Yes, bergamots aren’t something one runs across everyday in the supermarket, or even at greengrocers. But mid-winter, depending on where you live, you just might get lucky and happen across some, as I recently did. Twice! (Although the second time took a bit of moxie.)
There’s conflicting information what a bergamot actually is, but it’s definitely a member of the citrus family and most consider it to be a relative of the bitter orange, which might have been mated with a lemon at some point in its dubious past.
Often the peel is used to flavor Earl Grey tea, and in France, many people are familiar with bergamot as they’re used to make the balmy-tasting Bergamots de Nancy hard candies, from the Lorraine region.
When buying citrus for jam-making, be sure to source out organic or unsprayed fruits. There’s a certain poo-pooing of the organic movement out there. “Bio [the organic movement] is a waste of time…” says actor and restaurateur Gerard Depardieu. But since he also went on to say that his grandmother put uncomposted waste on their vegetables (although he used more, um, colorful language), well—let’s just say if that’s what they called ‘organic’, I’d want to avoid the movement as well.
I had a friend who felt the same way, and I handed her some lemon peels that I had candied from citrons that were marked “Non traitée après recolte” (untreated after picked). I picked them up at my local market, imagining they were fine, but found the peels (which took me quite a while to make) were inedible. And from the look on her face after she ate half of one, I think I converted another person to the importance of organic citrus.
Another thing that puts a lot of people are the prices of organic produce and the prices at the organic stand at my market are completely beyond astronomical. And the vendor isn’t even a farmer, they’re just selling produce that they buy from Spain, Cameroon, France, Morocco, and whereever. But for folks worried about eating raw eggs and getting nasties from meat, it’s definitely worth buying from trusted sources. Citrus is no exception, and you want all your hard work to pay off with jars of delicious, clean-tasting marmalade.
Curiously, I bought my bergamots at Naturalia, a local health food chain and the eight I picked up cost me €2.33 (about $3). The bag of sugar I bought (non-organic, since it’s hard to find refined organic sugar that melts clear) cost around €1, so this marmalade clocks in at less than one buck a jar. That, in France, is what we call a bon marché (good deal).
After I made my first batch, it was pretty darned tasty, but was lacking the brilliant yellow intensity that I was hoping for. I was intrigued by a technique that I’d seen in a recipe in The Independent for Bergamot and Cedro Marmalade, which called for blanching the bergamots, draining them, then commencing the marmalade from there.
So I went back to the store to get more fruit. I don’t know how the stores here manage to do it, but whatever I seem to be looking for on my shopping list, they’re invariably have everything—but the one thing I desperately need. I’m beginning to think that there’s a hidden webcam in my apartment, and they see what I need, then take it off the shelves before I get there.
And sure enough, where the full box of bergamots was barely a week ago, there was now kohlrabi. (Which I like, but didn’t think would make good marmalade.) So I searched and searched. Then finally left my neighborhood and found another Naturalia which carried some, so I scooped them up.
I did a side-by-side tasting of the two batches of marmalade and found the flavors similar, but the color of the pre-blanched bergamot marmalade (on the right, above) was brighter and sunnier.
I’m going to consider myself lucky I was able to find bergamots. Twice. But I’m not pushing my luck, and will have to make this last batch of marmalade last until next year. And I don’t give a s&$t what anyone says about organic produce; if you’re going to make this, it’s worth searching it out.
Make about one quart (1l)
Before making this marmalade, be sure to check and make sure your fruit resembles mine. What are called bergamots in France, go by different names elsewhere. Just below, I’ve linked to Wikipedia entries describing bergamot oranges and citron Limetta, which are what they refer to bergamots in France as. And that’s what I used.
You can read more about them at What is a bergamot? For this recipe, you could substitute any sweet lemon, such as a Meyer lemon.
- 8 bergamots (about 700g), organic or unsprayed
- 3 cups (600g) sugar
- 4 cups (1l) water, plus more for blanching the bergamots
- pinch of sea salt
- optional: 2 teaspoons kirsch or lemoncello
1. Rinse and dry the bergamots, trim off the stem ends, then cut each in half and pluck out the seeds.
2. Cut the bergamots into quarters and using a sharp knife (I used this one), slice the quarters as thinly as possible.
Tip: If you have trouble getting them very small, after slicing, you can use a chef’s knife to chop them to the right size. Don’t use a food processor, as that will make the marmalade muddy.
3. Put in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Let boil for five minutes, then drain well.
4. Return the bergamots to the pot, add the sugar, 1 quart (1l) of water, and salt, and bring to a boil. Cook the bergamots, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade begins to set using the wrinkle test: turn the marmalade off and put a dab on a plate that’s been in the freezer then check it after five minutes; if it wrinkles when you nudge it, it’s done. If not, continue to cook, repeating this step, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Depending on the heat, the marmalade will take at least 30 minutes to reach this point, although if you’re used to making other jams, it will look slightly more liquid than others when done. You can also use a candy thermometer; the jam will be done when the temperature reaches around 220ºF (104ºC).
5. Once done, stir in the liqueur, if using, then ladle into clean jars and twist on the lids. Once cool, store in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least six months.
For those interesting in canning and preserving the marmalade, you can find downloadable instructions at the USDA website.
Related Links and Recipes
Bergamot orange (Wikipedia)
Beguiling Bergamot (Daniel Patterson)
Bergamot Madeleines (Chez Pim)
Bergamot Marmalade (Yum in Tum)
Bergamot Orange Custard Cups (Hungry Cravings)