Sunday, June 10, 2012


After or during a bike ride, I love a peanut butter sandwich.  One of my friends was teasing me gently about my love on fb the other day.  It's not the most sophisticated food, but darn, with good bread, it's great.

I have friends who cook.  One of them gave me some homemade marmalade, so I had that on my sandwich, and it was very, very good. 

Weirdly, perhaps, I didn't grow up eating marmalade.  My Mom made wickedly good boysenberry jam from our bushes, and we ate that a lot.  But not marmalade.

But eating the marmalade got me thinking:  why do we have a separate word for a fruit preserve made from oranges?  The others are all jams and jellies (until I thought of apple butter, but maybe that's different?).  But orange, and it's marmalade.

Being a curious type with access to the OED, I started looking stuff up and learned that "marmalade" is first used in the early 16th century in England, a borrowing from Portuguese.  But it wasn't originally used for orange preserves, but for quince.  I didn't even know what a quince was, really (except for Peter), so I had to look that up. 

Originally, marmalade didn't refer to what we call marmalade, a citrus (I learned that there are other citrus marmalades) fruit preserve, but that it was boiled (to get at the pectins in the fruit) and served as block of gel with rosewater.   That doesn't sound nearly as good as our marmalade.

The thing that surprised me, but shouldn't have, was that fruit preserves in general come in to use pretty late, like in the 18th century, mostly.  I think of jam as a sort of old fashioned food, but not so much.  The thing is, you need sugar and a way of sealing up a container to do fruit preserves, and neither was really much available earlier.  If you don't seal up the container, then you have to use it more quickly, I guess.

I would also like to note that "marmalade" has good mouth feel as a word; it's fun to say.  It tastes great with peanut butter, too!


  1. Isn't it fun to follow the etymological meanderings through OED? :)

    The pseudologist in me is compelled to observe that general is as general does: I'm reasonably sure that marmalades and jams and so forth were in common use long before the 18th century — just not in Europe. In the Middle East, I suspect that the use of fruit preserves in cooking goes back way further, since they've been growing sugar in Iraq and Egypt for many centuries.

    In fact (*puts on pedantic tone of voice*), the fact that Europeans could only access sugar in small quantities at sky-high prices from the Middle Eastern markets was one of the incentives for colonists in the New World to start planting sugar cane. Once the Caribbean colonies became a center of mass-produced refined sugar, Europeans drastically altered their culinary habits to incorporate the huge new amounts of sugar they could access for cheap. You might enjoy Sidney Mintz's book, Sweetness and Power, which is all about this historical process.

    Ahem. See what happens when you get me going?

  2. Thanks, Dr. K! You're so right. That's fascinating :) (And reminds me that I'm too Anglocentric, esp when I think about the 16th and 17th centuries.)

    Thanks for the book suggestion. History is just so cool!

  3. Just to add that you make marmalade a different way from jams and takes several days. So while I've made jams, jellies, and even apple butter, I have never taken on marmalade...