Preserve the Citrus Season with Homemade Marmalade

January  7, 2016

For nearly five years I worked at a wonderful food job that kept me mostly behind a desk. I’d spend my days researching ideas, editing recipes, and writing about food—by evening, I was famished. Not just because I’d spent all day thinking about food… It was more than that: I was hungry to cook.

I lived alone, but I had plenty of friends and neighbors to share in my spoils, so I set out to teach myself to make everything I could from scratch. From sourdough breads to spice blends to my own ketchup—I was obsessed. It didn’t take long for this obsession to take a pointedly new direction: canning.

Photo by Sarah Stone

I had eaten homemade canned goods growing up, but had forgotten how intensely satisfying it is. Canning really does capture the best of season so that you can keep a little of it on your shelf.

Before long, I was sweet-talking my way into the back at my market to pick out cases of Concord grapes. I spent hours sorting through seconds at the farmer’s market to find the perfect too-ripe peaches. And I bought a ton of mason jars. I mean, a ton. I ran out of places to store the finished products. I knew I was officially crazy for preserving when my brother visited and went into my entertainment center searching for a DVD and came out with pickles in both hands.

While summer was my main preserving season (it can really be an almost full time job if you’re trying to get some of everything stored away for winter), I loved finding preserving tasks to keep me busy all year long. Enter marmalade: the best way to spend a wintry afternoon, bottling up the best citrus season has to offer.

Here's what you need to know:

  1. What is marmalade?
  2. Prep your equipment.
  3. Prep the fruit.
  4. Cook the marmalade.
  5. Transfer to jars.
  6. Can (or not).
  7. Storing.
Photo by Sarah Stone

1) What is marmalade?

I find that a lot of people use terms for certain sweet canned goods interchangeably. While this likely won’t bother anyone too much as they’re slathering their toast with the (literal) fruits of your labor, there are a few differences in worth noting.

  • Jam: made from whole fruits, cooked with sugar until the mixture reaches spreadable consistency yet still chunky; can contain added pectin, but doesn’t have to (depending on the amount of natural pectin in the fruit)
  • Jelly: made with the juice of fruits, cooked with sugar to spreadable consistency; can contain added pectin, but doesn’t have to (depending on the amount of natural pectin in the fruit)
Watermelon rind jam Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Preserves: refers to whole or chopped fruit that has been canned, either in its own juices, in syrup, or in water; preserves made from small fruits can have a spreadable consistency and a texture similar to that of jam, while preserves made from larger fruits aren’t necessarily spreadable
  • Conserve: usually made from multiple types of fruit, often with other additions such as dried fruits or nuts; has a chunky, spreadable consistency similar to jam
  • Marmalade: made in a technique most similar to jelly, but containing chunks of fruit; traditionally made with citrus, marmalade includes the zest along with some chunks of the fruit itself; the addition of the skin of the fruit gives marmalade a slightly bitter flavor along with its sweetness; because of the high level of pectin in citrus skin, marmalade doesn’t usually have added pectin
Sicilian blood orange marmalade Photo by James Ransom

It’s important to remember that most recipes for preserved fruit products contain a large quantity of sugar; that’s because it’s the preserving agent! There are recipes for lower-sugar jams, jellies, and marmalades out there, but I’m still going old-school here, so the recipe contains a large amount of sugar.

This is one time where it’s wise not to improvise. It’s best to look for a recipe that’s been formulated to require less sugar, as the recipe is usually supplemented with a specific low-sugar brand of pectin to maintain proper thickness.

2) Prep your equipment.

The main concern for making any preserved item is having a large pot—large enough to accommodate the fruit when it’s raw, and then large enough that the mixture can cook down efficiently to the proper texture.

It’s wise to have a heat-safe stirring utensil at hand, either a wooden spoon or a Silicone spatula. Just remember that some citrus fruits have a tendency to stain (talkin’ to you, blood oranges), so take that into account before selecting your heirloom wooden spoon.

Other equipment needs include a sharp knife for getting the most out of your citrus.

And if you want to can your marmalade (Do it! Do it! I promise it’s not scary!), you’ll also need basic canning tools: a large boiling water canner with a rack, canning jars, canning tongs (regular tongs will work if you don’t have). You’ll need to sanitize your jars and get everything ready. Check out this canning guide to get started.

3) Prep the fruit.

The term marmalade is associated with citrus, and it's a slightly bitter spread due to the inclusion of citrus zest. Marmalade is made by cooking fruit juice, fruit pieces, and fruit zest with sugar until the mixture reaches the appropriate consistency. The zest is a crucial component in the marmalade, as it contributes to both the flavor, color, and texture of the final product.

