Saturday, 9 March 2013

Making marmalade to competition standard - tips & labels

Making marmalade takes skill, time, judgement and patience, you will need to practice if you want your marmalade to be good enough to enter a competition with. Some of the people entering these competitions have been making marmalade for years and are very skilled, you will be up against a tough and an experienced bunch. Be warned once you start practicing it can become very addictive, very this house its been woman versus marmalade for weeks and woman was going to win! (and I am not a competitive person, trust me)

So here are my top tips from what I have learned so far...along with some photos taken from the day I spent with like minded preserving fiends Vivien Lloyd, Karen Burns Booth and Charlotte Pike in February this year. Making preserves with like minded people is a great way to spend a day and you learn so much too. 
1. If you are entering a competition, check the rules with the organisers and if you are not clear then do ask them for more information. Check out who is judging, if its the WI (Women's Institute) they will follow WI rules, join or make friends with someone who is a WI member and look at the rule book they have for entering preserves in shows. This will guide you. Be clear what categories you are entering, only experiment with flavours once you have mastered the basics.
2. Choose a recipe you can trust, the best ones will have the right ratio of sugar to fruit to water. Read the recipe several times and follow it to the letter. There are hundreds of recipes on the internet and in books, but remember not all of them are good ones or follow the right ratio. This is the method I followed.

3. Buy the best produce you can find, organic Seville oranges produce the best results, for Seville orange marmalade, same with other citrus fruits such as lemons (don't use waxed fruit or if you do scrub it first), limes etc. When its Seville orange season in the UK its worth making friends with your local greengrocer and sourcing the best fruit.

4. Use cane sugar for marmalade, DO NOT use jam or preserving sugar.

5. Getting marmalade to setting point is tricky, this requires practice and skill and confidence, but once you crack this its a great achievement!

6. Make small batches, that you can control better. If you are making several batches (because you are entering a competition) keep some notes after each batch on what went well and worked and what didn't this will help you to improve. 

7. When making batches make up a small jar you can try yourself, then you will be able to test the seal, the aroma, the flavour, and the set yourself and be able judge how good it is.

8. Don't worry about batches that might not have set well or where they haven't settled in the jars properly, these might not be good enough for a competition but are still edible, will usually taste fine and can be used in lots of delicious recipes (like these muffins below). Family and friends will still be happy to take jars of homemade marmalade off your hands.

9. Always use PLAIN UNBRANDED clean sterilised jars and ALWAYS use NEW lids, these are available quite cheaply on websites and E Bay. If you are entering a competition I would only ever use new plain round jars and new plain lids. You don't want this to happen in a competition! (not my entry by the way...I won GOLD and two SILVER for mine)10. Make sure your jars are sterilised, warm (not red hot) and filled to the top, take off any scum or air bubbles with a teaspoon before sealing tightly. Make sure your filled jars are clean and not sticky, you can wipe them with a damp clean cloth and with a clean cloth with a little methylated spirit to make them shine.

11. DO NOT turn your filled jars upside down in an attempt to distribute the fruit, if your marmalade has been made properly you should not need to.

12. Label your jars with the name of the marmalade, when it was made and what is inside it. Be creative and give some thought to your labelling. Here's some I made earlier!
There are lots of websites with ideas and free labels you can download. I created mine after looking around other blogs and sites. 

Here is a link to a blog that has some lovely vintage style labels you can print off yourself at home to label jars (and anything else you might want to label). There are some very simple labels here suitable for a range of preserves. Here are some pretty heart shaped labels that are very appealing. Finally, this graphics fairy site has great old prints you can incorporate into labels as a background.

This is my last 'making marmalade' post for now...I hope these posts will encourage you to carry on or to even try making marmalade at home for the first time...and to make you think about entering either a local, national or international competition with your marmalade...thanks for reading all my posts.


  1. Susan, thanks for the tips. I'm making marmalade again today. Trying a few new things, getting ready for next year's competition. (I, too, am not a competitive person; but I can't resist entering a competition in my grandmother's hometown!)

    1. Wonderful Jean, some of these winners have been making it for years don't you know...I think its wise to practice in advance. Good to see you are entering again as is good to get feedback.

  2. mmmm pasta sauce marmalade... my favourite!

  3. Sue, you are a star - properly famous now ;-) Great tips. I always re-use jars and lids because I can't stand waste, but I'm very careful about which lids I use on my jams and marmalades and haven't yet used garlic pickle lids! I'm wondering why new lids are needed?

    Having said that, your jars look so attractive with their jolly lids and lovely labels - but that's a different matter entirely.

    1. I use my old jars again for home. If you entering a competition its not worth using old lids, even if they have come from something sweet like honey as even this will impact on the taste. You will lose points.
      If you are making at home for yourself its entirely up to you, as you probably won't be that bothered.
      If you use branded lids in a competition like this you will lose points.
      In this competition the judges did NOT like the red dotty lid on top of my Margarita marmalade they said it din't match! (I think its looked quite "mexican" :-))

  4. GREAT post Sue! And I am very proud to have received my Silver, Bronze AND a special Merit certificates yesterday! I was also able to see the comments for the first time, which, was VERY helpful and to see which of my batches won, and on what merits! (NO pasta sauce flavour in mine!!) Karen


Please leave a comment...if you have tried one of my recipes I'd love feedback, and thank you for taking time to pop by to read my blog.

Susan x