My husband has a love of marmalade, sweet and bitter and bright. I never really cared for it until I met him, and then I came to appreciate its floral bitter notes, vibrant acidity and the candied texture of its orange rind.
We visited Ireland a few years ago researching recipes, some of which you’ll see in my new cookbook Broth and Stock out this May and available for preorder now. It was autumn, just as the leaves turned from emerald green to a rusty golden orange and the air took a decided chill, and we had just come from visiting the organic dairy farms at Kingdom Cheese.
Finding Inspiration in Irish Cooking
It rained most days, and we spent our time huddled next to the fire in our cottage, or chatting over mugs of strong, dark tea with our hosts at a gorgeous Irish farm stay. On a particularly grey and wet day, we bundled up and ventured into Limerick to visit the historic Milk Market, which has been in operation since the 1850s and features some of the best local, artisan foods in the region. There we plucked up some items for a picnic we’d take later that week: whole-grain sourdough breads, artisan cheese, and jams and jellies.
Among the few items we picked up was a lovely Whiskey Marmalade – the brightness of bitter Seville oranges tempered by the well-rounded, smooth intensity of Irish whiskey. For us, learning to make Whiskey and Honey Marmalade brings us back to Ireland, to the wet days, to the inky mugs of tea, to the low-hanging clouds and wildly variable landscape that rolls with green hills before dropping suddenly in craggy limestone cliffs into the Atlantic ocean. Food is memory.
Whiskey and Honey Marmalade
Good marmalade depends on fragrant and perfumed bitter Seville oranges. Their season is fleeting, and the window for making marmalade is brief. Seedy and knobby things, Seville oranges aren’t for eating out of hand. They’re too bitter, and too tart for that, but they are perfect for marmalade. This year, we ordered a bushel of them straight from the growers Local Harvest, just for making Whiskey and Honey Marmalade. And if you live in citrus-growing regions, you might find them at farmers markets.
You can make marmalade from sweet oranges too, but it lacks the complex character and perfume of Seville Orange marmalade. Check out this recipe for Honey-Sweetened Orange Marmalade using sweet oranges.
Both honey and whiskey add character to the marmalade. Honey adds its own notes of wildflowers or clover or orchard blossoms to the marmalade, while whiskey provides a deep, intense smoothness that’s rich and complex, but not alcoholic.
Softening the Oranges with a Pressure Cooker
Marmalade makes use of the whole orange save the seeds. You’ll use the peel, pith and flesh. That tough rind needs softening first before you can make the marmalade. You can boil the oranges for a few hours, nudging and rotating them to ensure even cooking, or use an electric pressure cooker (This is the model I use.) which softens the rinds in a fraction of the time, giving greater efficiency and much less monitoring.
- 8 Seville oranges
- 1 quart honey
- ½ cup Irish whiskey
- Scrub the oranges and set them on the rack of an electric pressure cooker (like this one). Cover them with water, and soften them in the pressure cooker by cooking them for ten minutes. Let the pressure naturally release, and then rotate the oranges to promote even softening of their rinds, and then pressure cook them a further five minutes. If you don't have a pressure cooker, place the oranges in a heavy pot or Dutch oven (like this one), cover them with water and boil them for 2½ hours, rotating them to ensure even softening of their rinds. Reserve the oranges, and discard the water.
- Allow the oranges to cool enough to handle them comfortably. Split them in half cross-wise, and nudge the seeds from their flesh using a butter knife. Discard the seeds. Scoop out the pulp from the orange halves, spoon it into the pitcher of a blender (This is the one I use.) Blend the orange pulp until smooth, and then pour the pulp into the pot.
- Quarter the remaining orange rinds, then layer one piece on top of the other, and slice the rinds into matchsticks about ⅛-inch wide and 1-inch long. Drop them into the pot with the orange pulp.
- Stir in the honey, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to medium, and stir the marmalade constantly until set, 30 to 35 minutes. (Test the set on your marmalade with any of these tips.) Take the marmalade off the heat, let it cool for five minutes, and then stir in the whiskey.
- Spoon into clean jam jars, and process in a water bath for ten minutes.