Photos: Amanda Thompson

If life gives you grapefruit, make marmalade

Sure, it’s not as easy to love as the versatile lemon or the alluring tangelo, but the grapefruit has its place, says Amanda Thompson – and that place is on your toast. 

All over my dreary winter town, small gold and orange suns are bursting forth over fences, over hedges, casting themselves to the ground. My neighbours grow lemons and lemonades and limes, mandarins and tangelos and oranges, but a single grapefruit has proven elusive.

Nobody grows them any more. The elderly owner of a local citrus orchard turned me away, having ripped out his solitary row of trees after 50 years to make way for extra parking. There’s no respect for the GF around here. My husband proudly told me he played a large part in the demise both of his family’s tree and the selling of explosives to small children by blowing up grapefruit with double happies. He went into great detail about the best technique (select a slightly soggy fruit, twist two of the fireworks together at the fuse, burrow deep into each side, run away quickly) to produce a satisfying bang and a wet patter of pith. 

He used phrases like “commando raid” to describe sneaking up on the helpless tree and “stealth operation”, which I assume means he waited for his mum to go out. Apparently, if he got the placement of fireworks just right, it would leave a smoking piece of rind still attached to the tree to infuriate and baffle my father-in-law. Apparently, it was a victimless crime because “grapefruit are gross”. Apparently, this was not embarrassingly immature and vandalistic behaviour for a 13-year-old boy and I am a no-fun left-wing wowser for suggesting otherwise. 

That’ll be a dollar thanks (Photos: Amanda Thompson)

The real reason nobody grows grapefruit any more is because it tastes disgusting, of course – never mind that it plays havoc with a long list of common medications. Raw grapefruit is so vile, so bitter and acidic it is almost exactly like a hangover spew except going in the other direction. In less enlightened times half a grapefruit was rumoured to be the breakfast of millionaire supermodels and my all-girl school gave us lessons on how to eat one with an elegantly curved knife. I hated it – it’s the main reason why I never became a millionaire supermodel, actually. 

But I still needed one. 

There’s still a way for a grapefruit to truly shine and that is in marmalade. I love marmalade and anything with marmalade in it – a ‘Scotch upside-down cake’ with a thick layer of marmalade on the top was my favourite for a long time as a child. If you haven’t tried marmalade ice cream you should.

In the end, as per usual, my magical local op shop saved the day again. Is there anything that shop does not sell for a dollar? Everything – jars, grapefruit, oranges, reusable bag because I cannot bloody ever remember to bring one – everything you see in the photo above I bought in one visit for one coin. All I needed from the supermarket was the sugar and some cellophane jar covers. 

I’ve tried all the commercial brands of marmalade, a lot of home recipes, clever combinations of oranges and limes and ginger and what ho, but they were all too bitter or too sticky or too sweet or jelly-like. I can confidently say none of them are as good as my gran’s old recipe. I may have tweaked it a little so I could remember it without writing anything down, because that would have seemed like work.

Photos: Amanda Thompson


  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 or 4 oranges 
  • 5 cups of water

Pick through your fruit carefully – any with obvious mould or bruising shouldn’t be used. Scrub the fruit well to get clean; chop finely. Chuck it all in a pot with the water and boil for about 20 minutes until the rinds are soft. Take off the heat and measure out the fruit mix with a heat-proof measuring jug – mix in one cup of sugar to every cup of citrus mush. Put everything back into the original pot, then boil slowly until it reaches the setting stage. While this is happening you should have been cleaning your jars and then covering them with boiling water so they are both sterile and not going to crack when you put boiling hot marmalade into them. Cover, feel satisfied, tend to your burned fingertips. Done.

See what I did there with the quantities? As long as you can count up to five you are smart enough to make this jam. My sister says I have it wrong and what you really need is a 3-2-1 recipe; three grapefruit, two lemons and one orange, otherwise it is too sweet and not ‘marmaladey’ enough. You could try that, of course, but if years of sibling arguments have taught me anything it’s that I am always right. 


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