Failed Quince Jelly Into Orange Marmalade With Quince And Star-Anise

When I first started making jam, I would get the occasional customer that would ask if I used added pectin.   At that point, every single batch I’d ever made used commercial pectin, and I had no clue why anyone wouldn’t want to use it. Instead of taking 45 minutes to cook a batch of jam, it takes about 5, and I thought all of the jams I’d made tasted great. Over time, however, I’ve realized that understanding how to make jam without adding pectin means that I have a better grasp of the fundamental idea of what makes a delicious jar of jam.

Jams and jellies with no added pectin often have a softer set than those with commercial pectin, which often can have a set that is too firm and hard to spread. The other main improvement that I’ve noticed stems from paying attention to the acid content of the jam. Many fruits require the addition of lemon juice to boost the acid content and ensure a good set, but this also usually improves the flavor of the fruit; that lemony kick often adds depth, brightness, and complexity to what might otherwise be too sweet and simple.

Because of all this, these days I find myself actually tasting my jams to adjust seasoning before they go in the jar.  It seems obvious, but commercial pectin teaches people to follow instructions blindly, and not adjust the jam for their own personal preference. (I would go so far as to say that they scare people into listening, implying that somehow you’ll get botulism and die if you change anything in the recipe).

The downfall of not adding pectin is that recipes are sometimes less predictable. They take longer to cook and may not set perfectly every time.  Anyone who’s tried making jelly without added pectin probably has ended up with a batch or two of syrup, the result of jelly that doesn’t gel. Many people may leave the syrup as is, since it has plenty of practical applications (topping for ice cream or pancakes, poundcake glaze, etc.) but, well,  I am a perfectionist and I don’t really eat a lot of pancakes.

Last fall I came upon a huge amount of quince from one of my neighbors, some of which ended up in a failed attempt at a star-anise scented quince jelly. I actually tried to re-cook it and it still didn’t set. In retrospect, I suspect that the issue was the acid content, and I needed more lemon juice.  Instead of re-cooking the syrup a third time, it’s going into new batches of jam.

That’s the point of all of this.  Do you have syrup in your pantry? Is it just sitting there, with FAILURE written all over it? Mine isn’t a failure anymore, it’s pectin stock. Quince is incredibly high in natural pectin, so adding a jar or two into a batch of marmalade or jelly helps make sure that for this new batch of preserves I will get a good set.  Other high-pectin failed preserves, specifically apple jelly, apple jam, failed marmalades that are too syrupy, or quince jam, would all be excellent candidates for this method. (Disclaimer: Only use high quality syrups from your pantry.  If the preserve has gone bad for some reason, don’t use it. If there are bubbles or mold in the jar, or if it smells bad, do not use it!)

Today, instead of making plain orange marmalade, I’m making star-anise scented orange marmalade in a quince jelly.  The set is beautiful, and the flavor is mild and floral because of the quince. Now that quince is impossible to find, I’m thrilled to have a whole case of quince syrup.

Orange Marmalade with Quince and Star Anise

It’s hard to say if this recipe would work perfectly for someone else since my quince syrup might be slightly different from another syrup.  This recipe could certainly serve as a jumping off point though. Any citrus could be used, and any any high-pectin syrupy preserve could be used instead of syrup in my pantry.

makes: about 6 half-pint jars

  • 1 pint of quince syrup
  • 1 pint of lemon juice (I freeze lemon juice during the winter so that I have a stash of cheap, high quality lemon juice to use later in the year)
  • 4 c. prepared oranges (3 c. oranges sliced for marmalade soaked for 24 hours in 1 c. orange juice)
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 4 c. water

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and sterilize your jars.

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Cook on high heat, stirring ocassionaly until marmalade reaches gel point (220 degrees on a candy thermometer, or alternately, you can put a few small plates in the freezer. When you think the marmalade is almost set, start testing it by putting a teaspoon of hot marmalade on the frozen plate. Wait 30 seconds, and run your finger through it. If it’s finished, your finger will make a line through the jelly and a few small wrinkles on the surface. If not, keep cooking and try again). 

Ladle hot marmalade into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/8″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes.

For more information on making jam with no added pectin, refer to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, parges 22-29.

Rhubarb Is Basically The Best Thing Ever

This jelly was a small-batch experiment, and it came out great.  If you are a pie person, you must make this.  It tastes like, well, it tastes like the gooey stuff in rhubarb pie that’s not the fruit part or the crust- the stuff in between the strawberries and the rhubarb.  It’s tangy and sweet, with a good punch of lemon from all the fresh lemon juice. And since it’s jelly and not pie, somehow it falls into the “socially acceptable to eat for breakfast” category.

I’m definitely going to make this again in much larger batches and with a little bit of tweaking (maybe some cinnamon?), but this recipe is a perfect jumping off point.  Plus, there’s absolutely no added pectin, and whenever I make jelly without added pectin I feel like I’ve really accomplished something big in my life.

Rhubarb Jelly

makes: 1/2 pt. (plus a little extra)


  • 1 c. chopped rhubarb
  • 1 lb. crabapples, chopped in half
  • 6 c. water
  • 1/3 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 c. sugar

1. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the rhubarb, apples and water.  Cover, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.  Your whole house will smell like freshly chopped rhubarb and it will be amazing.

2. Transfer the cooked fruit and water mixture in a jelly bag to strain for 12 hours, if you have one.  You could also use cheesecloth.  I don’t have either of those things right now and I hate spending money, so I do it this way:

A picture is worth a thousand words, but let me try to explain what I did in much fewer than that…  Grab yourself a clean pillowcase (unless you want fun stuff in your jelly) and slip it over a large, nonreactive pot. Twist the base of the pillowcase and fasten with a rubber band or some tape. Pour the cooked fruit and liquid mixture into the pot.  The cooked fruit will stay on top of the pillowcase and a rich, flavorful juice will slowly drip into the pot.  Put the lid on top of the pot (but don’t press down on the fruit or the jelly will get cloudy later) and leave it to sit for 12 hours.

