even heat, but they are not nimble when it comes time to cool things down, which means a constant struggle against scorched jam.

Last summer, when I burned what had been a beautiful batch of strawberry preserves, ruining both the pot and the jam, I decided to think seriously about getting a decent preserving pan.

Over the years, I have read dozens of odes to copper pots from professional jam makers, all of whom claim they could not make great preserves without one. Why are they so great? It comes down to their shape and the material they are made with.

These pans have a small base (about 10 inches) and wide top (16 inches) and are five or six inches deep. This makes for flexibility in how much fruit you cook at one time – a little or a lot can both be accommodated. Plus, the shape keeps splatters contained in the pan rather than all over the stove (or your hands). Usually, these pans have two brass handles (brass is more durable than copper and you need both hands to safely lift and pour from a pan this large).

Copper is a metal that responds very quickly to temperatures, both hot and cold, and it heats evenly. That said, it is soft, which means it’s not suitable on its own for the rougher jobs in the kitchen. Slam a copper pot around and it will ding – but it’s a perfect metal for the gentle job of preserves-making. The heat conductivity of copper combined with the shape of the preserving pan makes it possible to cook preserves very quickly to the gel stage, which means colors and flavors stay bright.

One caution – copper is reactive with acids, which means traces of the metal can wind up in food. This is why fruit is always mixed with sugar before being placed in a copper preserving pan – the sugar keeps the acids in the fruit from leaching copper.

I found a good, solid copper preserving pan online at Home Depot for $77 – way less than the $140 to $350 prices I saw elsewhere.

Three dozen or so jars of marmalade later, and I couldn’t be happier with my investment. The preserves cook up bright and clear; the pan is easy to handle and clean, and it also looks beautiful hanging from my peg rails.

Winter and early spring are great seasons for citrus and marmalade making. Unusual fruits, like bergamots (a sour orange-lemon cross whose oil is used to flavor Earl Grey tea), can be purchased online and shipped straight to your house. Beautiful tangerines, oranges, grapefruits, and Meyer lemons are abundant at the grocery store. Below you will find two recipes for marmalade – the first for sour-bitter citrus varieties, and the second for sweet varieties.

Two differences in preparation: Bitter citrus undergoes a soaking and blanching process to remove some of the bitterness from the rind; they also are prepared with more sugar. Sweet citrus can be transformed more quickly into marmalade, with just a fast blanch of the rind before cooking with less sugar.

Bergamot Marmalade

2 pounds bergamots (or sour oranges, grapefruit, or a mixture of lemons and sweet oranges), organic if possible

12 cups cold water

1½ pounds sugar (approximately)


Wash the skin of the fruit with very warm water mixed with a little (preferably) unscented dish soap. Rinse well.

Remove any bit of hard stem from the top of the bergamots. Cut the bergamots in half, place flat-side down on a cutting board, then cut into very thin pieces.

Mix the chopped bergamots and the cold water in a container or bowl. Cover and place in a cool spot or the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, place the bergamot and its liquid in a pot (not the copper preserving pan) and bring to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the skin is very soft. Remove from the heat, return the bergamot to its container and cool on the counter top before returning to the refrigerator or cool spot for 12 hours or overnight.

Weigh the cooked bergamot and all its liquid. Divide that weight by two, which will give you the weight you will need of sugar. I wound up with about 3 pounds of cooked bergamot, and used 1½ pounds of sugar.

Mix the pulp and sugar together and then pour into the preserving pan and bring the mixture to a lively bubble. You want the mixture to cook over a medium-high flame, as hot as possible without burning the bottom of the marmalade. Stir now and then and skim off the froth that forms on top with a skimmer or spoon.

Cook the mixture until it is ready to gel, somewhere around 215 to 218 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, the marmalade is ready when a little of it placed on a cold plate will set up a bit. Also, a wooden spoon stirred across the bottom of the pot will leave a path behind it.

The marmalade may be canned in a hot water bath in preserving jars or it may be placed in freezer jars and frozen. It may also be put in jars and refrigerated, where it will keep for several weeks.

Tangerine or Blood Orange Marmalade

2 pounds blood oranges, clementines, Mineolas, or other flavorful sweet citrus with fragrant skin, or a mixture of different varieties

2 quarts cold water

About 12 ounces of sugar, in total (based on weight of the prepared fruit)


Wash the skin of the fruit with very warm water mixed with a little (preferably) unscented dish soap. Rinse well.

Use a sharp paring knife or a sharp peeler to remove the skin of the citrus in long, wide strips. Try to avoid removing much of the white pith between the skin and the fruit. Set aside the peeled fruit.

Layer the pieces of citrus peel and slice it very thin with a sharp knife into pieces about one or two inches long and 1/8-inch wide.

Place the sliced rind in a pot of cold water and bring it to a simmer. Allow to simmer about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and pour the rind into a sieve to drain.

While waiting for the rind to cook, peel as much of the white pith as you can get off with your fingers from the fruit. Discard the pith.

Slice the fruit with a very sharp knife into thin rounds or halfmoons. Discard any seeds and the pithy center. Weigh the sliced fruit. Divide the weight of the fruit by three, then weigh out that amount of sugar. Combine the sugar and fruit and pour into the preserving pan.

Add two quarts of cold water. Bring the fruit to a simmer. Stir occasionally and skim off the froth that forms on top with a skimmer or spoon. Allow to cook until the mixture reaches about 210 degrees.

Meanwhile, weigh the drained rind. Weigh out 1/8 the weight of the rind in sugar and set aside.

When the fruit reaches 210, add the rind and additional sugar and stir. Continue simmering until the mixture reaches about 215 to 218 degrees, or until a little of the marmalade gels on a cold plate or a spoon stirred across the bottom of the pot leaves a trail behind it.

The marmalade may be canned in a hot water bath in preserving jars or it may be poured into freezer jars and frozen. It may also be put in jars and refrigerated, where it will keep for several weeks.

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