Photo by Sarah Stone

The main way to make marmalade is to cut whole citrus fruits—zest, fruit, and juice all included—in small pieces. At its heart, this technique uses almost the whole fruit! It should be noted that if you make marmalade by this method, it’s recommended that you soak the fruit overnight in the amount of water designated by the recipe to soften the pith, which results in a better-quality marmalade. This is the most classic technique for making marmalade, and it works well. If you like it, go for it!

Pith, begone! Photo by Bobbi Lin

But it’s not the only way: Some citrus fruits have a larger ratio of pith to fruit, which would make for an excessively bitter marmalade. Grapefruits, for example: The zest and flesh is flavorful, but there’s a large amount of pith separating the two. To combat this, just peel the zest, then carefully cut the pith away from the fruit (as you do in the first stage of supreming a piece of citrus) and roughly chop the fruit, taking care to reserve the juices. Finally, cut the zest into thin strips (as thin as you can!) before adding them back to the prepared fruit and juices.

Thinly sliced zest (left) is added; pith (right) is discarded. Photo by Sarah Stone, Sarah Stone

This method has become my favorite way to handle all kinds of citrus for marmalades, because it yields a really nice marmalade with that “just-right” balance of bitter and sweet. It also eliminates the overnight soaking period, which makes the whole process a little shorter.

Photo by Sarah Stone

4) Cook the marmalade.

Combine the fruit, any juices, zest, water, and sugar in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and continue to simmer until the mixture reaches 220° F. At this point, check your marmalade to make sure it’s set.

I like to use the frozen plate test: Place a plate in your freezer before you begin the recipe. When the marmalade reaches 220° F, drop a small amount onto the frozen plate. It should gel immediately, appearing like a marmalade normally would—set with a spreadable consistency. If your marmalade isn’t set, continue cooking up to 224° F, checking again for set. Once the marmalade has passed the set test, it’s ready to be jarred.

Photo by Sarah Stone

5) Transfer to jars.

I am obsessed with my canning funnel. You should get one. It makes life so much easier. If you don’t have one, you can just use a ladle, but you’ll probably be dreaming of how you wish you had a canning funnel while you do it.

Carefully ladle the hot marmalade into the sanitized jars. Leave 1/2 inch of headspace between where the marmalade ends and the top of the jar.

Wipe away any drips on the inside or outside of the jar—these can prevent the jars from sealing appropriately! Apply the lids and rings and seal the jars carefully.

Photo by Sarah Stone

6) Can (or not).

I like to go all out and finish my marmalade in a boiling water canner. It’s really not as scary as it sounds, and it means I can store all my beautiful marmalade at room temperature. If you don’t want to can your marmalade, just let your marmalade cool to room temperature, then transfer the jars to the refrigerator. They’ll keep in there for up to 3 months (the same shelf life as any opened jam/jelly/marmalade).

But if your refrigerator space is as precious to you as a certain ring is to Gollum, canning may be the way to go. Your canner should still be set up from sanitizing your jars and lids. Make sure it’s at a hearty simmer, and use your canning tongs/tongs to return the jars to the pot. The jars should be fully covered in water, and they should be on the rack inside the pot (not touching the base of the pot). Bring the water back to a full boil. Boil the jars of marmalade for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off of the canner, and let the jars sit in the water for 5 minutes more. Remove the jars carefully from the water and allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. It’s important to not disturb the jars during this process—and it’s ideal to leave them at least 10 to 12 hours before moving them. If you want more details on the whole canning process, refer here again!

Once they’re cooled, check the seals by pressing your finger on the top of the lid. It shouldn’t move at all: If it does, the jar hasn’t sealed properly. If it doesn’t move, you’re ready to open or store your jars!

Photo by Sarah Stone

7) Storing.

