Citrus marmalades that go easy on the sugar

Jeanne Lesem is the author of ``The Pleasures of Preserving and Pickling'' (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975). THIS month is Marmalade-Making Month for me. I like to take this time of year to replenish my store of homemade spreads made from oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and other citrus fruit.

I make my own because commercial marmalade is too sweet for my taste. Most kinds contain so much more sugar than fruit that often it overwhelms the natural fruit flavor. Even when they're made the old-fashioned way with only the natural fruit pectin, jams and preserves need as much as a full cup of sugar to each cup of fruit or juice to gel.

Over the years I have experimented with recipes for making lighter-tasting spreads, sometimes using as little as 1/4 cup of sugar to each half pint jar of jam or jelly. Marmalades usually call for slightly more, to offset the bitterness of the peel.

My first ``light'' jams were based on special formulas developed at the University of California at Davis more than a decade ago. One requires no added pectin and the other uses regular powdered, packaged pectin as a bulking agent only, not for its jelling properties.

But the yields are very small, compared with conventional recipes. Italian plum jam, for example, yields only two half pints of jam from three pounds of fruit, partly because much of the juice has to be drained off.

So I was delighted to discover two brands of ``light'' powdered pectin that are quick and easy to use, can be water-bath processed for safe room temperature storage, and, best of all, yield moderate amounts of really fruity-tasting spreads.

Some sugar is required with one brand -- Sure-Jell Light Fruit Pectin, a General Foods product -- but one- third less than is needed with that company's regular packaged pectin. The other brand of pectin, Mrs. Wages Light Home-Jell, can be used either with or without sugar or with most brands of sugar substitutes.

Incidentally, sugar does more than sweeten ``light'' spreads. It gives better flavor and color than the same spreads sweetened with sugar substitutes.

Once these ``light'' spreads are opened they must be refrigerated, and used within a few weeks. They tend to mold quicker than regular high-sugar spreads because the large amounts of sugar in the latter are a powerful preservative.

You will find their consistency either softer or firmer than traditional spreads, depending on which brand of pectin you choose.

These tart, tangy spreads are good not just on breakfast toast or rolls, but also on cream cheese sandwiches, cheesecake, and as relishes with fatty meats such as fresh pork and ham, duck, and goose.

I have used the Mrs. Wages product in the recipes that follow for three reasons: greater flexibility in sweetening, smaller yield than is possible with traditional pectins (with a household of one, I prefer to make smaller batches of a variety of jams), and the convenience of a pectin that can be stored indefinitely without losing its jelling properties.

Most recipes in the Sure-Jell Light package enclosure make 7 to 8 cups of jam or 5 to 11 of jelly; the manufacturer cautions against varying the amount of sugar indicated for specific fruits.

Mrs. Wages Light Home-Jell recipes usually make 4 to 6 cups of jelly to a box of pectin, or up to 8 cups of jam. The consistency is as firm as that of traditional high-sugar jams and jellies, but slightly more brittle.

Food technologist Jim Magee calls this product ``the most forgiving pectin.'' You can melt down any spread made with it, and add more pectin to stiffen it or more juice to thin it or more sugar to sweeten it if the consistency or sweetness isn't to your liking. Just be sure to reprocess the jam for long-term storage.

Some ``light'' spreads may take longer to stiffen than those made with regular commercial pectins -- from 24 hours in some cases to a couple of weeks, depending on the brand of pectin used.

Spoilage is rare. If it does occur, it usually appears as mold or yeasts, which are readily recognized. Light Pink Grapefruit Marmalade 2 medium pink grapefruit (about 2 pounds total) 3 cups water 1/8 teaspoon baking soda 1 (1 3/4 ounces) package light pectin 1 1/2 cups sugar, or more to taste

Halve grapefruit crosswise. Use grapefruit knife to free pulp from peel. With sharp-edged teaspoon scrape pulp into a 1-quart glass measure. Discard seeds.

Separate membrane from peel and squeeze to extract as much juice remaining as possible, about 1 2/3 cups of pulp and juice all together.

Discard segment membranes. With spoon scrape away and discard as much white pith as possible from half of the peels. Cut all peels into narrow strips about 1 inch long or chop into small pieces, about 2 cups, lightly packed.

Place peel and water in 6-quart saucepot, stir in baking soda (to reduce bitterness), cover, and boil 20 minutes until peel is tender and translucent. Add juice and pulp and boil an additional 10 minutes. Let cool.

In small bowl stir pectin and about 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Stir sugar-pectin mixture into cooled fruit mixture. Let stand 5 minutes.

Bring quickly to boil, stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar all at once. Continue stirring as sugar dissolves and mixture reaches a full, rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil rapidly 1 minute, stirring.

Remove from heat and fill hot half-pint jars within 1/4 inch of top. Clean rims and threads and fasten 2-part lids firmly. Process 5 minutes in boiling-water bath. Cool, label, and store.

To evenly distribute floating peel, gently shake each jar as marmalade begins to set. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes about 5 half pints. Orange Marmalade 8 large navel oranges (about 8 ounces each) 3 cups water 1/8 teaspoon baking soda 1 (1 3/4 ounces) package light pectin 1 3/4 cups sugar, or more to taste

Halve oranges crosswise and use a grapefruit knife to free pulp from peel. With sharp-edged teaspoon or grapefruitspoon, scrape pulp into 1-quart glass measure, discarding seeds. Separate membrane from five peels (discard remaining three peels) and squeeze to extract as much juice as possible.

Scrape away and discard as much white pith as possible from half of remaining peels.

Cut all peels (from five oranges) into narrow strips about 1 inch long or chop into small pieces. Place peel and water in a 6-quart saucepot, stir in baking soda (to reduce bitterness), cover, and boil about 20 minutes, until peel is tender and translucent. Add pulp and juice and boil an additional 10 minutes. Cool.

In small bowl or cup stir pectin into about 1/2 cup of sugar until smooth. Stir sugar-pectin mixture into cooled fruit mixture. Let stand 5 minutes.

Bring quickly to a boil, stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar all at once and continue stirring as sugar dissolves and mixture reaches full, rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil rapidly 1 minute, stirring.

Remove from heat, and fill hot half-pint jars within 1/4 inch of top. Clean rims and threads and fasten 2-part lids firmly. Process 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Cool, label, and store.

To redistribute floating peel evenly, gently shake each jar as marmalade begins to set. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes about 6 half pints.

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