The History of Marmalade

history of marmalade

They say that humankind is made up of cat people and dog people. Similarly, you are either a jam person or a marmalade person. While jam is a sweet and simple pleasure, marmalade is deeper, darker and more sophisticated. Like wine and coffee, it’s an adult taste, both sweet and bitter. However the substance we know as marmalade today is a fairly modern construct. Here are a few facts about the history of marmalade.

The early history of marmalade

Today, we recognise marmalade as a pale but bright, jellied substance. However early marmalade goes back to Roman times in the form of a darker and more solid affair, a sweetened quince paste flavoured with ambergris, musk or rosewater and served cut into squares. It sounds a little like Turkish delight!

We get the name ‘marmalade’ from these early preserves, as the Portuguese word for quince is ‘marmelo’. At some point quinces were replaced by oranges, the rind of which was used by herbalists as a digestive aid. Imported Mediterranean sweetmeats of candied orange rind became popular in Britain and the name marmalade was applied to a number of different fruit pastes.

The history of marmalade in Britain

The earliest experience of our modern version of marmalade seems to have been in the 17th and 18th centuries. 17th century manuscripts exist showing recipes for orange marmalade – a costly and labour-intensive process involving the soaking and cooking of orange peel with the juice and plenty of sugar. Lemon juice was added to help achieve a set. Around the same time, marmalade went from being a sweetmeat to an ingredient or condiment.

In the early 19th century the Keiller family of Dundee began to produce marmalade as a commercial concern, making it affordable to the masses. The Dundee marmalade brand remains well-known and was the catalyst for the marmalade we buy in jars today.

Cool marmalade facts

  • Marmalade can be made from any citrus fruits. In addition to the traditional Seville orange, try lemons, limes, grapefruit, mandarins, bergamots or kumquats.
  • Paddington Bear loved marmalade sandwiches and released his own book called ‘My Book of Marmalade’ all about his favourite food.
  • The World’s Original Marmalade Awards, held annually in Cumbria, see thousands of jars sent in for judging. Every jar entered into the competition is tasted and the owner receives a certificate and judge’s commentary.
  • National Marmalade Week takes place this year from Sunday 28 February to Sunday 6 March.
  • For his 1953 Mount Everest ascent, Sir Edmund Hillary’s preparations included packing a jar of marmalade.

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