I made marmalade thanks to Abel and Cole

Filed in Blog, Product reviews by on March 16, 2011 12 Comments
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shredded orange peel for marmalade

shredded orange peel for marmalade

There’s nothing like learning a new skill. Over the past couple of years I’ve made chutneys of all sorts using up the glut of vegetables from our garden.

We’ve had red tomato, green tomato, marrow and even beetroot – all of which were lovely.

Something I’ve never done before however, and decided this would be the year to change that, was jam and marmalade.

Emma at Abel and Cole heard my plea and sent me one of their ‘Seville orange marmalade kits‘ to try.

It arrived very quickly and I was delighted to see a cardboard box with my goodies inside.

Inside the box were 1 kg seville oranges, a couple of lemons, sugar and full instructions for making my own marmalade. The kit contains enough ingredients for six 1lb jars.

The Good points

  • The packaging and delivery time were great. My box arrived in perfect condition a couple of days after ordering and there was no excess packaging inside. The fruit was happily rolling around inside without the need for polythene pillows or polystyrene beds.
  • The instructions were excellent. They were straight forward, kinda fun in the style of writing and you really felt that a total novice could proudly make 6 jars of the finest home made marmalade by the end of it.
  • Quality of the fruit was the usual outstanding type I’ve grown to expect from Abel and Cole. Our home smelled delicious for a couple of days with the aroma of freshly squeezed orange juice…
  • The finished product was (eventually) a resounding success and I felt really proud of my achievement. Despite being a novice, I felt like a marmalade making expert.

The not so good

  • Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the full description on the Abel and Cole site and found that I needed to provide muslin and string for the pith, flesh and pips. This wasn’t an issue for me, but out of all the required equipment I think there might be a lot of people who don’t have muslin lying around at home, so it’s not really a ‘kit in a box’ as you have to provide something yourself.

The bad

  • My 1 kg of seville oranges in fact weighed 880gms! As I had already done my weekly shopping I had to adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly. It wasn’t a big issue, but if I had paid for the box I would have been feeling a bit short changed.
  • The instructions weren’t actually for a novice at all. They were a bit too ambiguous and I had to be really determined to make this work for me. The first time I made it, it was a complete flop. I didn’t end up with marmalade, I ended up with marmalade sauce. No bad thing, but a little difficult to spread on toast. It was only after reading around the internet I realised I should have had the marmalade at a rolling boil until it started to thicken, change colour and pass the ‘wrinkle test’. So the following morning I spent 3/4 hour testing, re-testing and re-boiling my vat of marmalade sauce to get the desired consistency.

The Ugly

  • The sugar, by Billingtons came in unmarked plastic bags! I would NEVER buy this myself. I know Abel and Cole need to use organic ingredients for their boxes, but I feel they could source a company who take the disposal of their packaging responsibly. I have since written to Billingtons twice and received no response to my mails. According to their site, Billingtons have a strong commitment to fairtrade and organic, yet they fail to look at the effects of disposal of their packaging. They (Billingtons) will be getting this packaging returned to them in the post with a covering letter and copy of my two emails.

Suggestions for improvement

  • The biggie for me was the sugar packaging. I think this marmalade kit could be drastically improved by sourcing a different brand of sugar. Give us organic sugar in a paper bag, a cardboard box or even polythene, but not in unmarked plastic bags! Zero waste might not be Abel and Cole’s particular policy, but when you’re sending something to a zero waste family, it’s a big issue.
  • I’m not sure how you would go about this because you don’t want to send out something people don’t need, but perhaps a tick box for people to select if they need some muslin would be good.
  • The instructions need to be re-written and checked by a complete novice so that they are fool proof. I know how difficult it is to remember what it was like when you first tried something, but I felt these should have been given to someone to try and feedback was needed before they were set loose on the public. (or maybe they were and it’s just that I’m crap at making marmalade!)


vote - two and a half out of five

Points have been scored for great delivery time and quality of produce, good Abel and Cole packaging and the idea of creating a kit in the first place – it’s a lovely idea and if improved would make a lovely Christmas gift for a foodie. I’ve taken points off for the sugar packaging, the poor instructions and the lightweight oranges.

Now just in case you think I’m totally heartless, you can go and read a review I did of Abel and Cole’s mixed organic fruit and vegetable box last year – I couldn’t give it enough praise!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (12)

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  1. Hazel says:

    Giving you a recipe for marmalade needing muslin and then not putting it in doesn’t seem very ‘kit in a box’, especially as you point out that’s the very thing many people won’t have lying around (or know how to improvise if they’re buying it as a kit).

    I’ve got to get breakfast and chivvy the children now, but later I’ll post the marmalade recipe I use that doesn’t involve fiddling with muslin and you cut the peel once it’s cooked, so it’s really easy. You can use any combination of citrus fruit with it.

    Do have a go at making jam this year- if it doesn’t set you can call it compote, or soft set jam! Gooseberry and Elderflower and Strawberry and Rhubarb are 2 of my favourites that you can’t buy easily.

  2. Julie Day says:

    Oh dear. Not very good is it. I agree, if they give you a recipe for something they should provide all the necessary items to do it.

  3. Just Gai says:

    It’s a shame Abel & Cole didn’t live up to your expectations. I hope they take note of your comments.

    I’ve used Riverford’s marmalade kit for the last few years. It’s a lot more basic than the A&C version, containing only oranges, a lemon and a recipe. I’d made maramalade before but despite this I remember the recipe being fairly comprehensive.

    Anyway I hope your experience hasn’t put you off marmalade making as there’s absolutely nothing to beat the homemade variety.

