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Why is Orange Jam called Marmalade?

28 Apr

Jam is made by boiling up fruit and sugar (and a setting agent, if necessary) and then putting it into jars to spread on toast.   This applies to any fruit you could name; strawberries, apricots, blackberries,  cherries, and more.  Marmalade is made by boiling up fruit and sugar (and a setting agent, if necessary) and then putting it into jars to spread on toast.  This apparently applies only to citrus fruit. So why on earth does marmalade have a fancy name when it’s just jam?

The etymology of this word comes from a rather fun source.  Orange jam used to be called exactly that until jam technology was developed that changed their methods.  The phrase ‘marmalade’ originated as ‘jam’o’mallard’…  Let me explain.

As detailed here, lemons were not widely introduced to Britain until the 15th century.  Oranges followed soon after and it was only under the reign of Henry VIII that cooking with them became popular.  Of course in these days they did not understand about pectin, and the fact that some fruits are high in it and some are low, and that it is the thing that sets jam into that nice jelly consistency.  Orange jam was made with standard juice oranges as they did not know any better, and it came out lumpy and watery and rubbish.

Henry VIII was a portly gentleman shall we say, and enjoyed his food, and his chefs had a lot of chance to refine their recipes.  One of his favourite dishes was the French speciality, duck a l’orange.  It’s a known flavour combination that just works and remains popular to the present day.  The cooks in the Royal kitchen experimented with different ways to improve the flavours and textures of the dish.  They discovered that using the mallard’s feet to stir the sauce drastically changed the consistency, leaving it thick and glutinous.  The reason for this, not that they realised at the time, was that the webbings of the duck’s feet are high in pectin to allow them strength and flex to paddle underwater.

They applied this to their orange jams and discovered that it provided a fantastic jelly set.  Not previously a popular item, orange jam became known as jam’o’mallard and took off with the peasantry who could get hold of duck’s feet fairly cheaply as they had previously been considered waste.  The beauty of this was that after you had stirred your jam’o’mallard to the right consistency, you were left with a crunchy, sweet, orangey lollipop which could be given to a child to keep it entertained for hours.

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1 Comment

Posted by on April 28, 2012 in Why?

 

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One response to “Why is Orange Jam called Marmalade?

  1. Kitty DrunkDrunk

    August 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I have pondered this mystery more than once myself! Now I can sleep at night thanks! (if I don’t think about the duck feet part, that is!)

     

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