Zen and the Art of Mandarin Jam

Mandarin Jam 

I always assumed the first signs of age I would show would be physical: a laugh line here, a spot of gray there, perhaps some slight confusion between the letters ‘F’ and ‘P’ on the eye chart at the doctor’s office. Never in a million years would I have believed you if you told me my lust for adventure – my insatiable need for ‘new’ – would be the first thing to go, and never in a trillion gazillion years would I have even listened to the end of your sentence if you’d dropped the word ‘food’ in there too. But the signs are becoming hard to ignore. Just yesterday, for example, I realized that I’ve eaten the same thing for lunch every day for the past twenty-three – count ’em, twenty-three – days. Not more or less the same thing, exactly the same thing: the same ham and cheddar on the same toasted pita with the same tomato chutney, avocado and mayo. And you know what’s worse? I’m not even tired of it yet. Oh dear, just admitting that makes me blush.

But that’s nothing compared to my mandarin habit, which makes my lunchtime pita look like a fleeting fancy. The problem, you see, is that I have this tendency to latch on to a particular fruit in season, and not let go until I’m dragged, kicking and screaming, to the next one. Last summer it happened with nectarines and greengage plums, the withdrawal from which – when my supplies finally dried up – I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive. The summer before it was flats of enormous local raspberries. The fall before that, it was soft-as-marshmallow figs from Turkey. And currently it’s mandarins, which I began eating tentatively last December when the first cheerful orbs from Spain and Cyprus hit the shelves, and which now I’m consuming so voraciously that they’re competing with things like cheese and olive oil to occupy the biggest slice of my daily caloric pie-chart. It’s scary, I tell you – when my local market ran out of them a couple of weeks ago, I nearly fainted on the spot. In retrospect, I probably should have taken advantage of the shortage to practice a bit of Zen non-attachment. Instead, I waited until they re-stocked, bought nearly their entire supply, and made some mandarin jam.

Yes, mandarin jam. If you, like me, thought citrus preserves came in one flavor only, namely the flavor of acrid, bitter peel they call ‘marmalade’ (my profuse apologies if you like the stuff; I’ve never quite understood the attraction), you’re in for a treat. What I discovered on my recent trip to Calabria is that marmalade is only one of many ways of putting citrus and sugar together into a jar, and the most delicious of them all surely must be this jam. My epiphany on the matter came during a dinner at a place just outside of Sibari called Casa Chella, a lovely restaurant-cum-olive-and-citrus-farm run by Natale Falsetta and his wife Maria. There, in addition to many other delicious things, I was served one of the simplest, yet most memorable desserts I’ve eaten in a long time: a soft, tender sponge cake filled with homemade mandarin jam. Although they called it marmellata di mandarini, I knew at first bite this was no ordinary marmalade – without even a trace of bitterness getting in the way of the pure, intense sweetness of the mandarins, it tasted like the Mediterranean sun itself in spreadable form.

Although I made a feeble attempt to wheedle the recipe out of Maria in the kitchen, I wasn’t very successful; it’s not that she wouldn’t give it to me, but rather that she assumed I know more about jam making than I do. “Well, you just peel the mandarins,” she told me, shrugging nonchalantly, “and cook them with sugar until it sets. That’s all.” Or that was the gist of it anyway – what I actually noted down was ‘peel – sugar – cook’, so needless to say, the specifics took some improvisation. But not much, actually – this must be one of the easiest preserves in existence. In fact, a quick blitz in the food processor and a leisurely half-hour-boil on the stovetop are all that stand between you and a cupboard full of of chunky, sweet-tart mandarin bliss, as delicious spread between sponge cake layers as it is drizzled on a bowl of plain yogurt or slathered thickly on hot toast. Or you could do what I do and spoon it straight out of the jar when no one’s looking. Just be sure to use a small spoon – it’s still a long time until greengage season, after all.

