Ye Olde Orange Jam

As proof that marmalade is everywhere, I was at a family party recently with an assortment of my husband’s cousins when Rowan, the hostess, knowing of my liking for vintage recipes, said ‘Have you seen Mary Eyre’s cookbook?’ She then produced an old, handwritten cookbook, which her brother had recently sent to her for safekeeping, as he was worried that the Australian climate was rotting the pages. Dated October 1745, it was the work of her ancestor Mary Eyre.

The first thing I said, of course, was ‘Is there any marmalade in it?’ And, hoorah, there was – red quince marmalade and orange jam, as well as a number of recipes for orange and lemon cakes and puddings.

My heart skipped when I saw the recipe for Orange Jam firmly scribbled out; please no, not that one! But a few pages later it reappeared: ‘Ye Best and Right Way to Preserve Orange Jam’, with an additional ‘Ye best and fullest recept’ from ‘My mother Mrs Clark’ (or possibly ‘my mother & Mrs Clark’, as it is scribbled in a tiny circle in the top right-hand corner and is hard to make out). Interestingly, I haven’t yet seen marmalade described as orange jam – rather the other way around, that jams made with any fruit were often called marmalade (marmalet of apricots, peaches, quince, orange), but not vice versa.

The recipe follows the usual form: this is a transcript, or at least as close as I can get it, as the writing and language is not always clear. (Mary Eyre has my late Aunt Joan’s habit of writing in one long sentence with commas where the full stops should be; I rather like it, so I left it as it was. But the eighteenth-century spellings nearly exploded my Autocorrect.)

‘Take half a Dozen oranges & grate off ye Rinds, then put them into a large kettle full of cold water, let em boyle till they are tender, then take a pound and three quarters of loaf sugar, broak small, and put it into three quarters of a pint of water, let it boyle and scum it well, then fling in about a quarter of a pint more water, let it boyle and scum it well again, then put in rather better than a pint more water, which boyl & skim, then cut your oranges into thinish longish bits or pieces, Then put them into your syrup with ye juice of a raw orange, and if you like it some of ye gratering of ye oranges, then let it boyl up & scum it, After that let them only simmer till they begin to look clear then Boyl em pritty fast, till ye syrup is a jelly, those with ye rind on are only some’... The recipe ends abruptly, but even if it had an ending, I'm not sure I could manage all that scumming.

What proved most interesting was not so much the jam, but the family connection. Mary Eyre (1707-1790) was a relative of my father-in-law; but Rowan told me that a book of letters existed between her and Lady Jane Coke, who is related to my mother-in-law. The letters were written between 1747-1758, so somehow these two families had found each other 200 years before my in-laws did. A happy coincidence, and a nice ending to this culinary episode.


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