3. After 12 hours is up, undo the pillowcase and lift it off of the pot.  You could save the mushy fruit for making muffins or breads, but I fed mine to the chickens (because there’s only 24 hours in a day and I already made jelly, damn it. I don’t want to make muffins too).  You should be left with a really wonderful, aromatic juice.

4. Bring your boiling water canner to a boil.  In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the rhubarb juice with the sugar and lemon juice, and cook on high until it reaches around 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (ha! I don’t have one of those either, and I make jam professionally).  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do the frozen plate test, like me. Put a few small plates or bowls in the freezer before you start cooking the jelly.  When the jelly is really boiling like crazy and you think it might be ready, put a teaspoon of jelly onto one of the frozen plates.  Wait 30 seconds.  Run your finger across the jelly on the plate.  If it’s ready, your finger will make a wrinkly line through the cold jelly on the plate.  If the jelly just stays liquid and there’s no wrinkling, cook it for another few minutes and try again.

5. Ladle the jelly into clean, hot jars. Wipe rims clean, and screw on lids.  Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes, unless you want to eat it right now, in which case you should go get a spoon.  Happy canning!

NOTE: This recipe was just a very small test batch, which I always do when I am finding new jams and jellies to bring to the farmers market.  When I make it next time, probably in a month or two when there’s more rhubarb in the garden, I will definitely double or triple it, which I would encourage anyone with enough rhubarb to do, since getting one jar of jelly can be kind of anti-climactic.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

meyer lemon marmalade on vanilla pound cake

This past week has been a crazy tornado of citrus! In the midst of the whirlwind of blood oranges, tangelos, lemons and honey tangerines,  I thought it might be nice to stick to Meyer Lemons and sugar for one batch- no fancy spices, no booze (well, not in the marmalade atleast), no other fruits, no added pectin.

I was able to do my shopping for the marmalade extravaganza at the Allemany Farmers Market in San Francisco, which is my absolute, hands down most favorite shopping experience.  I find so many lovely things there; just this last week I went home with fresh dates, a bundle of lemongrass, chanterelles, fresh baked croissants, a dozen oysters from Point Reyes, and, of course, a rainbow of citrus fruit! (The prices here tend to be really reasonable too, not like Whole Foods or other specialty markets).  With such high quality, fresh fruit, it seemed like a shame to mess with it.

I want to brag about only buying certified organic, but really, a signed statement from the farmer saying that he’s never sprayed a pesticide in his whole life seems more genuine than any certification from the government.

Enough about the farmers market, though, check out these lemons!  In case you haven’t seen then before, Meyer Lemons are smaller and juicier than regular lemons, and their thin skins are much more delicate, making it hard for normal grocery stores to stock them since they don’t ship well.  They are also incredibly aromatic.

This marmalade is simple, with no added pectin.  All you need is Meyer Lemons, sugar, water and time.  This recipe uses a ratio of 1 part prepared lemons to 1 part sugar, so once you’ve read the whole thing through, if you’d like to change the amount, it should work fine.


  • 36 Meyer Lemons
  • 3 Water
  • 6 Sugar

Because these peels are so thin and delicate, so I used a different method for preparing citrus fruit than I usually do.   First, I sliced off the ends of the fruit. Then I slice each lemon into quarters.

Using a sharp knife, slice out the tough inner piece of pith and remove any seeds.Slice into very thin wedges and put them into a nonreactive pot. Add a little water (I used 3 cups for 36 lemons; change the ratio accordingly).

Cover the pot, set it aside, and wait for a day.

After you’ve waited the full 24 hours, bring the lemons to a simmer and cook for 10-20 minutes or until the peels are soft.  Set aside the cooked lemon mixture in the fridge for an hour to cool and let the pectin develop. (The pectin, which makes the marmalade gel, is inside the lemons. By letting the lemons rest- first for 24 hours, then for 2 hours- the pectin oozes out into the surrounding liquid.)

After the hour has past, use a large measuring cup to see how much lemon mixture you have.  Combine equal parts lemons and sugar in a large, wide-bottomed nonreactive pot. I had six cups of the lemon mixture so I divided it into two separate batches just to make sure it didn’t have to cook forever to reach the gelling point (you lose a lot of flavor this way).

Cook on medium high, stirring fairly often, until the marmalade gels (about 30 minutes). It seems like everyone has a different way of testing for gel point, but I just use my trusty wooden spoon. When the marmalade drips off the spoon in one big sheet instead of single drops, it means it’s done.  (You can also leave a few small plates in the freezer, and when you think the marmalade is close, put a teaspoon of hot marmalade on the cold plate.  Wait 30 seconds, and run your finger through the marmalade. If you see little wrinkles on the surface of the marmalade, it means it’s set.) Ladle the hot marmalade into hot, clean jars. Wipe the rims of the jars clean and screw on the lids.  Process half-pint jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes to get a good seal.


This classic marmalade is great on english muffins with lots of butter, or as frosting on pound cake. It would also make a fantastic marinade for grilled chicken or shrimp, and it will work well in Spanish, Moroccan, or Middle-Eastern dishes.

As a bonus project, you can germinate some seeds and try to grow your own Meyer Lemon tree…

Just pull out some whole seeds, fold them in a damp paper towel, and put them in a ziploc bag. I blow some air into the ziploc bag so it’s like a little greenhouse.  Theoretically they will sprout in 7-14 days, and then you can plant them.  These little seeds probably won’t bear fruit for years and years, but they’re pretty plants and fun to grow.   Good luck!