Mandarin Jam

The best mandarins for jam are full-flavored and juicy, but they don’t need to be particularly sweet. In any case, you should employ your tastebuds to find the optimum balance of sugar for your batch of fruit. While you can certainly use any variety of mandarin to make this, if you’re using something particularly small, throw in a couple extra to make up for the higher proportion of peel (FYI, the ones I based this recipe on were about 1/4 pound each). I imagine you could also employ this technique for just about any kind of citrus fruit – meyer lemons and grapefruit come to mind, for instance – though naturally the quantities of sugar and lemon would probably need some adjustment.
Yield: about 1 quart; recipe can be easily scaled up

1 kilo (generous 2 lbs) mandarins, any variety: clementines, tangerines, satsumas, etc., preferably organic
500 grams (2 1/2 cups) sugar, or more to taste
juice of 2-3 lemons

Wash 2-3 of your mandarins and zest them, carefully avoiding the white pith underneath. You should have about a tablespoon. Peel all of your fruit, removing as much of the pith and filaments as possible. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, cut each mandarin in half around its equator, and pick out any seeds. Place the halves along with any juice they’ve expelled in a food processor and process for about a minute, until you have a more or less smooth puree.

Combine the mandarin puree, tablespoon of zest, sugar and lemon juice in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat so it continues to boil gently. Allow the mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until it sets, about 25-30 minutes. To test the set, place a small saucer in the freezer for a couple of minutes, then drizzle a teaspoon of hot jam on it. Allow to cool, then run your finger through it. If it holds the trough, it’s set. Also taste for sweetness at this point – if you think it could use more, add a bit more sugar and cook another minute or two; do the same with lemon juice if the acidity needs some perking up.

Pour into hot, sterilized jars, seal tightly and turn upside down until cool. Or use your tried-and-true canning method. Or simply keep in a closed container in the fridge for up to a month.


40 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Mandarin Jam

  1. As though more proof were needed that I have to stop reading food blogs while I’m pregnant… now I’ll have to run out and buy a bag of mandarins!The word "marmellata" in Italian is the general one used for most fruit preserves, and not just for citruses – so you would say e.g. "marmellata di fragole" (strawberry jam), "di pesche" (peach preserve), or "di fichi" (fig jam). On the other hand, "marmelada" in Portuguese is the local equivalent of dulce de membrillo.

  2. Whilst MzTallulah should stop reading food blogs when preggers, I should stop reading them when I am at work!! A great post as always, the jam looks incredible.

  3. I’ve been afflicted with loving the same meals day in and day out since I was a child, but, until you came along hadn’t the nerve to admit it 😉

  4. I am incredibly ritualistic about food, espeically when it comes to solitary meals such as brreakfast and lunch. And I love your photos…the opening photo is just delicious.

  5. I laughed at the part of your blog discussing eating the same lunch 23 days. I am guilty, too. Eating a full multi-vegetable salad w/ olive oil & balsamic vinegar daily for sometime. I can’t get enough of my veggies and do not tire of it! Thank you for posting the mandarin jam! What a treat! It’s one of my favorite fruits. Yummmm…

  6. While the jam sounds divine, and a lot more doable than some other recipes I have seen, my curiosity is rather piqued about the tomato chutney that goes into the pita sandwich. Do you mind sharing the recipe or the brand? The photo of the jam is worth a million words. 🙂

  7. Literally finished one of the first mandarins of our season whilst reading. Am tempted to go back and buy up big despite the bounty of the months ahead…Beautiful image.

  8. Melissa – This is a gorgeous post. Last year, in an effort to make the most of a glut of one of my most favourite fruits, I made curd out of feijoa. I enjoyed jars of it on toast for weeks on end. I salivate now as I see the feijoas coming into season again. I have never thought to make jam from mandarins but love your inspiration here. And your photograph is breathtaking – cool grays contrasted by warm and ethereal orange.

  9. We are just coming into pokan season here in Rio. I will absolutely try this out on them. The foto is really beautiful.

  10. If the beautiful photo wasn’t enough to make me want to rush out and buy mandarins to make this – reading the recipe has now made it compulsory!

  11. That is a beautiful, beautiful photo. I love mandarins and mostly clementines. They remind me of Christmas dinner around the table eating clemetines for dessert (you know it is in the basque Country…). I have never made jam with them though. I will definitely bookmark it for this upcoming winter season!

  12. What a lovely idea! I’m concerned, though, about the upside down cooling. I’m a water bath canner. You’d get a smack from a Food Preservation USDA type for doing that here in the States. How quickly are you consuming that? Do you store it in the fridge? Thank you for your wonderful recipes!

