Orange Marmalade: 1600

My daughter has started waking earlier and earlier. I don’t mean 6:00am, which is still an unholy hour at the weekend but kind of manageable, I’m talking hours of the morning that shouldn’t be legal. 3:00am! 4:00am! Before having a child I didn’t know there was a 4:00am; it was like an urban myth. I’d heard Proper Adults talking about catching early morning flights for holidays, or doing shift work, or having to get up to let the dog out, but I always assumed they just had a really sick sense of humour.

But alas, my husband and I are now well acquainted with 4:00am get ups – the starless pitch black outside and the oppressive quietness punctuated only by our gentle sobs of defeat as we reload Baby Effing Shark onto the TV yet again. 6:00am has become the new lunchtime and by midday we aim to be back in pyjamas.

This morning I realised that, if our day is destined to start in darkness and fumbled panic as we usher our daughter downstairs to prevent her shouts travelling through the walls to the neighbours, we’d need some reinforcements. Usually this involves biscuits of some kind, but we didn’t have any in and neither of us fancied this idea too much because at the rate we’re going we’d get through several packets a day (actually I didn’t see a problem with that, but my husband – who is working towards his Proper Adult badge – pointed out it might not be very good health wise.)

So – biscuits were out. The second problem was that none of the shops near us would be open until 10:00am, it being a Sunday. This left an unacceptable six hours to go. What we wanted, what we really wanted, was a wholesome breakfast that wasn’t too much faff and felt healthy without being tediously ‘Instagram’: I wasn’t going to ‘enjoy’ a jog later, I don’t believe a bowl of mashed banana with a crescent of seeds tossed over it is a treat and at that time in the morning I was definitely not feeling #blessed.

Marmalade was what we needed. Even the word ‘marmalade’ sounds luxurious and inviting, especially when you imagine great spoons of it slathered on toast already dripping with butter. I also thought there would be something inherently comforting about big amber blobs of it glinting in the darkened living room as neon rays of whatever awful animated cartoon was now playing tried to penetrate through.

This scene of domestic chaos was probably not what Sir Hugh Plat had in mind when he wrote a recipe to ‘Preserve Orenges after the Portugall Fashion’. I imagine he envisaged women delicately nibbling at lozenges of it over fine needlework – not me wrestling with my toddler as I cut chunks of it out of her hair. Nevertheless, his recipe for marmalade (found in Sophie Lillingon’s excellent booklet A Recipe Book in the Tudor Fashion) was exactly what we needed this morning.

Published in 1600, the snappily entitled Delightes for Ladies: to adorn their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories with beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters was yet another collection of recipes and household tips written by a man to help women run their households more efficiently, whilst also remaining beautiful and fashionable in order to keep up with aristocratic Tudor society. Delightes for Ladies is therefore a bit of a maze of practical recipes, make up tips and hints on how to create the perfect Tudor banquet. It was therefore arranged alphabetically, which explains why advice on how to correctly perfume gloves is next to a recipe for boiled pike, and why tips to maintain oral hygiene immediately follow instructions for stewed duck.

Marmalade was introduced to England from Portugal where quinces – called ‘marmelos – were preserved in thick syrup and cut out into sweets. Orange marmalade in particular was a wintertime favorite of the Tudor elite. In 1560, Robert Dudley, would-be husband of Elizabeth I, purchased “a brick of marmalade” for a banquet to impress the Queen at a personal cost of 2s 4d – the equivalent of approximately half a week’s wages. Because the cost of of oranges was so high, recipes for marmalade preserve every aspect of the orange to get the best value for money, including flesh and rind. Rather than eaten on toast for breakfast, it seems marmalade was treated almost like a sweet and was set hard enough to slice into lozenges to be enjoyed at formal dinners.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and pioneer of the marmalade wooing technique

One hobby for rich Tudor gourmands was to disguise certain foods as something else; as part of the instructions for a brilliant banquet, Sir Plat gives recipes for sugar paste flowers and various sugar molds, including molds for plates, so that guests may be tricked into thinking sweet foods were savoury and crockery was, well, crockery. Tudor cooks in rich houses were nothing short of 16th century Heston Blumenthals (or should that be Heston Blumenthal is nothing short of a 21st century Tudor cook?) If all that food deception wasn’t exciting enough, Tudor hosts who could afford oranges and lemons and didn’t want to cook with them or eat them raw (thanks to a belief that uncooked fruit and vegetables were bad for you) would often have the rind carved into intricate decorations to adorn the table and delight guests with the patterns. Truly, the long winter evenings must have flown by.

