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Marmalade. Love it or hate it?

Big D lives in Yarramalong Valley where citrus trees are growing particularly well in this area. Almost every single home in the neighbourhood will have at least one citrus tree, whether is lemon, orange or mandarin. When Big D bought the house 3 years ago, there was already a mandarin tree in his backyard and we were so excited to see hundreds of mandarins hanging on the tree because it was fruiting during winter when he moved in. The mandies were average size, but sweet and juicy. We also had to pick them fast as the birds were already started pecking on the fruit.

Since Big D couldn’t eat all by himself, I managed to score a whole green grocer bag full of the mandies and returned his favor by turning them into marmalade and also gave some to friends. Everyone seems to like the marmalade so I decided to make them every year, we even branded our little marmalade production line as “Un Arbre” – the marmalade that sourced from that humble “One Tree” in his backyard.

Unfortunately the tree was severely attacked by ants, pests and birds last year, so we didn’t get a healthy crop which also means no mandarins to make marmalade with. So Big D pretty much spent this year trying to revive the tree by keeping the ants away. I also tried to grow an extension from the branch so that I can have a mandarin tree of my own, but sadly it died within weeks. I definitely will try again when comes to spring time.

A little bit of TLC on the tree seems to work this year, and this year we see a much healthier crop, despite the fruit is still a little small. Small is better than nothing I say. Hence, the One Tree Mandarin Marmalade is back in production!

First thing first, do you know what’s the difference between jam and marmalade?

Jam is usually made with crushed or chopped fruit and can be any type of fruit, whereas marmalade is usually citrus based, that usually include flesh, skin and rind. The bitterness of the peel offset the sweetness of the jelly, which also the main reason why so many people dislike marmalade. Well, I am used to the taste of mandarin peel as I sometimes also add them into red bean soup. I love the rind in the jam, which adds texture and something to bite on. Give it a try, you might find them not so bad after all.

Jam or marmalade is very easy to make, so long you get the ratio of citrus and sugar right, the jelly will set nicely. There are tons of recipes out there on how to make marmalade, but I prefer to stick to the one that I am familiar with. It is a very reliable recipe which uses every single part of the mandarin including the pips and the pith. Most of the recipes I found asked to discard the seeds but little did they know that the seeds are actually full of pectin, and pectin is what you need for jam setting.

So make sure you keep all the pith and the seeds when you make marmalade. If you are the lazy kind, you can roughly chop the mandarins together with the seeds still inside, then just boil it with sugar. The end result is the same but you will find yourself standing in front of the stove most of the time fishing out all the seeds that floating on the surface.

Or like me, clean all the pith and seeds out first then simply wrap them up in a clean handkerchief or in muslin cloth and add it to the mixture. Once the jam is ready, then you can just take the parcel out and discard it, no fuss at all.

Marmalade is a funny thing, I don’t hate it but is also not something I will pick up in a supermarket. I guess I am still haunted by the idea of boring jam on white bread. During school days, my mum always made me jam on bread before school and I used to hate it. (Kaya toast with soft boiled egg will be a different story…) And my mum also think jam is too sweet for your health, so she would only allow a very thin layer of the jam just enough to make two layers of white bread stick together.

But now and as cliche as it may sound, I tend to appreciate it more especially when I am making my own marmalade. Go and get some mandies at the markets this weekend when is still cheap, start making your own marmalade and give them to friends, I can guarantee you that it will bring smiles to many faces and a nice gesture will bring happiness in return.

Mandarin Marmalade Recipe (yield 6-7 150ml jars)

16 mandarins (2kg)
1.2kg sugar
6 cups of water
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Peel mandarins carefully, try keeping peels in one piece if possible. Then cut half of the peels (about 8 mandarins) into thin strips (julienne strips) and set aside.

2. Remove as much of the pith as possible and set aside.

3. Cut the mandarins half crosswise, remove the seeds and set aside too. Use a clean handkerchief or muslin cloth, wrap the seeds and pith together tightly.

4. Add mandarins, peel strips, the parcel of pith and seeds, lemon juice, sugar, water into a large pot. Stir constantly over medium heat, without boiling, until sugar is dissolved.

5. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat down to medium and let it bubble away for about 1 hour, stir occasionally until jell point is reached.

Jell point Testing: Put a saucer in the freezer and chill it. Take it out when ready to test, add a dollop of jam onto saucer. Draw a line on the jam with a knife, if it wrinkles, then the jam is ready. If not, keep boiling the mixture for another 10 minutes and test again.

6. Once ready, remove the parcel and discard the pith and seeds. Pour the marmalade into hot sterilised jars. Seal 15 mins later, or when the jars are cool enough to handle.

How to sterilise jars: Preheat oven to 160C. Wash jar with water and dish washing liquid, shake well but no need to pat dry, leave on a baking tray and put in the oven. Let it sterilised for at least 20 minutes. Time it well so you take the jars out of the oven when your marmalade is ready. DO NOT add cold food into hot jar, it will shatter. Seal the jar when is cool enough to handle.