  13. Great post! I can’t believe it’s so easy to make citrus jam. I should eat more of that stuff anyway–berries are getting old.

  14. Thanks, guys!!MzTallulah – Funny you should mention the Portuguese ‘marmelada’, since I was just reading that our ‘marmalade’ comes from it. Strange how in English it came to mean citrus preserves only, isn’t it?Susana, Liz and Koffeeaddikt – I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one guilty of mealtime repetitiveness. It’s strange – I can’t stomach the same thing for dinner more than, say, two or three nights in a row, but I can happily go months eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch.Evolvingtastes – Actually the chutney I’ve been eating in my sandwiches is just a pretty boring supermarket brand, but every once in a while I make up a batch of this one, which is incredible. I’ve made it with both fresh tomatoes and canned and it’s equally good both ways; also I normally double the sugar, which surprisingly still leaves it considerably less sweet than many. I’ve also been meaning to try Sam’s version, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. It looks quite different, but also scrumptious.Ann – I thought somebody might ask about this! You’re probably right that the USDA would balk at this method, but it’s been tried and tested in kitchens across Europe for decades (generations, actually). I learned it in France, but I’ve met jam-makers in Germany, Italy and Spain who also do it this way. In theory, if your jam is boiling hot and your jars are sterile the end result will be as shelf-stable as jars processed in boiling water, as the cooling jam naturally forms a vacuum. Of course, by all means use the method you’re most comfortable with – I’m certainly not advocating one over another.

  15. So that’s how the Italians make mandarin jam! I’ve eaten amazing mandarin jam in Liguria and wondered how they pulled it off…

  16. I’m going to have to try to make this beautiful, beautiful jam while we still have some tiny cute mandarins in the stores. But I have another question as well — tell me where the gorgeous glass or jar in the jam picture comes from, please. I’m filled with immediate lustful covetousness by its beauty.

  17. i loved your recipe on jam it really is so well made with lots of thought and very healthy as well! I just started a video recipe site that shows you step by step how to make stuff, http://www.ifoods.tv and i also started out as a blogger so it’s great seeing other bloggers doing well, keep up the good work"

  18. I’ve been making marmalade for years with all types of citrus and other peeled fruits, but have never come across a recipe puree-ing the juice with the zested halves! I must try this out! is the purpose to capture the pectin? It certainly makes a thicker, jam-like marmalade, but what a lovely presentation! thanks for the inspiration.

  19. I’ve been dreaming about this since reading the past last week. Haven’t had time to make any yet, but I will! Thanks for the great recipe.

  20. I worked in a restaurant in England last winter and kept a jar of mandarin jam in the tiny fridge of my tiny room of my tiny bed and breakfast. I was working 17 hour days and left for work before the sun came up and arrived home long after it set. Every morning my lovely B & B owner would leave a fresh croissant in my room but I left too early to enjoy it for breakfast. However, as I walked home at night along my winding country road, the thought of my croissant made bright with my mandarin jam was what inspired me to place one exhausted foot in front of the other. Thank you for this wonderful post about a simple ingredient that is sometimes all you need to keep moving forward.

  21. I just made this! I made a half batch, with 3 normal sized tangerines (honey tangerines from Florida) plus one tiny tangerine for good measure (Ojai pixie tangerine from California), and a generous cup of sugar. I also used the juice from 2 lemons. It was my first time making jam! I’m worried that I overcooked it, since it only made a cup and a half of jam, and the residue left in the pan is really, really sticky. Oh well. The taste is so interesting (I’ve never had citrus jam before). I expected it to taste more like the original fruit, but in cooking it has taken on a different flavor. It’s almost… tomato-y. More vegetal than the original. Very nice, but unexpected. I’d be really curious to try it out with lemons. A really sour jam. I wonder if that would work!

  22. (Later). I figured out what it reminds me of. Rose hips. Rose hips always taste like tomatoes to me. Maybe it’s some kind of cooked vitamin C thing 🙂

  23. I love this recipe! I made it with pokan tangerines that are produced locally in my corner of rural Rio de Janeiro. The pokan have a bitter/sweet quality that I played with by adding fresh-grated ginger, allspice and a pinch of cayenne. It is morning toast jelly with an edge. I posted the recipe and photos up on my blog daminhacozinha.com (in portuguese) with a shout out to Traveler’s Lunchbox. Thanks for the inspiration.

