A Taste Of Marmalade!

Nicola here. I have a new timeslip novel coming out in a few weeks’ time, The Other Gwyn Girl. It tells the story of Rose Gwyn, the much less well-known sister of Nell Gwyn, actress, orange-seller and mistress to King Charles II. It’s also a fun co-incidence that this is the perfect time of year to make Seville orange marmalade, so this week I’ve been busy making some celebratory “Gwyn Girl” marmalade using my grandmother’s fabulous jam pan. I have to admit that I’s a bit of an irony but I am the only person in my family who doesn’t actually like marmalade! Everyone else is very keen and the Scots ancestors have a marvellous whisky version that is even more popular.

First, a bit of marmalade history, as I always like to research these things! The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese marmelada, which means “made of quince.” The first fruit preserves were made by the Greeks, who discovered that quinces cooked with honey would “set” when they were cool. Both the Greeks and the Romans made preserves out of quince with lemon, rose, apple, pear and plum. In 1524, King Henry VIII received a gift of a “box of marmalades” from a Mr Hull of Exeter. This was probably quince paste, as was the “marmalet” that was served at another Tudor wedding feast. It was said that “marmalado” as it became known, was a favourite with Anne Boleyn.

Meanwhile at the same time, in Seville in Spain, a bitter orange was introduced to Europe from Asia. Although their flavour was very sharp, they quickly became the preferred fruit for making marmalade as the preserve set quickly. A cook book of 1677 written by Eliza Cholmondeley, holds one of the earliest recipes for “Marmalet of Oranges” using the rind and juice of oranges and lemons. This produced a firm, dark paste. In 1714, Mary Kettilby’s version called for whole oranges, lemon juice and sugar. Her cooking instructions were to “boil the whole pretty fast ’till it will jelly.” Thus, the lighter, firmer translucent marmalade that we know today was born. In the centuries since then, marmalade technology has changed but the basic delicious (to those who like it!) flavour and recipe are the same. Here is the one I used:

“Nell Gwyn’s” Marmalade Recipe

  • 7 Seville Oranges – 3lb/1.4kg
  • 1 Lemon
  • 2kg Sugar (Preserving or Granulated. Substitute 500g of Light Muscovado for a darker marmalade)
  • 3 litres Water
  • 5 Tbsp of Whisky if required

Makes roughly 3400ml of marmalade. 8 large(300ml) jars and 5 small(200ml) jars.

  1. Half and juice the oranges and lemons. Put the skins and juice into the pan with 2.5l of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour. Cover if possible.
  2. Put the pith and pips into a small saucepan with 500ml of water and simmer 40 minutes.
  3. After an hour turn off the main pan and remove the orange skins. Cut/slice into small pieces and add to the main pan.
  4. Sieve the small saucepan and add the liquid to the main pan.
  5. Wrap the pips/pith mush into a tied muslin bag and add to the main pain.
  6. Put a couple of saucers into the freezer
  7. Add another 500ml of water to the main pain and simmer for a second hour.
  8. Remove the muslin bag and sieve. Add the liquid to the main pan
  9. Add the sugar, stirring regularly to avoid it catching. Bring to the boil at 215OF /101OC
  10. Keep stirring regularly, after 15 minutes the mixture starts to foam
  11. Every five minutes check the setting with a spoonful onto the cold plates. It should take another 15 to 20 minutes to reach setting point.
  12. Push your finger through the chilled spoonful. It’s ready when a nice wrinkle forms in the cold marmalade!
  13. Turn of the heat and add the whisky if required. Leave for 10 minutes.
  14. Add to cleaned jars dried in the oven @ 140OC

And here is a little “sequel” to The Other Gwyn Girl which I hope will whet people’s appetites for the book!

A Scent of Oranges

Rose Gwyn, London, January 1672

As my carriage drew up outside number 79 Pall Mall, I paused for a moment to appreciate the luxury not only of a comfortable coach of my own but also a footman to open the door and help me descend. Such privileges were a constant delight to a girl who had until recently scrabbled for a living in the backstreets of Oxford and the rookeries of London. These days I frequently had to pinch myself to believe in my good fortune.

“Welcome, madam,” the steward murmured, as the heavy door swung open to allow me entry into the airy hallway. “If you seek Madam Gwyn, you will find her in the kitchens.” The note of pain in his voice at such an admission was very clear.

I paused in the act of stripping off my gloves. I would have thought that my sister Nell, having risen so high as favourite mistress to King Charles, would never wish to see the inside of a kitchen again. Why should she when she had people to wait upon her every whim, and the King himself still entranced by her charms?

