Lisbon lemon marmalade

The magical garden of the Italian embassy in Lisbon was full of lemon trees when we visited in March. Transported there goodness knows how long ago from the Amalfi Coast, the trees produce huge fruit which tingle like sherbert on your tongue. We brought three kilos back and rather than frittering them away, I turned them into tart lemon marmalade.

Untreated lemons – 3 kg
Sugar – about 1.5 kg

With a zester or potato peeler, remove a thin layer of peel from the fruit and set it aside. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice from them: you don’t need to do this very thoroughly because anything remaining will be caught in the next stage. Chop the lemon peel to the size you wish. Put the juice in a large bowl and add the peel to it.

Roughly chop the squeezed-out remains of the lemons, and put them in a large saucepan with about two and a half litres of water.  Many marmalade recipes discard this part of the fruit, but this is a pity: lemon is packed with natural pectin but most of it is in the pith and – in particular – in the membranes around the individual segments. It’s worth getting all of this into your mix to speed up the gelling process. Bring the water and lemons to the boil and simmer them for about an hour, then leave it all to sit for another hour or so.

When it has cooled a little, pour the liquid into a jelly bag and let it drip for several hours – overnight is best – into the big bowl with the lemon juice and peel. You’re always told to resist the temptation to give the jelly bag a squeeze to get the last bits of juice out. It’s meant to turn your jelly cloudy. But the temptation is generally too strong for me and quite frankly, I’ve never noticed much difference one way or the other.

Transfer the liquid from the bowl into a maslin pan or heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring it to the boil and simmer it gently for an hour to ensure that the peel is thoroughly softened, then stir the sugar into the bubbling liquid.

What kind of sugar you use is up to you. The only time I ever buy refined white sugar is for jam- and marmalade-making. I find that brown sugar asserts its flavour too much. The again, I use so little sugar in my jams – and then consume them so slowly – that I don’t feel like I’m doing myself too much damage with over-refined commodities. I put a kilo and a half in my list of ingredients but again, it’s up to you how much you use. In fact, I used less than a kilo with my Lisbon lemons. But my idea of perfect jam is a flavour so sharp it makes your tastebuds wince. If you prepare something sweeter, you can use anything up to 3 kg… after which it become sugar marmalade (and the end result can be a bit rubbery), rather than lemon.

Continue cooking the mixture at a steady gentle boil. It will probably take an hour or so to set. I swear by my jam thermometre: 105 degrees celsius is gelling point at sea level. We’re almost 500m up, so I wait until the marmalade reaches 104 degrees, let it bubble gently for another couple of minutes, then pour it into sterilised jars. If you don’t have a thermometre, you’ll need to dribble bits on to a saucer, leave it to cool, and continue cooking until you can draw your finger through the splodge of marmalade without the edges running back together too quickly. You can tell that you’re getting near to gelling point when the surface of your jelly is covered with tiny frothy bubbles.

Pour the marmalade into sterilised jars (see here for how to sterilise) which should still be hot but not boiling, and put the lids on tightly, straight away.

These quantities should make about a kilo and a half.

© Anne Hanley, 2011

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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