Winter is Seville orange season.  These brightly-coloured, bitter fruits make a brief annual appearance in British groceries for a mere three months from December. By the end of February, the gardens and streets of Seville with fallen fruit, and the supply to British supermarkets will have all but dried up.

If you’re partial to marmalade, now’s the time buy your Seville oranges and bring out the the preserving pan. Those of you who do make your own marmalade are taking part in a centuries-old tradition. Here is an 18th century recipe for ‘Marmalade of Oranges’ from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies:

A Georgian-era recipe for orange marmalade from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Georgian-era recipe for orange marmalade from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Marmalade of Oranges

Take yr large orange & rasp them. Rub some salt all over them. Steep them in water 4 days & shift them every day. Take them & cut them in halves & take out all the clear as whole as you can & dont break the partitions. Then boyle yr peel till it is so soft as to run a straw through it. Take it out of the water & take out all the strings, but take out as little of the white as possible. Pound the peel very small. Take their weight of loaf sugar & dip it in boyling water & make it in a clear sirrop with whites of eggs, & boyle yr pounded peel & clear lumps in it very well. Then lay it up when cold for use. Jelly is made the same way, only leave out the peel & use the clear lumps instead.

Orange wine

Oranges have long been given as Christmas gifts. As expensive imports, these citrus fruits were highly prized in the 18th century. An orange, given as a gift – perhaps in the form of a clove-studded pomander – would not only bring scents of summer and vibrant colour to the home of the recipient, but would also be considered a symbol of prosperity.

Today, the tradition of giving oranges at Christmas is still strong and many children living in the UK will wake up on Christmas morning to find an orange, clementine or tangerine at the toe of their stocking.

If you are short of ideas for Christmas presents, or want a grown-up twist on the traditional ‘orange in a stocking’ idea, why not consider a cask of orange wine? You’ve still just about got time to prepare and tun it before the big day!

A recipe for orange wine from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A recipe for orange wine from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Orange Wine

Take forty gallons of water, a hundred best Jam[aic]a sugar, the whites of 32 eggs beaten well. Mix all thes together. Pare two hundred and forty oranges very thin. Boil the liquor an hour & skim it while any skim rises, then pour it on the rind of the oranges & when it is neare cold, strain 12 quarts of orange juice into it & barm it rather warmer than you would ale. Stir it twice a day for 3 days, then tun it the third day. When it has done working in the cask, put in seven quarts of brandy. This quantity makes a barrel. There will be some liquor left after tunning, which must be carefully kept to fill your cask while working. If it should not work well in the tubs, tun it sooner than the 3 days. If the oranges be large, you need not pare so many.

The Cooking Up History sessions – 2: kidney florentine and fruit dumplings

Following the successful launch of our Cooking Up History sessions last month, we were inspired to put on our pinnies again to try out some more recipes from our Georgian cookbook. Willing volunteers David and Christina joined us in the Archives kitchen, and enthusiastically took up the challenge of recreating a couple of rather unusual recipes.

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

Our Archives Assistant Kim sits down with David and Christina to try the Florentine

First up on the menu was a sweet and savoury dish called ‘Veal Kidney Florentine’.  Baked in a pastry case, the dish didn’t look anything out of the ordinary: a generously filled pie with a decorative latticed topping. We all agreed, however, the flavour was distinctly out of kilter with today’s cuisine, and tasted nothing like anything we had ever tried.

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

We were really pleased with the look of our veal kidney florentine

Not everyone was keen, but David was fairly positive. He thought the dish was “not unpleasant, but very unusual and exotic”. Perhaps not surprising given the unfamiliar blend of ingredients used in the filling: a tongue-tingling mix of kidney, apples, orange peel and lettuce, spices (mace and nutmeg) and a good glug of sherry.

Christina felt it was “more of a sweet dish like an apple pie rather than a savoury one”, and rather unusual therefore to find served as a first course. The method was easy to follow, and everyone agreed that the dish looked stunning, even if the taste didn’t quite live up to its appearance! We wondered whether the recipe could be tweaked for modern palates by adding more meat, and decreasing the fruit content, as the taste of the apple was pretty overpowering.

