Bitter Orange Marmalade

Bitter Orange Marmalade is a sophisticated jam made with a shot of whiskey, Irish style!

Bitter Orange Marmalade

When my sister and I meet for dinner we usually eat somewhere halfway between our houses so neither of us gets stuck with a long drive home.  We also split the second glass of wine.  Being scrupulously equal is one of the sisterly survival tactics we learned long ago, and helps make up for the years when I found all the Easter eggs.  It’s nice, too, that to this day, we both look exactly the same age ;)  One of our regular spots is an old school French bistro/bakery.  It’s been in the valley for decades, one of those places where the tables aren’t crammed in like sardines, the windows are huge and look out over the sidewalk, and you can always get a good glass of wine, a decent quiche Lorraine or salad Nicoise.  It’s also almost always empty, which is why we like it, but also why, I guess, on this occasion we found it replaced by a sushi bar/bakery with a flashy black melamine interior.  It’s so sad to see these old European restaurants dropping like flies.  But that’s off my point.

It sits on the corner of a residential street, so we usually troll for a parking spot to avoid the valet.  We got lucky the other night and both found spots right on the corner, under two huge orange trees, loaded with fruit.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

The tree was right on the curb, overhanging the street, and it was on the property of an apartment building, giving me just enough ethical wiggle room to grab an armload and stash them in the backseat. All I could think was, why in the world weren’t all these gorgeous oranges already picked clean?  See where I’m going now?  (refer back to the title of the post, if you need to)

Turns out these oranges are sour as heck.  I was shocked, I never knew oranges could taste that way.  They are as sour as a lemon, with a bitterness like the peel of a grapefruit.  But after a little research I learned that the sour, or bitter orange is a variety that’s been around forever and is used a lot for perfume, flavoring, liqueurs, and, yes, marmalade.  I had no idea.

Bitter Orange Marmalade

I’m not a huge marmalade fan, so I made a batch for my husband, who is. I spiked it with whiskey, which is how they do it in Ireland.  The marmalade, while sweetened up considerably, retains the sour and bitter notes of the oranges, which gives it a very grown-up, sophisticated flavor.  Pair it with some sweet butter and a thick slab of wheat toast.

Whenever you’re making a marmalade, which uses the entire fruit, including the rind, be sure to get organic fruit, or use fruit from a backyard (or curbside!) tree.  Either way, give it all a good bath.  My friend Mary just posted on making your own fruit and vegetable wash here.

Sour oranges have more pectin than the sweet ones, so they make quick work of marmalade.  This one only took a little over 30 minutes of boiling.  The only time consuming part is thinly slicing all the rinds.  But the beautiful orange color and scent make it pleasant work.

This marmalade is slightly bitter and sour, so add more sugar if you prefer a sweeter taste.  You could use lemon, grapefruit, or a combination, to get a similar bitter/sour marmalade.  I used elements from two online recipes… this one from David Lebovitz, and this one from Dos Gildas.

Bitter Orange Marmalade

Bitter Orange Marmalade


  • about 10 small to medium bitter oranges, well scrubbed
  • a weight of sugar equal to the orange peels
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 1 leftover vanilla bean


  1. Cut the oranges in half and juice them. Set the juice aside.
  2. Put the seeds and pulp into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and let boil for 30 minutes. Remove all the seeds and discard them.
  3. Meanwhile slice all the rinds into small strips.
  4. Put the rinds, the juice, pulp and the vanilla bean into a heavy bottomed pot. Use a smallish sized one since this is a small batch marmalade.
  5. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.
  6. Add the sugar and whiskey and boil for another 20 minutes, or until the marmalade is thickened. Stir often, scraping down the sides of the pan. You will see it darken and turn translucent at the end. Watch it carefully at this stage so it doesn't scorch. You can test a little bit of the jam on a cold plate to see if it gels, but if you have cooked it long enough, and it has reduced down and is thickening in the pot, you will be fine. Marmalade will continue to gel as it sits in the refrigerator.
  7. Remove the vanilla bean and ladle the marmalade into glass containers with tight fitting lids.
  8. Cool completely and then refrigerate.

Note:  This is a small batch, those 10 oranges cook down to fit in this 1/2L Weck jar.  Just keep it refrigerated and it will be fine for at least a month, if not more.

Anybody else out there ever bitten into a bitter orange?
And what else can I do with these oranges, I still have a big bowl full of them!!

Other jams to try—

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply


  • Reply
    April 21, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Great for Christmas pork roast! A must in many parts of South America!.


    • Reply
      April 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      I didn’t know that Espe, but now I can’t stop thinking about it!

  • Reply
    April 25, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    In Mediterranean cuisine using bitter orange for salad dressing, marinating chicken , fish & seafood & in stews for taste & fragrant.

    • Reply
      April 25, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      I’m going to have to experiment more with it, I’d love a bitter orange salad dressing! The problem is it’s hard to find here unless you happen to come across a tree!

  • Reply
    April 15, 2017 at 8:05 am

    We’ve used bitter oranges to marinade meat with.

    • Reply
      April 15, 2017 at 8:46 am

      That’s interesting, Angela, I’d love to try that.

  • Reply
    Tomas Masoliver
    February 24, 2015 at 2:23 am

    In Andalucia, south Spain this bitter oranges were eaten with a lot of salt and you would practically dip the oranges in it.

