Today I picked up my first stash of bergamots from Mud Creek Ranch at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. Knowing only of the bergamot oil in Earl Grey tea and various beauty products, it was exciting to have one in the hand. In appearance it resembles a gnarly, yellowy-green orange. The first thing I did was dig my nail into the peel to see if it would offer up that unique perfume and it still lingers as I write this two hours later; a searingly bright and fizzy citrus scent, with earthy, oily undertones. A kind of Earl Grey champagne, if you can imagine such a thing
Neat bergamot marmalade would probably take your eyebrows off – it has an intensity so startling and heady (surpassing even Seville oranges) that it would be wise to temper it with a gentler presence. Here, I’ve used sweet oranges and a couple of Meyer lemons, but you could also try something from the tangerine family.
This is a British-style, clear marmalade with a loose set and a generous scattering of peel throughout – though apparently the less peel, the more British. It is on the bitter side, as marmalade should be, and is best eaten slathered on hot, buttered toast at any time of the day or night. Fills about 6 8oz/half pint jam jars.
Bergamot and Orange Marmalade
Adapted from Delia Smith
6 Navel oranges
2 Meyer lemons
1.35 kg (3lbs) organic cane sugar
Begin by squeezing the juice from the bergamots, oranges and lemons into a jug. Remove all the pulp, pith and pips as you go and place them on a square of muslin or cheesecloth laid over a bowl; this contains the pectin which will enable your marmalade to set. Now cut the peel into shreds and add it to the juice. I like mine fine cut, but you may prefer a chunkier, more manly ‘lade. As you go, add any lingering pith or pips to the muslin. When you’re done, add 3 pints (6 cups) of water to the juice and peel, tie up the muslin to form a small bag – make sure nothing will escape – and add that too. Leave in a cool place overnight.
The next day, tip the juice and peel into a large saucepan, or preserving pan, and tie the muslin bag to the handle so that it bobs like a cork in the liquid (but doesn’t touch the bottom). I add an extra pint (2 cups) of water here as I find the muslin bag draws up a lot of the juice even after I’ve wrung it out a few times.
Now is the time to put some saucers in the freezer so you can begin testing later. Bring the liquid gently to the boil and then lower the heat and simmer. It is ready when the peel is completely soft – you can test a piece by pressing it between your finger and thumb. This can take anything from 35 minutes to an hour and a half; be aware that once sugar meets rind, it will no longer soften. Pour your sugar into a roasting dish and warm gently in the oven (200F) for about 10 minutes. This helps it to dissolve quickly later.
When the peel is ready, lift out the muslin bag and leave it on a plate until it’s cool enough to handle. Pour the sugar into the pan and stir over a very low heat until it has dissolved. When there are no crystals left, increase the heat and bring the marmalade to a rolling boil. Now squeeze every last bit of the jelly-like pectin that oozes from the muslin bag into the pan (I use a spoon to cream it off). Every little helps here, so be vigilant. Skim off any froth or scum that comes to the surface and leave the marmalade at a fast boil for 15 minutes. Now put a tablespoon of it on one of the cold saucers and let it cool in the fridge. If when you push the marmalade with your finger the mixture crinkles like a furrowed brow, then you have a ‘set’. Keep testing at 10 minute intervals until it has reached setting consistency. If you find this too much of a faff, a thermometer is a reliable alternative; when it reads 221F (105C), it’s ready. Leave the marmalade to settle for about 15 minutes otherwise all the peel will float to the top of the jar. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal immediately. Label when completely cold. See the Self-Preservation post on how to keep things clean and safe.