A history of Seville Orange Marmalade, including a recipe for making your own

Scottish food blogger Fraser Wright shows how to create a delicious Seville orange marmalade with this delightful recipe

Published 22nd Jan 2016
Updated 8 th Jan 2024

There is a small notebook, dated 1683, from Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland, seat of Clan Sutherland, written by an anonymous lady, which contains a set of recipes for preserving fruit.

One of the recipes is titled ‘How to make Orieng Marmalot’, and this is one of the earliest recipes we have for Seville Orange Marmalade.

Marmalade has a surprisingly rich history, entangled in apocryphal stories which have confused people about its origins. This can surely only be a testament to our affection for the stuff.

Marmalade was, and still is, a luxury product, as it is so time consuming to make. The no matter how good the manufacturer, the finest marmalade cannot be bought, as is must be made in very small batches, if the precious scent of Seville oranges is to be preserved. Factory made marmalade is made using machines, and boiled in enormous vats, producing a sticky, caramelised, and altogether inferior product.

Britain has been importing this fragrant and bitter fruit for centuries, for the sole purpose of making marmalade. Spain grows approximately 15,000 tonnes of Seville oranges every year to meet this demand. Funnily enough, they are not really eaten in Spain. You are more likely to find these oranges on the trees that line the pavements and parks, rather than in a market.

The recipe from Dunrobin gives instructions to cut the oranges into small squares, producing the ‘chipped’ style of marmalade popularised by Keiller’s Dundee marmalade. James Keiller founded the first marmalade factory in 1797, so the story of Keiller’s Dundee marmalade is difficult to avoid.

The myth goes that marmalade was invented in Dundee, by the wife of a grocer named James Keiller, after he bought a load of discounted, and unsellable, oranges from a storm blasted cargo ship. For the first time marmalade was produced on an industrial scale, thereby popularising the ‘chipped’ style are so familiar with today, and establishing the idea of Dundee marmalade.

This ‘chipped’ style was different to another earlier form of marmalade, which was made by pounding the orange flesh in a mortar and pestle, producing a thick, dark paste. It was much like quince paste which, incidentally, gave marmalade its name.

The recipe given by Elizabeth Cleland, author of the first ever published Scottish cookery book, A New and Easy Method of Cookery (1752), produces this so-called Scottish, or Dundee, style of ‘chipped’ marmalade. It is interesting that this style of marmalade crops up more often in Scottish recipe books of this time, than it does in contemporary English cookery books, where the mediaeval style, thick paste was more common.

Perhaps it was Elizabeth Cleland’s recipe that was used to make the marmalade that Bishop Pococke tasted on his visit to Scotland in the 18th century. He recorded in his journal Tours of Scotland (1760), ‘We breakfasted, they always bring toasted bread, and besides butter. Honey and jelly of Currants and pre-served orange peel’. Samuel Johnston, who was famously prejudiced against the Scots was converted, in part, due to the pleasures of the Scottish country breakfast.

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He recorded in his travel journal A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) “In the breakfast, the Scots, whether of the lowlands or mountains must be confessed to excel us. The tea and coffee are accompanied not only with butter, but with honey, conserves, and marmalades. If an epicure could remove by a wish in quest of sensual gratification, wherever he had supped, he would breakfast in Scotland.” No doubt the quality of the preserved fruits these gentlemen found in Scotland were of the highest standards.

The recipe below has been adapted from one of Delia Smiths. Her method is the best, and most straight forward I have come across. If you have never made marmalade before it can seem quite daunting. However, it is very easy as long as you follow some simple rules.

It is made in a few key stages - first you must cook the skin of the fruit in water to make it soft. Then you squeeze out all the pectin from the flesh and pips which are simmered in a muslin package. Finally, you add sugar to the fruit and water mixture to make a jelly.

The marmalade should be crystal clear with a bright orange colour, tasting intensely of, well, oranges.

Recipe for Seville orange marmalade

history of Seville Orange Marmalade

Mark Greenaway/Coppermango Photography

This recipe makes enough to fill 6-7 1lb jars

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• 1kg Seville oranges
• 2 kg granulated sugar
• small pinch of sea salt
• 2.5 litres cold water

• Additional Equipment
• 30cm x 30cm piece muslin
• 1m butcher’s string


First put the 2.5 litres of water into a preserving pan, or very large heavy based pot. Wash the oranges to make sure they are perfectly clean. Now cut the oranges in half and squeeze the juice out of them. Pour the juice into the pot with the water.

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When juicing the oranges save the pips and any flesh in a bowl. When the oranges have been juiced use a teaspoon to scrape any remaining flesh from the thick pith. Put this in the bowl with the pips.

Cut the orange halves in half again, creating quarters. Now slice the orange pieces into the thickness you want your marmalade to be. However thin or thick you want the pieces to be, make sure they are evenly sized so they cook at the same rate. Put the orange chips into the pot with the water and juice.

Now tie up all the flesh and pips in the muslin and tie it very tightly with string. Leave excess string so you can tie it on to the handle of the pot, making it easier to remove later. Now put some saucers or small plates in the freezer for testing the marmalade later on.

Simmer the fruit and water mixture slowly, uncovered, for 2 hours, or until the pith is very soft. The best way of testing doneness is by tasting it. You want to make sure the pith is as soft as you want it at this stage, as you can’t cook it more once the sugar is added. When the pith is soft to the bite, but not disintegrating, turn off the heat and remove the muslin package. Leave the muslin package to cool in a bowl for 5 - 10 minutes.

When the muslin package is just cool enough to handle start squeezing it to extract all the pectin. The pectin will start to ooze out through the muslin. Scrape it off and put it back into the pot with the fruit and water.

It takes a bit of time but try to squeeze out as much pectin as you can. More pectin means the marmalade will set more easily, giving a better quality preserve. The pectin will be white and will float in the water, however, this will dissolve in the heat when you add the sugar. You can whisk it in to help it dissolve.

When you have extracted as much pectin as possible, turn the heat on to medium and bring the water and fruit mixture up to a boil. Now add the sugar and salt, and stir until the sugar has dissolved completely.

When the sugar is fully dissolved turn the heat up as high as it will go. As soon as the mixture reaches a rolling boil, boil it hard for 15 minutes. Stir it occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch at the bottom. Remove the scum as you go.

It is important to skim so you have a really clear jelly. It should set after roughly 15 minutes hard boiling. You can test it by putting a little of the jelly on to a plate from the freezer.

Leave it to cool on the plate, and after a few minutes it should wrinkle up when you push it with a finger. It should feel like a stiff jelly. If it is still runny, leave it to boil for another 5 - 10 minutes. Keep testing it as you go. Alternatively you can aim to reach a temperature of 104˚C - 105˚C if you have a sugar thermometer.

When it is ready, take it off the heat and stir it for 15 minutes. You don’t have to stir continuously, but do it frequently to stop it setting. It is very important to leave the marmalade to cool down for this time before you decant it into the jars. If you were to decant it right away all the chips would rise to the top rather than be evenly distributed throughout the jar.

When the jars are full, cover with a waxed paper disc (wax side down) and seal with the lids, or better still - wetted plastic covers bound with a rubber band.

• See more of Fraser’s recipes at www.redbookrecipes.com/

Like this? See also:

• A history of Clapshot, including a recipe for making your own

• A history of the Clootie Dumpling, including a recipe for making your own

Fraser is originally from Glasgow and lives in a wee flat in Edinburgh. He writes the food blog www.redbookrecipes.com and wants to put Scotland on the map as a place for good food.
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