We are blessed here in California to have the perfect weather for growing citrus. We have several Meyer lemon trees which supply us with lemons almost year round. Meyer lemons, if you are unfamiliar with them, are a milder variety of lemon than our standard "Eureka" lemon.
They are a cross between a regular lemon and an orange. They're not quite as sour as regular lemons, and their peels are smooth and not as bitter. They make wonderful marmalade.
Every winter I make several batches of marmalade from the citrus growing in our yard. This Meyer lemon marmalade recipe is the "master" recipe from which I base all sorts of variations (adding grapefruit, blood oranges, etc.)
You can spice up this basic recipe by adding herbs or spices in the first stage of cooking, such as cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary, or vanilla. (Remove any whole spices or herbs before you add the sugar.)
I've tried to detail the recipe as well I could, making it easier for first time marmalade makers to be successful. Jam making is tricky; it really helps to do it a bunch of times; the more experience you have with it, the better jams you'll make.
If you are just starting out with jam making, use a candy thermometer! Once you have enough jam making experience, you can more easily judge when the jam is ready without one, but until then, use one.
Tips for Marmalade Making Success
- Make sure you are using Meyer lemons: I know this one sounds obvious, but you really cannot swap out Meyer lemons with regular lemons for this recipe. Meyer lemons are less tart and have peels that are less bitter than regular lemons. If you use regular lemons for this recipe, your result may be too sour and bitter.
- Cook until the peels are very soft in the first stage of cooking: Once you add sugar to the pot, the peels will firm up substantially, so you want to make sure the peels are very soft in the first stage of cooking, before you add the sugar.
- Know your altitude: These instructions are for cooking at sea-level. When you are at altitude, liquid boils at a lower temperature than 212°F. Look up what the boiling point of water is at your altitude (for example, at 3000 ft, the boiling point of water is 206°F), and aim for a jelly setting temperature of 6 to 8°F higher than that temperature. Otherwise, you may overcook your marmalade.
- Don't let the marmalade turn brown: If the marmalade is turning brown while you are cooking it, you are likely overcooking it and the sugars are beginning to caramelize. Remove it from the heat immediately if this happens and then next time you make marmalade, aim for a lower setting temperature.
- Rely more on the wrinkle test than on your thermometer: I use a thermometer just to help me figure out when to start making a wrinkle tests. The wrinkling of a little jelly on a chilled plate is the best indication that the jelly has reached its setting point.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
This recipe calls for Meyer lemons, a hybrid of a regular lemon and an orange, that is thinner skinned and sweeter than a regular lemon. You cannot substitute regular lemons for Meyer lemons in this recipe.
The proportion of lemon segments to water to sugar is 1:1:1. So if you don't have a kitchen scale and don't weigh your lemons to begin with, as you proceed through this recipe keep in mind these proportions. Your 2 1/2 lbs of lemons should yield 6 cups of chopped lemon. 6 cups of chopped lemon will be cooked first with 6 cups of water, and then later 6 cups of sugar are added.
You can also do this recipe with 4 cups of chopped lemons, 4 cups of water, and 4 cups of sugar. Do not double the recipe.
Do not reduce the sugar (if you want a reduced sugar recipe, use a different recipe); the sugar is needed for the jelly to set.
- 2 1/2 lbs of Meyer lemons (should yield 6 cups when chopped, if not, add more)
- 6 cups water
- 6 cups granulated sugar
Special Equipment Needed:
- 1 wide 6 or 8-quart pan (Stainless steel or copper with stainless steel lining, not aluminum which will leach)
- A sharp chef's knife
- A candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer (I use a thermapen or thermopop)
- 6 half-pint (8-oz) canning jars
- Cheesecloth, enough to double over and form a bag to hold the seeds for making pectin, or a Muslin jelly bag
Additional Equipment Recommended:
- Flexible plastic cutting board surface (to curl up to catch the lemon juice from the lemons to add to the fruit)
- Disposable latex or non-latex gloves to protect your hands from the acid from the lemons
Preparing the fruit
Scrub the lemons clean:
Discard any that are moldy or damaged.
Prepare the lemons:
Cut 1/4 inch off from the ends of the lemons. Working one at a time, stand a lemon on end. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Cut each lemon half into several segments, lengthwise.