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Our 18th century style orange and lemon dumplings

Moving on from the florentine, we had a go at ‘Orange and Lemon Dumplins’. To make these, we scooped the flesh out of lemons and oranges, and filled the zesty casings with a spice and brandy infused almond breadcrumb mixture.

The batter resembled the texture of thick porridge as we spooned it into the fruit shells. The ‘lid’ of each fruit was then put back, and secured by wrapping the whole citrus in muslin. We then faced an agonising decision. How long should we cook them for? The recipe suggested that they would “take as much boyling as a piece of beif”. How long is a piece of string?

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

The orange and lemon dumplings, boiling in their muslin wrappers

In the end, we did cook the fruit too long. Overboiled, the dumplings were at the point of near collapse when we took them out of the pan.

The orange and lemon dumplings received a mixed reaction. Someone described the filling as “good comfort food” whilst David preferred the zestiness of the actual lemon and orange casings that held the mixture. We all thought  the dish was somewhat lacking in flavour. On reflection, maybe we hadn’t sweetened the mix enough. As with many other recipes in the Cookbook, there were no quantities to go by – only the vague instruction to add ‘some sugar to taste’.

The dumpling ingredients – sugar, brandy, almonds and citrus – had led us to think of the dish as a dessert, but in fact the Cookbook describes it as an accompaniment for a main course. Perhaps the blandness of the dish was intended to balance the flavour of the richer main course dish. Maybe we missed a trick by tasting the florentine and dumplings one after the other rather than together.  It is possible that eating the two dishes together would have offered us quite a different taste experience.

Tempted to take up the challenge? See our Cooking Up History page for all the recipes our intrepid volunteers have tried to date.

We’d love to know how you get on with these, or any other recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies… Email your photos and findings to, or post a comment on the blog!


Mrs Bracken’s recipe for orange jelly

Fine Sevil oranges, fine lemon, fine;
Round, sound and tender, inside and rine

(An old street cry of London)

Seville oranges have been a familiar taste in English cookery since the late Medieval period. But it wasn’t until the mid 17th century that sweet oranges, commonly known as ‘China oranges’, became part of the English culinary landscape. Their sweet flesh contrasted pleasingly with the better-known bitter oranges of Spain, and they quickly became popular.

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Nell Gwyn (c1651-1687). Image property of Westminster City Archives

Bitter and sweet oranges were widely available in London from the late 17th century onwards. Nell Gwyn famously sold oranges at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane before taking to the stage, and orangeries sprang up at aristocratic houses across the country. By the time our ladies were compiling the Cookbook, oranges were being grown in glasshouses on many landed estates.

Despite their popularity, oranges remained expensive and were regarded as a delicacy. The authors of our cookbook’s recipes are careful to avoid any unnecessary waste. In this one for orange jelly, both the flesh and the zest are used:

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the 'Cookbook of Unknown Ladies'

An eighteenth-century orange jelly recipe from the ‘Cookbook of Unknown Ladies’

Making Mrs Bracken’s orange jelly (modernised text)

Grate the rind of 2 China oranges, 2 Seville oranges, 2 lemons. Put it in to steep in the juice of 9 Seville oranges. Put half a pound of fine sugar, a quarter of a pint of water. Boil it to candy. When almost cold, mix the juice with 2 ounces of isinglass well boiled in a quart of water. Leave it till it is mixed. Then, mix it all together and strain it. Stir it till almost cold, then fill your moulds. You may add the juice of lemon or China orange if you like it.

Mrs Bracken uses Isinglass as the jelly’s setting agent. Derived from fish bladders, it has fallen out of common usage today, but is still sometimes used in viticulture to clarify wines. If you fancy making your own version of Mrs Bracken’s jelly, you might want to substitute it for gelatin.

The writer also asks you to boil the syrup to candy. 18th century cookbook writer Susanna MacIver  says you can recognise this stages “by the sugar boiling thick like pottage” (Cookery and Pastry, 1789 p.205)

The recipe gives us our first clue as to the social circle in which our unknown cookbook writers were living in. We don’t know whether Mrs Bracken was a fellow domestic servant, or a well-known local cook, but she is our first named reference in our search for the identity of our mystery recipe writers…

Fancy giving this orange jelly a go? If you do, make sure you let us know how you get on!