For me, making marmalade is a form of meditation…a slow, deliberate and, at times, rhythmic affair absolutely worthy of an afternoon spent in the kitchen.
Over the last few years, I’ve waffled between my favorite bourbon cocktail – the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned. Usually, the Manhattan wins out because of the cherry, but I do love the hint of orange in an Old Fashioned. So at home, I started to combine the two – a little fresh-squeezed orange juice, some dark cherries, sweet Vermouth and Bourbon. It occurred to me once while sipping on one of these cocktails that the flavors would be perfect in marmalade form. And then, of course, I could enjoy the lovely taste of my favorite cocktail any time of day!
Turning my favorite cocktail into marmalade
So last year, at the tail end of blood orange season, I studied different marmalade recipes and began putting my idea to the test. The flavors were there, but the consistency was hit or miss (I was trying to get by with less sugar). And I also discovered that making marmalade was a LABOR OF LOVE (translation: tedious). So as blood orange season ended and my hands ached from my first foray into marmalade-making, I abandoned the idea.
A few weeks ago, as blood oranges appeared in the markets again, I felt inspired to try once more. This time, I followed an Alton Brown recipe and tip by simply slicing all my oranges on a mandolin and then quartering the slices. Compared to my previous attempts to separate fruit from peel, finely chop peel, collect pith and seeds in a cheesecloth bag to steep in the cooking fruit, etc., it was so much easier!
Now, making marmalade is still very much a labor of love. But the process also has a wonderful, almost meditative quality to it. For me, this was a perfect way to spend a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon indoors, listening to music and finding a rhythmic zen as I sliced, stirred, and tasted what is now my perfected Blood Orange Manhattan Marmalade.
Blood Orange Manhattan Marmalade
- 2 lbs blood oranges
- 1 lemon
- 12 oz pitted dark cherries frozen is easiest
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup Bourbon inexpensive, like “Very Old Barton”
- 20-40 dashes Bitters of choice Crude “Lindsay” or Angostura
- Wash and dry oranges and lemon.
- Slice blood oranges into thin (⅛ inch) slices on a mandolin. Stop every few slices to check for seeds and pick out with a paring knife as needed. (This is admittedly tedious and shouldn’t be rushed because mandolins are sharp, but they are also the best way to cut thin slices like this. You could do this by hand with a sharp knife and TONS of patience, but a mandolin really is worth your sanity here.)
- Cut slices into quarters. Set the end slices of the oranges off to the side while you work. Once all the oranges are sliced and quartered, use a paring knife to trim off the extra pith (white) from the end pieces and then julienne the ends into thin slices. Add to the rest of the sliced and quartered oranges.
- Zest and juice 1 lemon over the oranges. Transfer oranges into a large pot. Add the 4 cups water. Stir to combine, keeping an eye out for any seeds you might have missed that float to the top. Turn heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a rolling boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a rapid simmer and cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until oranges have softened. Stir occasionally.
- While the oranges cook, set cherries out to thaw slightly. Then pulse a few times in a food processor or chop them roughly on a cutting board. Set aside.
- Place a couple small plates in the freezer to chill – you will use these later to test whether the marmalade will set.
- If you plan to can and preserve your marmalade (recommended), then this is the time to prep your canning supplies. Fill a large 12-quart pot with water ⅔ to ¾ full. Bring to a boil. Place 8 8-ounce jars into the water (or 6 10-ounce jars), as well as the jar rings, funnel, and ladle you plan to use into the boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the lids to the hot water and leave everything in this pot of hot water until you are ready to start the canning process.
- After the oranges have simmered for 30 minutes, add the chopped/pulsed cherries, 1 cup bourbon, 5 cups sugar and stir. Insert a candy or deep fry thermometer into the side of the pot. Bring mixture back to a rolling boil. Be careful not to let mixture boil over – you may have to lower the heat to avoid this.
- Boil until mixture reaches 222* F on the thermometer, stirring occasionally to make sure sugar isn’t burning to the bottom of the pot. In my experience, reaching the ideal temperature can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, so just keep an eye on this and be patient.
- To test if the marmalade is ready, take one of the chilled plates from the freezer and put one teaspoon of the marmalade onto the plate. Let it sit for 30 seconds and then tilt the plate. The marmalade should look like a soft gel and move a bit, but if it runs easily, then it’s not ready and needs to be boiled for longer. Repeat this test as often as needed until the proper setting consistency is reached. (This should be achieved at the 222* F temp, but the plate test will confirm the stage. You can also just use the plate test if you don’t have a candy thermometer.)
- Once the marmalade has reached the setting stage, add the bitters to taste. I used Crude Bitters “Lindsay” (Pecan, Magnolia, Habanero) and used two half-full droppers worth (about 40 drops) for one batch. Angostura bitters would also work well here. Start with 10 drops or dashes, stir well, and pull out a teaspoon to taste (make sure you let the marmalade cool on the spoon before tasting – it’s hot!). Continue this process until you’ve reached desired taste.
- Remove the sanitized canning jars from the hot water and drain on a clean kitchen towel. Remove lids, rings, ladle and funnel as well and set in a clean, sterile place.
- Turn heat back on the canning pot to bring canning water back to a boil. Put funnel on top of one of the jars and ladle marmalade into jar, leaving about ½ to 1 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims and threads of the jar with a clean, slightly moist towel. Place lid on each jar and secure with a ring (don’t tighten too aggressively).
- Place jars in canning rack and lower into boiling water (you don’t want the jars to sit directly on the bottom of the pot). Add additional water, if needed, to cover tops of jars by at least 1 inch. Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Using canning tongs, carefully remove jars to a cool place and set on top of a kitchen towel. Allow to sit for 24 hours. Check seal by pressing on the lids. There should be no flex or pop. If a seal is not achieved, put that jar in the refrigerator and use that product first. Refrigerated marmalade should be safe for at least 3 months if tightly sealed between uses. Always check homemade jams and discard if mold or other signs of spoilage appear. Properly sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place like a cupboard for 12 months. Make sure to label all jars with the content and date made.