As you cut the lemons into segments, if you can, pull off any exposed membranes. Just get the ones that are easy to get to, ignore the rest. When you've cut down to the final segment, cut away the pithy core. Remove all seeds from the segments. Reserve the seeds and any removed membrane or pith. You will need them to make pectin.
Cut each lemon segment crosswise into even pieces to make little triangles of lemon peel and pulp.
Put seeds, membranes, pith into cheesecloth or muslin bag:
Put all of the seeds, membranes and pith you removed from the lemons into a bag fashioned out of two layers of cheesecloth or a muslin jelly bag.
First stage of cooking
Place the lemon segments and water into a large, wide pot:
Secure pectin bag:
Place the pectin bag in the pot with the fruit pulp and secure to the pot handle.
Boil until peels are soft:
Bring mixture to a strong boil on high heat. Let boil, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, until the peels are soft and cooked through. (If too much of the water evaporates from the boil and the peels start sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more water back in.)
Test one of the lemon peel pieces by eating it. It should be very soft. If it is still chewy, keep cooking until soft.
Remove from heat.
Remove the pectin bag:
Remove the pectin bag and place the pectin bag in a bowl and let cool until it is comfortable to touch.
Add the pectin and sugar
Squeeze pectin from pectin bag:
Once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, if you want, squeeze it like play-doh to extract any extra pectin. This is not necessary but will help ensure a good set. (I like to wear latex-type gloves for this part.) You should be able to get a teaspoon or two more from the bag. It has the consistency of sour cream. Return this pectin to the pan with the lemon mixture.
Measure out your sugar and add it to the pan with the lemon mixture.
Second stage of cooking
Boil and check temperature:
Heat the jelly mixture on medium high and bring it to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
After the jelly first comes to a boil, it will foam up considerably. this is why you need need to use a large pot, and make sure you pay attention and keep your eyes on the whole process. Stir with a wooden spoon to bring the foam back down. If it gets too high, lower the temperature to keep it from overflowing the pot.
Secure a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, or check the jelly temperature with an instant read thermometer. The marmalade may take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes or so to be ready to pour out. After about 15 minutes, start checking the temperature frequently.
Test to see if the marmalade is at set point:
There are two ways to test that the marmalade is ready to pour out into jars: the mixture reaching a temperature of 218-220°F (6-8°F above the boiling point at your altitude) OR putting a bit of it on a chilled plate "wrinkling up" when you push it with your finger tip. I steer off of the wrinkle test. If the sample of jelly wrinkles, it's ready. I use a thermometer just to help me gauge when to do the wrinkle test.
For the wrinkle test, place a small plate into the freezer. As the jelly temperature reaches 217°F, start testing it by placing a small amount of the hot jelly on the chilled plate. If the jelly spreads out and thins immediately, it isn't ready. If it holds its shape a bit, like an egg yolk, that's a good sign. Push up against it with your finger tip. If the jelly sample wrinkles at all, it is time to take the jelly off the heat and pour it out into jars.
When you use a candy thermometer or an insta-read thermometer to test the temperature of your mixture, make sure the probe is NOT touching the bottom of the pan. Make sure that the indentation on the probe (with modern candy thermometers this is about an inch and a half from the bottom of the probe) is actually surrounded by the mixture. This may mean that you have to tilt the pan to one side, to cover the probe sufficiently to get a good reading.
Sterilize canning jars:
While the marmalade is in its second cooking stage, rinse out your canning jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven. They should be in the oven at least 10 minutes before using them. This not only sterilizes the jars, but it helps to keep them from cracking from the temperature differential when you add the hot jelly mixture to them.
As the time approaches for the marmalade to be done, boil some water in a tea pot. Put the jar lids in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour the boiling water over them to sterilize.
Ladle marmalade into sterilized jars:
Once the jelly has reached 218-220°F or its "wrinkly" stage, remove the jelly pot from the heat. Carefully ladle the jelly into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space at the top of the jars for a vacuum seal.
Clean rims, secure with lids and jar ring:
Wipe the rim clean with a clean, wet paper towel. Place the lid on the jar, securing with a jar ring. Work quickly.
Allow jars to cool and seal:
Allow the jars to sit overnight. You will hear them make a popping sound as a vacuum seal is created.
Even if the jelly is not firm as it goes into the jar (it shouldn't be), it should firm up as it cools.