The Invention of Marmalade

Discussing marmalade (again) with a friend, and he asks The Big Question, which is, of course, ‘Who invented marmalade?’

I thought I knew the answer, but after stumbling through something about Portugal and quinces and an alleged shipwreck of Sevilles in Scotland, I realised I still wasn’t sure. So I went back to my most reliable source – The Book of Marmalade by C. Anne Wilson – and tried again.

It’s a long story, but I can confidently report that the answer is: We don’t really know.

The thing about recipes is that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly who invented what. Plenty of people made things without writing them down, obviously, and even when recipes were written down, it was usually only in each cook’s personal ‘receipt book’, many of which haven't survived for us to see, thus confusing the historical record. And even then, the writer wouldn't necessarily say where the recipe came from. So when a Seville orange preserve pops up in an ancient printed or handwritten book, it can be hard to know the true origins of the recipe; was it invented, adapted or just plain copied? 

What’s clear is that marmalade has had a long evolution, from Greek and Roman medicinal quince sweetmeats to the Seville orange marmalade that we know today. When I’ve reduced those few thousand years to a couple of sentences, I will report back.

Marmalade in the News
In an earlier post, I mentioned the fact that men are quite keen marmalade-makers, possibly because it involves very large cooking pots. But this letter to the Daily Telegraph in August 2010 suggests that there may be other reasons.

‘SIR – My husband of 27 years has been making the marmalade ever since we married. Upon being asked when he started making marmalade, his reply was: “When I discovered that my wife didn’t.” '


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