In the mid 18th century a Spanish ship carrying Seville oranges was damaged by storm. The ship sought refuge in the harbour of Dundee in Scotland where the load deemed unfit for sale were sold to a local merchant called James Keiller. James’ mother turned the bitter orange fruit into jam and so created the iconic James Keiller Dundee Marmalade. It wasn’t a coincidence that James mother made marmalade, in the 1760s her son ran a confectionery shop producing jams in Seagate, Dundee. In 1797 he founded the world’s first marmalade factory producing the first commercial brand of marmalade. In 1828, the company became James Keiller and Son, when his son joined the business. Today you can see stone James Keiller and Son marmalade jars pop up at every carboot sale and antiques market. But the marmalade is still in production, only now in glass jars that off the beautiful radiant orange colour that is so typical of marmalade.
But why do we call it marmalade and not jam?
As you maybe remember from my posting about ‘Quince Cheese’ here > , quinces are responsible for the word marmalade as their Portuguese word is ‘marmelo’ and they were made into fruit cheeses named marmalades. In Spain they call it ‘Membrillo’. Quince just like bitter Seville oranges, contain a lot of pectin and they are both too sour to eat raw. From both of these fruits the pips and peels are used to get a good set, and if you don’t have quince you could easily make a fruit cheese out of these oranges.
If you’re a marmalade fan, chances are you have a particular favourite. You either love every jar that you can find on your breakfast table or you prefer either thick cut, thin cut, or vintage. The cut of course refers to how thick the peel is cut, I like mine as thin as possible. Vintage is a jar you left in the back of your preserve cupboard to age and turn dark amber in colour and deep in flavour. Then there are two kinds I don’t really want to include in the different types of marmalades and that is the flavoured kind, this could be spices, whisky or any other type of booze. I can understand whisky and grand marnier, but as I’ve made marmalade with cardamom, I have to conclude that that jar was something entirely different to marmalade. When it comes to preserves I’m quite the purist. If additions flavour and not just compliments the taste of the fruit, it’s a big no no for me.
The truth as clear as marmalade
According to Ivan Day, a prominent food historian who I was lucky to do a course with, one of the earliest known recipe for a Marmelet of Oranges dates from around 1677 and it can be found in the recipe book of Eliza Cholmondeley held in the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies.
The earliest recipe in Scotland is titled ‘How to make orange marmalat’ and dates back 1683. It can be found in the earliest Scottish manuscript recipe book which is believed to have been written by Helen, Countess of Sutherland of the Clan Sutherland. The book is dedicated entirely to fruit preservation and jelly making. According to The Scotsman “The Countess was married to John Gordon, the 16th Earl of Sutherland, an army officer who was honoured following the defeat of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion.”
This bit of information transports me right to the wuthering heights of Scotland.
This early Scottish as well as English recipe debunks the myth that mother Keiller invented marmalade. Recipes for similar preserves even date back earlier in history. But the Keiller family definitely deserve a prominent spot in marmalade history.
What makes a marmalade
There is something to be said about sugar as well. Some use plain white sugar, others use demerara (cane sugar), others use molasse or jam sugar (minut sugar). You don’t need the added pectin of jam sugar, I find molasse to be too dominant, white sugar from sugar beets is something I hardly use except for jam so I decided to use 2/3 of plain white sugar and 1/3 demerara. I don’t want my marmalade to be dark in colour, I want it to be beautifully bright orange.
And finally the fruit… without wanting to be a food snob, organic or untreated bitter oranges are your only option. Remember that you will be using the peel so your fruit needs to be of the best quality. Many Seville oranges are harvested from trees which grow by the road and in the city. These are dirty oranges. I like to know what I put in my jam jar so it’s better to be safe and buy organic. This isn’t sponsored in any way but I’ve found Ave Maria is a farm that sells organic Sevilles, they are stocked in some British supermarkets (ask them on twitter).
I’ve looked at a couple of recipes and the ingredients and method is usually identical. Before I share my recipe (which is identical to many out there) I’ll leave you with some links for you to look at.