Bleakest mid-winter in Canada holds little joy, except for the arrival of Seville oranges. And they are here now so get some and make marmalade. I add my dram of whisky to my homemade marmalade as a salute to my ancestors and the bard,Robbie Burns as his birthday is coming up. Seemingly a quintessential English food, marmalade’s beginnings however have nothing to do with England, or even oranges.
Marmello is the Portuguese word for quince. The Portuguese mixed this fruit with sugar to make marmelada a solid, dry preserve, much like today’s quince paste. Served at the end of meals, marmelada as a digestive, and to settle the stomach, an early antacid. Whether it was the taste, or its therapeutic effects, marmalade became popular and other fruits were added, notably apples and oranges. Today, in many European languages, the word marmalade is a generic term for what English speakers call jam.
During the eighteenth century, the Scots introduced marmalade at breakfast. As both orange peel and sugar were believed to warm a cold stomach and stimulate the appetite, they believed the best way to start the day was with marmalade washed down with a glass of whisky. It was still a thick paste, and not until the end of the century did it start resemble the jam we are familiar with today. In 1797 Janet Keiller, a Dundee grocer’s wife, popularised “chip” or Dundee-style marmalade. This was made with finely cut pieces of Seville orange peel suspended in a soft jelly that could be spread. Serving marmalade (and toast) at breakfast quickly became the norm.
With the expansion of the British Empire marmalade traveled the world, to Antarctica with Scott and up Everest with Hillary. Its popularity in remotest corners of the globe transformed marmalade yet again, and recipes using limes, kumquats, ginger and pineapple began to appear. Seville orange marmalade with a splash of whisky added is my favourite. On dark winter mornings, it may not warm my stomach, but it definitely brightens my mood.