  24. I made the Mandarin Jam today, in one word spectacular. It’s really nice to be able to make a recipe that doesn’t need to be adjusted. Thanks Melissa

  25. Melissa, another great recipe! I substituted tangelos as my tree was heavy with the fruit. Tomorrow my neighbor is bringing over tangerines from her tree and we are going to spend a few hours making your incredible jam. We might even add a dash of Campari!

  26. I am planning to make this on the weekend with mikans picked from one of my student’s trees! I will let you know how it works out… your blog is amazing!

  27. This is a great thing to try during Chinese new year as there are always lots of Mandarin trees everywhere in the city during this time. (It’s a symbol of luck for Chinese) I am going to preserve the ‘luck’ in a better way this year. Thanks!

  28. Wow! I made this jam a few weeks ago, and everybody loved it! I didn’t puree the mikans, but rather simply chopped them into little pieces… still delicious! Thanks for this wonderful recipe… I will try many more of yours 🙂

  29. My mum has a tree full on madarins at the moment so i’m going to try your recipe tonight. I like the way you use 2:1 ratio of fruit to sugar, i try to avoid making overly sweet jam so i am hoping this is going for me just like this, thanks!!

  30. Hi, I'm writing this to you from a small village in Valencia, Spain, where my house overlooks a valley of oranges. Although I do not have an orchard, I am permanently overwhelmed with citrus fruits as neighbours present me with lemons, pink grapefruit, mandarins and every species of orange you can name. The challenge is always to find new ways of using them up so I was delighted to come across this wonderful recipe – I have already made three batches. I have also made your dulce de membrillo with quinces from another friend's garden – it was a great success, eaten with salty goat's cheese from the Sierra de Albaicin. Thanks a lot.

  31. I am all set to have a go at this gorjus jam later today but using clementines…I bought 4 kilos but once 'peeled' those skins actually weighed 2 kilo's…my query is this, do I count the pulp mixture as 2 kilos and therefore use 1 kilo of sugar or should I still count this as 4 kilo's of fruit and therefore use 2 kilos' of sugar…methinks this would be awfully sweet…?I'd go with 1 kg sugar to your 2 kgs of pulp. If you think it needs sweetening at the end you can always add a little more sugar. Hope you like it! -m

  32. Thanks for your response…..will it definitely set (and is it a soft set?).as my mix seemed less pulp and more actual juice with some pulp? Also I used preserving sugar in the end as this was what was to hand but did consider I should possibly use jam sugar (which contains piectin?) Sorry for all the questions i'm still on a learning curve 🙂 There is a fab Corsican Clementine Jam on the market which is quite strongly flavoured so am trying to do mine in a 3 stag process in an attempt to intensify the flavour tooI just use normal sugar and I always get a reasonably thick jam. Just do the saucer test and keep simmering until it's as set as you like it. It's really a very forgiving jam, I promise! -m

  33. Thank you so much for this superb recipe! Last night I finished the first batch and the taste is exactly what I've been looking for without the heavy sweetness of most marmalade recipes. I live in the mountains of southern California, and my friend who grows fruit gave me 20 lbs. of page tangerines (we split the results)–it's way past the normal season, but this particular variety holds its flavor and spring's fruit needed to be picked to make room for next years harvest. Your website is beautiful, and a feast for the eyes. I will think fondly of you when we have breakfast with this lovely tangerine jam.

  34. Just making this recipe now out of leftover mandarins. So easy and a fabulous way to use up oranges before they spoil! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  35. I happened on your wonderful recipe for mandarin jam. I have a mandarin tree (organic) that is overloaded this year so I started to make jam (don't like marmalade). The kids don't like them because they are full full full of seeds. The only problem is that it takes ages to get all the seeds out of them! My only fault was overcooking it – so I have "bullet-proof" jam. Never mind, I mash it into my homemade yoghurt for a wonderful breakfast. It also made great Christmas presents for my "acquired" relatives in France – and everyone wanted your recipe. Anyone who wants a second jar will have to come help me take out the tons of seeds. I sterilise the jars in the microwave – which is a godsend for saving time, and I have never had problems with seals or spoilage.Thanks, I will try more of your recipes. It keeps me out of trouble when I have little work 😉

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