Once the jars have cooled, it’s best to store them in a cool, dark place—no excessive light or heat. Stored properly, the marmalade will last up to one year. Once you open a jar, store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 3 months.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Better Than Mom's
    Better Than Mom's
  • jean
  • Marshacb
  • Kym Bilbrey Brown
    Kym Bilbrey Brown
  • soupcon
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Better T. February 20, 2017
@ Jean....My grandmothers ( and Mother) always used paraffin to seal jars too. There's very little risk of bacterial growth in jam due to its acidity, but with a wax seal there's the possibility of mold or yeast growth due to microscopic openings or even small cracks that develop over time. I think it's fine just for short term storage, but make sure your jars are properly sterilized.
jean February 21, 2017
Thanks for your response! So, short term is best, and I'm sure we used it all up before a year was done. And, I do recall once in a while a wee bit of mold and syrup poking through the odd edge of wax. Scraped off, discarded, and then used. It seems a good economic choice for some who like to recycle old jars etc. :) Again thanks.
jean February 20, 2017
I remember my gran always made our jams and marmalades. A very Scottish thing to do. :) But, all she did after sterilizing the jars, any old jars of the right size, was to melt parafin wax, put a bit of string there before it hardened, put the lid on and voila! done. Is this method safe? I'm still alive. ;)
Marshacb January 21, 2016
I just want to second the comment from soupcon – here in Germany no home canner of any marmalade, jam, or jelly water baths their jars, nor do they use special "canning" jars, just normal screw-top jars with a sealing ring in the lid.
Just put in the hot product directly into sterilized jars, tighten the lids, and turn the jar upside down for 5 minutes. Then upright for the rest of the cooling. I make all my marmalade, jam, and jelly like this and keep it as long as it lasts – sometimes longer than a year if I had too much of something.
Alex C. January 12, 2021
Hello, do you top off the jars with the product or you leave a gap before sealing the jars?
I just boiled some Kerr jars for 10 minutes so the bubbles in the jar would come out then pressed in the middle of the lid to finish the process...but this method takes a while. Please advise. Thanks
Better T. January 20, 2016
There's nothing better in the morning than marmalade with cream cheese on toast! Last year at this time I made a "3-citrus" marmalade with Meyer lemons, Seville oranges and ruby red grapefruit. It is spectacular. I also saved in the seeds and other "parts" in a small bag to add to the marmalade mixture. I also did not need to do the water bath, as the jars sealed almost immediately on there own, but it took forever to reach 220 degrees (I'm at 5600' elevation). I might have to try the Valencia orange recipe that AntoniaJames recommended, as well as take a look at Paul Virants book.
Thank you!
Kym B. January 10, 2016
Just for kicks, and because I'm an absolute freak for the flavor, I like to add my favorite curry powder to my homemade marmalades, especially grapefruit. I like using Maharajah but my spicy loving hubby prefers Vindaloo.
soupcon January 8, 2016
Keep the orange seed (particularly if you are using seville oranges) and the seeds of any other citrus you are using, put them in a bag made of cheese cloth and soak them with the peel. You will up the pectin content and the set of the jam. As some who has made jams for years as long as the ratio of sugar to fruit is 1:1 which is almost is in this recipe (38 oz fruit to 35 oz sugar) there is no need to water bath or pressure can any jam as long as your jars and lids are sterilized before adding the jam. My jam (not water bathed nor pressure canned) keeps for as long as necessary on the shelf of my pantry. I have never had any problem with spoilage.
AntoniaJames January 7, 2016
I've been making marmalade for years, using a wide variety of recipes and methods. I find that the overnight soak provides an important functional advantage - it draws out the pectin in the pips and membranes, which makes it easy to get a perfect set, in less time. This Food52 recipe from the inimitable Rachel Saunders is what convinced me: I will never make marmalade any other way. (This also happens to be my father's favorite; he's been putting marmalade on his English muffins and toast for his entire adult life, so that comes as quite a compliment.)
For anyone interested in trying Ms. Saunders' recipe (or not, I suppose), I've found Valencia oranges to be the best "basic" orange for marmalade. It's more flavorful, a bit more tart, and has a thinner layer of pith than any navel orange I've ever used. ;o)
Valhalla January 7, 2016
I'll be spending the coming rainy weekend making bergamot marmalade (wish me luck!) and dealing with the rest of the myriad citrus I have piled up: Indian lime pickle and Burmese pomelo salad. I also have 10 pounds of pink lemons coming--I may need to head to the hotline for help with that! I just made meyer lemon aigre-doux from Paul Virant's preserving book. I did kumquats whole and in marmalade for Christmas. Soon the blood oranges will be coming. Oh and for instant gratification, grapefruit curd!
AntoniaJames January 7, 2016
Valhalla, how interesting! How do you plan to use the lemon aigre-doux? I've made several of Virant's aigres-doux, but not that one. I have a huge bowlful of Meyers on my counter, just picked from the little tree outside my kitchen door, that I've been considering how to use. Thank you. ;o)
Valhalla January 7, 2016
One idea is to save it for asparagus season, but I think itwill be good with seafood in the meantime. Same question to you--did you make the mandarin or squash aigres-doux?
AntoniaJames January 7, 2016
I made the mandarin aigre-doux, which makes an amazing salad dressing. Truly incredible. I also made the cranberry aigre-doux, which did not wow me, at all. (Cranberry's own sweet-tart brilliance is best left alone, to my mind.) I made the butternut squash aigre-doux, which I thought was okay but have not made since (not sure why . . . I probably will make some soon). The pear and vanilla aigre-doux tastes lovely, but the mushy texture was a deal killer. That's probably on me, as I no doubt used pears that were not Bosc or, if they were, then they were too ripe. I blitzed them into salad dressing used in salads with fresh pears, which worked well.
I've made at least a dozen other preserves recipes from that book, and most recently, his Thanksgiving turkey -- braised legs, brined roasted breast, smothered gravy using the leg meat, all made in advance except the gravy. So easy, I didn't start Thanksgiving dinner until about 4 that afternoon. And so delicious. Love that book! ;o)