Marmalade

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.

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A pair of orange puddings

Today, two orange puddings for your delectation and delight…

A recipe for orange pudding from our Georgian-era Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A recipe for orange pudding from our Georgian-era Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Orange Pudding

Take ye yolks of twelfe eggs. Beat them up with three qrs of a pound of loaf sugar till as white as cream. Ye yellow rhines of two civil oranges boyld tender & pounded very small, ten ounces of fresh butter drawn thick & pritty cool. Then, put in two spoonfuls of orange flower water, some slices of green citron. Mix all well to geather. Three qrs of an hour bakes it.

The “yellow rhines of two civil oranges” are, of course, yellow rinds of two Seville oranges.

Another 18th century method for making orange pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Another 18th century method for making orange pudding from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make an Orange Pudding

Take sixteen eggs and take away all the whites and beat them well and take a quarter of a pound of canded orange and cut it as thin as possable you can or greate it. Put it into your eggs with half a pound of white sugar, half a pound of fresh butter melted. Bate all together well then take the dish you intend to bake it in and butter it and put some past on the bottom. Then pour in your pudding and cover it with puf paste. And but let it not be in to hot an oven and stand in about an hour and no more.

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!