The Chinese love having mandarin oranges (or “kam”) in their houses over Chinese New Year because “kam” translates to gold in the Cantonese dialect. It signifies abundance and prosperity for the whole year.
These mandarin oranges are indeed auspicious to have in the house. However, every year without fail, we face the problem of trying to finish them before they rot. Honestly, I’m not sure how many mandarin oranges one can have in a single day.
Faced with a mountain-high pile of mandarin oranges, I decided that this year, I would intervene and not let them go to waste. An orange cake would be lovely but with kueh lapis amongst many other leftover Chinese New Year baked goodies, I decided that perhaps jam would be a better alternative.
I remember making grapefruit jam some years back. It was far too bitter for my liking -it may be due to the fruit itself and/or perhaps, I did not remove the piths completely. It was also a little too runny. Still, I can remember my euphoric state then (kind of like being on jam cloud no. 9) – it was just fascinating that I was able to make and bottle my own jam – au naturel, no preservatives added.
In fact, even though jam making sounds easy especially with its extremely short list of ingredients, there is a lot more science behind it than one can imagine. One has to understand how jam gels (due to Pectin), how sugar helps in the process of jamming (besides its function as a sweetener). Check out this article which I found really informative for first time jammers.
This time round, my mandarin orange marmalade is pretty good – no bitterness, it was simply citrus-y and sweet like the fruit itself. I must admit that when it got tiring trying to remove the pith from the zest, I took the easy way out by reducing the amount of zest in the marmalade! I am still having regrets over that. Aside from that, there might have been some mischievous seeds in the mandarin oranges that might have slipped past my vigilant eyes and made its way into the jam. I spotted some during the cooking process and fished them out. I do hope that I had managed to get all of them out!
Well, I’m still finding my way around the process of jam and marmalade making. It still holds as much fascination for me as it did a few years ago. Homemade jams just taste so much better than the store-bought kinds – on top of the fact that it was made with love. I have in mind a whole range of jams to experiment with: rhubarb and strawberry, mixed berries, plum and the list goes on!
I know what this marmalade will be perfect with: some warm raisins scones, or a wholemeal toast, pancakes….and also it will be a perfect filling for these thumbprint cookies!
So let’s jam on! What are you waiting for?
Recipe: Mandarin Orange Marmalade
Makes about 1.1 litre of marmalade ( I filled them in 1 big jar and 3 small jars)
7 medium mandarin oranges (each weighing about 100-120g)
juice from 2 whole lemons
750g caster sugar (Sugar needs to be about 60 -65% in concentration to form a gel)
Optional: 200g dried apricots, sliced (for luck)
1. Scrub the skins of the oranges well. Peel off the skin and using a paring knife, remove the pith(white parts) from the zest. Discard the pith and slice the zest into thin strips.
2. Fill a small pot with tap water just enough to cover the orange zest. Bring the water to a boil, and pour it away, draining the orange zest with a colander. Repeat this process three times. This is to remove the bitterness that the zest contains.
3. Chop up the flesh of the mandarin oranges into 1 inch pieces and remove the seeds.
4. Add the prepared zest, flesh of the mandarin oranges, lemon juice, sugar, water, dried apricots to a pot and bring to a rapid boil under medium heat, stirring occasionally.
5. Turn it down to a medium-low heat and continue to cook the jam until it thickens and gels. I cooked it to about 104 degrees celcius. The gelling point for jams is about 103 – 105 degrees celcius (This is so for countries at sea level like Singapore. On a higher altitude, the gelling point temperature falls to range of 97 to 100 degrees celcius.)
6. Pour your hot jam into hot sterilised glass or mason jars and seal while still hot. Store the jams in a cool, dry place. Refrigerate once opened.
Tips for jammin’:
*To sterilise the glass jar, wash the jar and lid with hot water and soap. Rinse well and place the jar in a preheated oven at 160 degrees celcius for 15- 20 minutes or until dry.
*You can test if your marmalade is set by spooning a dollop of it onto a cold plate that has been chilled in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Leave it for a minute or so before using your finger to run through the dollop of marmalade. It should wrinkle and not flood back onto itself.