    • Reply
      February 24, 2015 at 7:07 am

      Sounds wonderful, I’ve never heard of that, I’ll have to look it up. thanks for stopping by Thomas!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2014 at 2:45 am

    lovely sisters and website too! I was too lazy to do all the peeling etc of neighbour’s oranges which she gave me lots of and then asked me to pick when she was away for 2 months. I made them all into marmalade but still haven’t written down the best way to do it. Everyone liked the results though..and some have asked for MOREmalade – can u imagine? Last lot I named Smarmalade cos it was runny but v good for using in cooking from cakes to curries. I’m gonna try writing down a recipe if I can figure some way of dealing with a friend’s donation of really bitter pippy fruits – will let u know if it works!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Glad you stopped by Ariel! Can’t wait to hear the results of your next marmalade project, I really enjoyed the bitter flavor, I hope you do too. I like your idea of using marmalade with curry — do you put it in the sauce, or use it like a chutney?

  • Reply
    October 24, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    The tiny “sour oranges”might be, what we call…”calamondin”. My mother makes a wonderful marmalade & adds crushed pineapple.
    This marmalade can be used for “citrus flavoring” in just about anything!…pound cake, cake, muffins..on seafood, pork, etc…squeeze one into your iced tea or hot tea…awesome!….your imagination is the limit!
    We have a tree in our yard & mother thinks that they are “as good as gold”!

    • Reply
      January 22, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      I agree. I make a great marmalade with the calamindin fruit from a neighbor’s tree

  • Reply
    July 23, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Sue do you have any receipies for sugarless marmalades and jams. Not using artificial sweetners but grape, pear or apple concentrate. I’ve made jams and marmalades for years but now my husband has to watch his “white death” intake.

    • Reply
      July 23, 2013 at 8:00 am

      I haven’t made any yet, Claire, but I’ll look into it. I think if you’re making jam to eat within a relatively short time, without the canning process, you can just boil down the fruit until it’s thick. The sugar is mainly there for preservation.

  • Reply
    shannon weber
    April 19, 2013 at 1:05 am

    i’m with the husband: i love orange marmalade, although i think it depends on my mood as to whether or not i prefer a sweet or sour one. i’ve never had a homemade one, so i’d be interested to see what it tastes like as compared to the jarred variety (which can sometimes be like, AMAZINGLY bitter. i like that i could alter the sweetness to maybe a happy medium? and hi..the whiskey. good move.

  • Reply
    SavoringTime in the Kitchen
    April 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I can’t even imagine parking under an orange tree much less grabbing an armful of fruit! You do live in paradise :)

    Your marmalade sounds wonderful and I love the idea of adding a tablespoon of whiskey. Hmm, I’m thinking Cointreau myself.

  • Reply
    thyme Sarah
    April 15, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I love to say the word “marmalade”. Isn’t it such a fun word that sounds so great with a British accent. You reminded me that I just came home from the farmer’s market with some pepper jelly. This is a Texas favorite but I’ve not grown up with it over in Louisiana. I was surprised how much I liked it. But, more importantly, I should remember to strategically try to park my car underneath some generous pecan trees…

  • Reply
    Tricia Buice
    April 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Such a nice story about you and your sister. My sister and I hardly ever get the chance to get together. We do live 600 miles apart so that doesn’t help. I’ve eaten dried up oranges but never bitter – sorry they weren’t wonderfully sweet but the marmalade looks great anyway.

  • Reply
    April 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

    This is just fun – the sour orange, the sisters and the bistro and wine – and then – the marmalade. I am loving the idea of a bitter orange marmalade – that would complement and balance my love of sweet/sour/tart/bitter.

  • Reply
    Nantucket Daffodil
    April 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    This looks doable and such a pretty process. Thanks for always supplying us with such fabulous (and well-photographed) recipes!

  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    April 14, 2013 at 5:01 am

    I love marmalade – that sharp sour taste I find so much better at breakfast time than sweet jam. I make my marmalade from grapefruit (organic from the back garden) as I find it hard to buy sour Clementines. Would love to find a tree like this on the street!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      I never liked the sharp taste of marmalade but this is winning me over. I’m guessing it tastes a lot like grapefruit marmalade. If you have a grapefruit tree I highly recommend the grapefruit hot pepper jam (link at the end of the post), that’s our favorite hot pepper version so far.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

    I love marmalade,at breakfast time

  • Reply
    Averie @ Averie Cooks
    April 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Love the storytelling…from you and your sister splitting the 2nd glass of wine to the orange tree and the lot lines. There are so many orange trees on my running path in San Diego that are on apt property grounds and I KNOW the residents arent using them b/c I watch them go from little orange buds to big oranges to the birds eating them. I wanted to just pluck them off the trees but I feel bad/weird? but they’re not being eaten and are going to waste! Then I’d have oranges to make this marmalade!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 14, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      Isn’t it so frustrating? Don’t know why people let them hang there, but maybe the oranges you see are bitter, too. The WORST is when you see peaches or plums hanging there within reach, just going to waste.

  • Reply
    Mary Younkin
    April 14, 2013 at 3:32 am

    The Phoenix valley is known for “ornamental” oranges. My friend Donna has at least 30 of them in her backyard and ONE lonely sweet orange tree. Admittedly, they are lovely, but she would happily trade them for sweet oranges!

    I’ve never understood the appeal, but I LOVE that you made marmalade with them! I won’t lie, I would have tossed them. Way to work with what you found!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      April 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      30?? Wow, that’s some backyard. I think I read that the sour orange is the original root stock for sweet oranges, and I also read that they are used in cleaning products (!), you should go and get some and use them in your all natural vegetable wash :)

  • Reply
    J Ogden
    April 14, 2013 at 1:36 am

    I have a neighbor who makes Sour Orange Pie… on the lines of Lemon Meringue Pie. It is very good.

  • Pin