Sir Plat seems to have tried to incorporate the spirit of food trickery into his recipe, but went one step further by hollowing out an orange and filling it with marmalade – thereby succeeding in creating an orange disguised as…an orange: “then there will be marmalade of Orenges within your Orenges…” Orangeception.

My parents kindly came to relieve us of toddler duty mid morning so, having left them at the mercy of our daughter who was happily pushing playdough up her nose (hey – it was an improvement on mashing it into the carpet), I crept away to begin work on the marmalade.

I put two oranges, cut into quarters, in a pan and then added the hollowed out flesh of two more. I added enough water to just cover them (like all good historical cooks, Sir Plat gives no quantities) and boiled them together for half an hour until I could pierce the rinds easily with a fork. Then I removed the orange pulp, leaving the liquid behind and blended it until the rind was cut up fine. Instead of a food processor, Sir Plat recommended pulverising the oranges by beating them until they formed a paste, but time was of the essence here and my energy reserves did not stretch to mashing oranges by hand. Once the blended oranges had been put back into the liquid, the original instructions were ambiguous about how much sugar to add. Sophie Lillington recommended weighing the combined pulp and liquid and adding the same weight of sugar. For me, this was approximately 500g but will vary depending on the size of the oranges and how much water is added in the first place. Then it was time to boil the sugar and oranges up into marmalade.

I know that there are various stages to boiling sugar with suspicious names like ‘soft crack’ and ‘firm ball’ but I’ve not really had much need to dwell on them before. Desperate for this marmalade to be a firm success (in every sense of the word), and not trusting Sir Plat’s naive advice to just “boil [the oranges] in youre sirup: then there will be marmalade”, I resorted to using a very authentic Tudor sugar thermometer to measure when the mixture was up to 105 degrees – the setting point for jam. Even though oranges have a lot of pectin in them, in order to keep this authentic I wasn’t using jam sugar so I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Temperature reached, I spooned the thick amber goodness into four orange halves and poured the rest into a dish to keep in the fridge (show me one parent who has time to sterilise jars for God’s sake). After another half an hour or so the mixture was pretty much set and I was ready to create my own orange marmalade filled oranges.

Bloody. Hell.

Look at it. Look at it! Maybe I am a bit tediously ‘Instagram’ after all. After a lot of swearing and near disaster I managed to sort of glue two halves of an orange together and glazed them with a little of the syrup left in the pan in order to see how this might have looked when served in 1600. The other two halves I cut open to show just how successfully set the marmalade was – it was a bit like a soft jelly. Sir Plat had advised that when cut the marmalade should be “like an hard egg”, and it wasn’t far off. Admittedly the photos did have to be taken quickly but that was only partially to do with the fact that the marmalade oozed ever so slowly downwards the longer it was kept tipped up, and more to do with the fact that we couldn’t wait to try it.

The marmalade tasted divine. I understand that there were various factors keeping Elizabeth from marrying Dudley, but I don’t get why she didn’t just abdicate the throne and run away with him if this was the sort of thing he was buying for her. It was sweeter than modern marmalade but still had a bit of the bitterness from the rind. Being exceptionally sticky it was soon clinging to every available surface but I didn’t care; I was in marmalade heaven.

Overall this was really straightforward to make (minus the orange stuffing bit at the end, which was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done) and didn’t take half as long as I thought it would. It tasted far better than any shop bought marmalade too. I know I didn’t bother to sterilise any jars to keep this ‘cupboard fresh’ but to be honest it wouldn’t last long enough anyway – after twenty minutes all the marmalade in the oranges had gone and there were several teaspoon gouges in the stuff in the fridge.

Is it worth voluntarily getting up at 4:00am for? No. Don’t be stupid, nothing is. But does it make enforced 4:00am get ups bearable when nothing else so far has? Definitely.

E x

Orange Marmalade

4 large oranges
Enough water to cover the oranges
500g caster sugar

  1. Cut 2 oranges into quarters and place them in a pan. Add the pulp of the other two oranges (but not the rind) to the pan and cover with water.
  2. Boil for half an hour or until the rinds are very soft.
  3. Remove the orange rinds and pulp from the liquid and blitz in a food processor until the rind is chopped fine. Add this back to the liquid and weigh.
  4. Add the same weight of sugar to the orange mixture and boil until the temperature is 105 degrees.
  5. Spoon the marmalade into sterilised jars or containers.