Seasonal Eating: Seville Bitter Oranges

Published on January 25th 2019
For a few weeks in January and early February Seville Oranges, Citrus x aurantium are suddenly available at our greengrocers, supermarkets and markets.
Most of us will walk on past, having a faint inkling that they were important but not really relevant today, and I admit my memories are of my grandmother adding them to the shopping list, then a week or so later presenting me with a jar of sticky marmalade, which if I'm honest I never really ate.
But this year inspired by online posts, a certain film and an awareness that seasonal eating is beneficial to the environment, I thought I'll do a bit of research and have a go.

The Plant

A cross between a pomelo and a mandarin, they're named after the city of Seville where they were first cultivated back in the 10th Century having been introduced by the Moors from Asia.
There are approximately 14,000 orange trees planted throughout the city, not for their bitter fruit which is often left to fall and rot but for the evergreen leaves providing all year shade and their delicate fragrant blossom in Spring.

The Fruit

These oranges are harvested from November onwards but transport in Medieval times meant that the wooden crates of fruit didn't arrive at court until the midwinter celebrations and you'll find most retailers still sticking to this timeline even though modern transport has improved.
The fruit was mostly used fresh to create sauces to be served with white meats or game in contrast to our current use of making Marmalade. With its slight sour taste but not as sharp as lemons, Seville orange juice can be used to replace lemon in almost every recipe.
I have also read that the peel can be dried and turned into a powder to sprinkle over dishes.
Seville oranges were traditionally used in herbal medicine to either suppress appetite or as a stimulant for stomach ailments. Although it's not recommended now as it has been linked to a number of serious side effects.
It's naturally high pectin content means that when heated together with sugar it thickens naturally. It's this characteristic that led to the development of the orange jam with bits we now know.


Thought to originate from a Quince (now known as Marmelo) that was native to S.E.Asia, once it arrived in Greece it was often boiled with honey or grape juice to produce 'melimilon', a thick pulp. When it reached Portugal the name was translated to 'Marmalato'. The Marmalade we recognise here in the UK started to be popular around the 18th century after it was commercially produced by James Keiller of Dundee.
The story goes that he bought the cargo of a Spanish ship delayed by bad weather which included less than fresh Seville oranges. His mother Janet is said to have experimented and produced the 1st marmalade however there are several other earlier recorded recipes from around the UK which disprove this. But he did have the first marmalade factory in 1797.
For those of us in Wiltshire and fans of Avebury, we also know the name for his great x3 grandson Alexander Keiller the archaeologist who saved the stones. Others might know the name as an ancestor of gardening's Monty Don.


Making Marmalade requires little in the way of ingredients but does need a few specific preserving or jam making pieces of equipment.
  • 500g (4 Seville Oranges, 1lb2oz) washed, preferably organic.
  • 1.7ltrs water
  • 1 kg preserving sugar
  • Stainless steel pan
  • Sieve
  • Muslin bag
  • 4 small plates (chill in the freezer)
The process looks pretty simple and I'll be following the BBC's Good Food, Method

I'll let you know how I get on!

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