I’m a homemade-gift-giver. To me, receiving a home-made gift is so special and sweet. And I hope that the people I give home-made gifts to feel the same. I’ve been making my Christmas gifts for my entire adult life. It started in college, when I was dead broke and had to find a way to make a hundred dollars equal a few dozen gifts.
I’m still pretty broke. But I can buy gifts for most people. Still, it feels wrong and weird to exchange candles and gloves and bottles of wine. Especially when the people on my list generally have more money than I do! They can all buy their own wine, and candles, and other low-priced gift items.
But after 20+ years of making gifts, it’s getting tough to come up with new ideas.
I give out my fruitcake, but some people don’t care for it (fools!!) so I can’t give it to everyone. I used to make an ornament each year, but nowadays my kids do that so mine would be redundant (giving to the same people) so I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve given crocheted gifts, and sewn gifts, and sculpted ones, and seashell jewelry, and homemade lotions and soaps, and all kinds of things.
This year, my plan is to give small loafs of nice homemade oatmeal bread along with a few jars of preserves. I have my blackberry jam of course, but I thought a marmalade would be fun. I’ve never made marmalade before.
I did some research and realized that marmalade is kind of a big deal to some people. And the procedures for making it are wildly varied.
I found an easy one from Whole Foods. It was indeed very simple, but the result wasn’t so great. It is way too thick, the orange slices remain too firm for my tastes, and there isn’t much jelly. I think it will be a great accompaniment to roast meat, maybe even a good glaze for ham or fish, but not fantastic on toast. (this didn’t stop me from eating almost half a jar, however! lol the flavor is good, it’s the texture I didn’t love.)
Armed with this experience, a lot of internet research, and a few cookbooks from my shelf, I improvised a new recipe:
- 4 navel oranges (obviously Seville oranges are preferable, but those are a January thing)
- 2 lemons
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup minced fresh ginger root
- 8 cups water
- Peel the orange with a vegetable peeler and chop into bits (however large you like). Cut off the pith (white parts) of the orange and put into a cheesecloth. Chop up the flesh and put it into the pot, along with the bits of peel.
- Peel one lemon and chop the rind as you did the orange rinds, add that to the pot too.
- Gather up all the pith (and any seeds) in the cheesecloth bag and put that into the pot as well.
- Add 8c. water to the pot and bring to a boil. Let boil until the water is reduced by about half. (this took me about an hour and a half, I think) Meanwhile, peel and mince the ginger, and juice the lemons.
- Remove the cheesecloth bag, and add the lemon juice, ginger, and sugar to the pot. Squeeze out the bag and put that juice back into the pot.
- Boil until set. (220f on a candy thermometer, or do the spoon sheet test)
- ladle into clean, sterilized jars and seal.
I definitely prefer the second, experimental, batch. The ginger flavor is a LOT stronger, which I love (I wanted to call this “orange-ginger-marmalade” due to an inside joke with my cousin – this stuff fits that label well) and the texture is way nicer.
I think I should have added extra water along with the sugar, as the jelly-to-bits ratio is not ideal. I also think longer pre-sugar boiling time would have helped make the rinds more soft (they are fairly firm). And clearly: I over-boiled. Next time I will trust the thermometer (it looked so watery at 220 though!!) Even still: these are gift-worthy!
But you know, I can’t leave well enough alone 🙂 So I made one more experimental batch. This time, lemon-cranberry!
- 3 lemons
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- 2 tbsp fresh minced ginger
- 9 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
Basically following the exact same procedure, but using the lemons instead of oranges, and adding the cranberries (chopped) with the ginger and sugar.
This came out beautiful! What a gorgeous pink color! BUT…super tart. I don’t know what I was expecting, what with lemon and cranberries being the only fruit ingredients, but yeah, tarty tart tart. Still really good, though. It would be fantastic as a topping for ham or other meat. It would even be good on a very rich bread, or as a glaze for a fruit tart, or poured over a brick of cream cheese and served with crackers as an appetizer.
If I make it again, I’d boil the cranberries and ginger with the lemons from the start, and increase the sugar. On the positive side, I now know the correct ratio of water to rind, as this one is pretty near perfect (in my opinion) as far as texture goes.
Overall, my marmalade experiments were fun, cheap, and tasty, and I feel sure the results will be appreciated by my family members. I might do some test-cooking with them, and give a recipe card with the jars instead of (or in addition to) a loaf of bread.
As far as preserving goes, I will most likely stick to jam, though, unless I am in the mood for a lot more science experimenting! ❤