  4. Karin says:

    As it happens, we made marmalade this weekend. I think Riverford supplied a bit more fruit. My method has been unorthodox throughout. I realised I wouldn’t have time to make marmalade after all, so I froze the fruit whole, in two plastic bags.

    I used the Riverford recipe for quantities, but used the recipe from school days for the method. Not having a pressure cooker we cut the fruit in quarters and simmered for half an hour instead of 10 minutes. I’d told hubby to remove the pips and surrounding pulp, but he carefully extracted the pips. Next we removed the pulp from the rind and cut the rind into fine slices. Hubby’s were a bit shorter and chunkier than mine.

    Then it was time to go and see mother-in-law and do some shopping. After that we did a spot of gardening. Then we put all the pips and pulp in a large muslin cloth and tied them in and simmered that for a half an hour in the fluid left over from the morning. We then removed the muslin bag and squeezed as much juice as we could out of the bag. Hubby later found somewhere to hang it up and let more juice drip out.

    Next we added the sliced peel and sugar so that our saucepan was very full. You don’t want a saucepan full of sugar solution to boil, so we ladled some into another large saucepan so both were half full and could bubble away happily without too much spillage.

    I used Waitrose Fairtrade sugar, which came in paper bags.

    From school days I knew to have a saucer or two in the fridge, so that I could put a few drops of marmalade on one when I thought it might be ready. At that stage you pop the saucer back in the fridge for just a few minutes, then touch it to see if it has set and wrinkles when you push it.

    We added a knob of butter at the end to disperse the froth. Then we poured it into clean jars we’d sterilised in the oven and sealed each jar with a wax disc before covering with a plastic film lid.

    It tasted good and the next morning we could see it had set. We just need to finish our last jar of bought marmalade up and then we can try it.

    I shall blog about it tomorrow or at the weekend – I think I might have just written it all here, though, but I do have a picture.

  5. Jo says:

    I’m wondering if the sugar in a paper bag might be prone to breakage? That wouldn’t be good either . . . And if they packed everything so it wouldn’t move in transit, they’d be forced to use some kind of filler in the box. Hmmm.

    All this talk of marmalade has me drooling a little.

  6. Alyson says:

    My mother-in-law makes marmalade and last year my husband wanted me to learn how to do it. So I dutifully had my lesson and got the gold star. I was told you can freeze seville oranges, whole, for making later in the year. Just as well, as I ended up making 3 batches last year.The first batch I made, my father-in-law said had a nice flavour but wasn’t chunky enough. The second batch ,nice flavour but too chunky and the third batch was just right. Felt like the three bears.This year, I’ve bought a tonne of seville oranges and they’re in the freezer waiting until we’re on our last jar.

  7. Karin says:

    Jo, I always buy white sugar in paper bags and always have. UK supermarkets sell it that way. It’s the normal way for sugar to be sold as far as I am concerned and broken bags don’t seem to be a problem. It depends how they are treated I suppose, but plastic bags can be punctured, too.

  8. Jo says:

    Alyson: LOL!

    Karin, white sugar comes in paper bags in Canada too; I was just thinking that as Mrs G said the oranges were running loose in the box, maybe if the sugar was in a paper bag and being pummeled by the oranges, it might lead to breakage. But, as a friend constantly says, if they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they do (insert small challenge here) too? And definitely, plastic bags aren’t fool-proof either, as you say.

  9. Abel & Cole says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Thank you for your honest feedback, this is really helpful. I’ve asked our Food Editor about it and apparently the recipe you were given is an old one that she hadn’t tested to be honest, and we have since updated it. This is a recipe from our Seville orange grower, adapted according to Rachel’s first experience making traditional marmalade as she’s a novice in this area as well. It is now updated on our website, http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/recipes/marmalade but we’re also going to include your tips as you make some great points.

    We think one of the key problems with the old recipe was that it didn’t ask you to measure the liquid and add the sugar according to how much liquid there was. The new recipe does this and Rachel had success, without hassle, on the first try.

    I’m unsure about Billingtons but will ask our buying team to look into it as well. And I’ll also point out to them that the orange quantity wasn’t quite right…tsk tsk.

    We had made the box to include all of the ingredients but as you say it would have been useful to have the muslin as well. We’re looking at having a recipe that doesn’t require it though, so hopefully this will work better.

    Again, we really do appreciate your feedback and we’ll be acting on it I promise.

    All the best,
    Abel & Cole-er

  10. LJayne says:

    I make marmalade from a family recipe from an old friend. I confess to just using a clean hanky as I don’t have muslin around the house! Works just as well 🙂

  11. Nathalie says:

    I don’t use muslin when making marmalade. Far too fiddly! This is the recipe I use http://www.downsizer.net/Projects/Processing_food/Easy_Marmalade/ from a very zero waste website!

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: Hi Hazel, I have promised myself I’ll have a go at making jam and I’m looking forward to seeing your ‘no fiddle’ recipe too 😀

    @Just Gai: GOod to see you again; I hope you are well. No, I’m not put off as I know nothing beats the taste of homemade food, whatever it is!

    @Karin: thanks for sharing your story and tips, Karin; sounds like such an easy method you used!

    @Jo: Hi Jo, I don’t think sugar in a paper bag would split; it’s what we’re pretty much used to for granulated sugar…

    @Alyson: Yay! Third time lucky, and great tip about freezing the fruit; I didn’t know you could do that.

    @Abel & Cole: Thanks for all your feedback Emma; having an untried recipe explains a lot and now it would seem the marmalade kits will be all set to improve. Do let me know if you have any luck with Billingtons as I’ve just had standard responses that mean nothing…

    @LJayne: Brilliant idea about the clean hanky – genius!

    @Nathalie: Hi Nathalie; thank you for sharing the recipe; who knew there were so many variations on a theme!

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