Each year when the seville oranges arrive, usually in January, our family tradition is to make orange marmalade. Until this year I thought I was getting the hang of it. This time I made a small change in the recipe. To be precise, after using the juicer to remove the pulp, I thinly sliced the skins as usual. Then, unlike past years, I put the skins in the juice in the fridge overnight. The next day, full of hope and eager expectations, I boiled the skins and added what seemed like large quantities of sugar. (My wife taught me to first heat the sugar in the oven to avoid chilling the heating process). I did so and boiled the mixture as usual and then did the cold-plate test for firmness. It failed. So I boiled again and tried again. This time I convinced myself that all was well. Then, after the mix in the large pan cooled, I distributed the contents into 8 sterilized jars and applied the lids. At that point the contents of the jars seemed too liquid, but I convinced myself that after a night in the fridge all would be well.
Alas, the next morning the marmalade remained as runny as before. I consulted my Bible of jam making, Cyril James paperback “The Right Way to Make Jams“. As CJ instructs, I poured all the jars’ contents into the big pot, added more sugar and lemon juice, and boiled again. The cold-plate firmness test was still somewhat ambiguous but having gone to all that trouble I was certain I had succeeded. The next morning – yikes – the stuff was still too runny!
In desperation, I took the ultimate step. I went off to the grocery to buy some pectin. When I returned I discovered that I already had some. Being the skinflint that I am, I was on the verge of using the old stuff when I decided to take the unusual step of actually reading the directions. They stated, with no uncertainty, if the package was past the expiration date it would not work. I proceeded to use the newly bought packets but discovered that the dates were on the box not on the actual containers! Apparently I had discarded the boxes and may have mixed the two up! There was no way to tell which was new and which was the long expired packet. I had no choice but to take a chance.
I added the pectin and this time continued boiling until I was certain I would pass with a good grade. In fact, as suggested by a friend, I went so far as to separate the already well-cooked skins from the liquid juice and only boiled the juice until it was reduced by nearly one half. After returning both parts (skins and juice) to the large pot for a final quick boil that may have overshot the mark, I repeated the cold plate test, this time following the instructions precisely. Still, I feared that this time all the jars’ contents would be rock solid.
But the next day, my virtue and persistence was rewarded! The colour and consistency was perfect, the taste equally so. After three tries I had achieved success! I would offer a moral to this story along the lines of “If at first….” but I think someone has already come up with it.