Home Ground: What God hath intended: jellies, jams

| February 22, 2019 | 1 Comment

Pectin makes it all possible. Pectin is one of God’s best ideas, purveyed in fruity packages. No question: God intended us to have jellies and jams and marmalade. This is why I take my marmalade straight, by the spoonful. To that end, my friend and I, in Los Angeles, set out to make marmalade, inspired by a perfect bitter orange marmalade we had eaten in Mexico.

Marmalade in our day carries its own definition, which is a conserve of oranges. But in Europe until the 18th century, the word marmalade, when used by itself, according to British food historian C. Anne Wilson, meant only one thing: a marmalade of quinces.

The word for “quince,” in Portuguese, is marmelo.

Homemade preserves were known in Roman times; Greek physicians were convinced of the efficacy of quince to aid digestion; Dioscordes recommended it for dysentery and complaints of the liver and kidneys. His recipe for kudonites, made with quince, pops up in Tudor and Stuart recipes as “quidony of quinces.”

Marmalade of quinces was prepared dry, and cut, as you would a pie. It was the result of the discovery that cooked fruit combined with sugar (honey) and acid (vinegar) would result in a solid, thick, leathery and delicious substance.

You can buy the offspring of this idea in quince paste from Spain, membrillo, to be eaten with cheese.

Now where was I? Yes, looking for a bridge to take us from quince to orange marmalade. Wilson’s “The Book of Marmalade” (1985, 1999) shows the way.

The first bridge is the apple; the second is a collective moving force made up of Moors coming to the Iberian Peninsula and, later, the returning soldiers of the Crusades.

The apple’s gift was its suitability for making jelly. (Many are the early recipes for “jelly of pippins” — pippin meaning for a few centuries any apple grown from a seed.) The pectin content of apples is highest when they are newly picked, in autumn.

Those returning Crusaders brought orange and lemon trees to Southern Europe and the knowledge of how to make them flourish by means of irrigation.

Wilson surmises that if apples were put by to make jellies later in the year, intrepid magicians of the kitchen discovered that the addition of lemon juice would push along the jelling and that a bit of orange “pill” (peel) made it more interesting.

My friend and I had looked at many recipes urging a 12- or 24-hour “curing.” That’s when, if you put seeds and pith into a cheesecloth bag, natural pectin will come forth and fulfill its proper function: to provide just the right amount of thickening. We did not cook the fruit long enough, nor did we “cure.” We misplaced our faith in God and her pectin packaged in citrus fruit.

We used commercial pectin, and the result was the dry marmalade of the Middle Ages. It took some muscle to excavate it from our pretty jars after it was refrigerated.

But we loved our marmalade.

We used mostly Rangpur limes, Citrus x limonia, a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon (very bitter, and not a lime at all). Our marmalade was good to eat from the spoon. Not everyone thought so.

John Lennon loved marmalade, it is said. Capt. Robert Scott took Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade, the thick-cut version, on his fatal trip to the Antarctic a century ago, and Edmund Hillary toted some in his pack on his Everest expedition. One imagines they were able to find some momentary comfort in those jars.

This is an abridged version of an essay by the same name found in Paula Panich’s latest book, “The Cook, the Landlord, the Countess and Her Lover,” published by Tryphon Press and available through:  tinyurl.com/ybk3cjbl.

By Paula Panich

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Category: Real Estate

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  1. Karen Gilman says:

    Awesome essay on one of my favorite topics! Thanks for the research!

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