Friday, November 04, 2005

Marmalade, madams, and maladies

Today, November 4th …

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on this day in 1663 “Home to dinner and very pleasant with my wife, who is this day also herself making of Marmalett of Quince, which she now doth very well herself.”

Elizabeth’s marmalade would have been a dry paste such as we now eat with cheese - cut with a knife, stored in boxes and served as an after dinner sweetmeat. Over time, other fruit came to be used such as “Wardens, peares, apples, & Medlars, Seruits or Checkers, strawberys everyone by him selfe or els mixt it together as you think good.” Eventually it became our familiar citrus jelly with rind suspended in it, perfect for spreading on breakfast toast.

For some odd reason the Scots have claimed marmalade as their own by perpetuating a couple of myths. One idiotic explanation for the name “marmalade” is that it came from the medicinal use of candied orange (“to cool the stomach”) by Mary Queen of Scots, who suffered sea-sickness on her voyage from France to Scotland in 1561 - hence “Marie est malade” became “marmalade”. The word of course comes from the Portuguese word “marmelo” for quince, and was in use well before Mary’s travels. “Modern” orange marmalade was also decidedly not invented by Janet Keillor of Dundee in 1797, there being recogniseable recipes for it from almost a century before.

If not a medicinal excuse to indulge, why not aphrodisiacal? Quinces were always believed to be aphrodisiacs, and oranges were extravagant (therefore enticing) delicacies in the seventeenth century, so the reputation became attached to marmalade, which is probably why prostitutes were called “marmalade madams” in Pepys’ time.

Perhaps Mrs Pepys had a copy of “The French Cook…” by La Varenne (1653), which contained this recipe:

How to make the Marmalat of Quinces of Orleans.
Take fifteen pounds of Quinces, three pounds of sugar, and two quarts of water, boil all together; after it is well sod, pass it by little and little through a napkin, and take out of it what you can; then put your decoction in a bason with four pounds of sugar, seeth it, for to know when it is enough, trie it on a plate, and when it doth come off, take it quickly from the fire, and set it up in boxes, or somewhere else.

Aphrodisiac anyone?

On Monday … Elephant (not) on the menu.

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