“It is marmalade season, madam,” the steward said morosely. “Madam Gwyn insists upon supervising the production of it herself.”

“Ah, I see.” I couldn’t stand marmalade myself but Nell had a sweet tooth and a weakness for fruit preserves. I sighed, already detecting the scent of oranges wafting into the hall. “I will go and find her-” I looked at the steward, “and see what I may do to persuade her to give up the kitchen for the parlour.”

“If you would be so good, madam.” The steward looked relieved. “The King is expected and he will hardly appreciate finding Madam Gwyn sweating over a hot stove.” He opened the door leading to the kitchen steps with as much flourish as though he were leading me into a ballroom.

I followed the scent of slowly simmering oranges, sugar and spices down the corridor and into the big stone-floored kitchen, where I found Nell in a plain white gown, sleeves rolled up to her elbows, stirring the contents of a large pan. Tendrils of red hair had escaped her white cap and were sticking to her forehead and cheeks with the steam and the exertion. She looked ridiculously dishevelled. It was precisely what the steward had dreaded.

“… It is important not to allow the mixture to burn,” she was instructing the maid who was looking over her shoulder, whilst the cook leaned against the table, smiling indulgently to see her mistress doing a servant’s work. “The secret of good marmalade is patience, to know when to increase the heat and when to allow it to thicken. And of course-” She waved her hand towards a bottle that was standing on the table beside the cook, “to add the precise amount of malt to enhance the taste.” She rubbed the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand and I almost shuddered.

“Is the recipe also enhanced by your perspiration?” I asked acidly, and she saw me in the doorway and gave me a beaming smile.

“Rose!” She dropped the wooden spoon with a clatter and rushed across the kitchen to embrace me. I had no wish for my fine silks to be stained so I tried to hold back but Nell was a relentless force. If she wished to hug you, you would not escape, and she was still in high good humour with me after I had helped her with a delicate matter the previous year. In the end I could not resist her – the warmth of her character overrode all formality – and I smiled and hugged her back.

“Marmalade-making, Nell?” I said. “How can you stand it when we spent so long as children selling those wretched fruits in the theatres for Orange Moll?” I cast the simmering pan a malevolent look. “If I never saw another orange, it would be too soon!”

Nell’s face fell. “I know you cannot abide them, Rose,” she said, “but I do love a good marmalade.”

“If you are not careful,” I said, “that is all anyone will remember about you! You know a new play is being written about you and the King, called “For the Love of Two Oranges?” They call you the Queen of Orange on the streets!”

Nell gave her rich chuckle. “How marvellous! Who is to play me, I wonder? I’ll wager they will not be half as good an actor as I am!”

I sighed. She was probably right. They would certainly not be as popular as Nell was, for she rode high in the good opinion of the ordinary people.

“All I am saying,” I repeated, “is that there is more to this family than oranges! In years to come, when people recall your name, do you wish it always to be associated with a fruit? There is far more to our story than that!”

“Then I will leave that to you to tell.” Nell skipped away to resume her stirring of the big pan. “A little more sugar, Maria,” she instructed the maid.

I could see that I was going to be unable to fulfil the steward’s request to prise Nell away from the kitchens and even as I regretted it, I heard a footfall above and the poor man’s voice, utterly flustered:

“Your Majesty! No, you cannot… I mean to say… It is the kitchens, sire! It is not fitting for you to-”

King Charles, as I was already aware, was not a man to be told where he could and could not go. Already he loomed in the doorway, tall, dark and with that twinkle in his eyes that showed how much he was enjoying witnessing Nell’s latest escapade.

I dropped a curtsey but I knew he would not be looking at me, not when Nell was there looking so prettily rumpled, with her gown sliding from her shoulder, her face pink from the heat, and her cap askew with her red hair tumbling down her back.

“Nell, my dear,” he said. “What a delightful scent of oranges! I had no thought to find you here but I should have guessed you would have talents I had not yet discovered.” He peered into the marmalade pan. “You have included lemons and limes as well,” he said approvingly. “I remember trying the different citrus fruits in marmalade when I was in Holland.” His gaze alighted on the bottle. “Ah, I thought I detected the smell of some good Scots malt as well.”

As they started to discuss the rival merits of adding different wines and spirits when it came to marmalade making, I caught the eye of the steward. He was looking appalled at the sight of the monarch stripping off his coat and rolling up his sleeves as he started to stir the pan under Nell’s expert tuition, her hand over his on the handle of the wooden spoon. I could see they needed no assistance so I herded the maid, the cook and the steward out of the kitchen and into the scullery.

“I think they may be some time,” I whispered. “We should leave them to their labours.”

“But they could set the kitchen on fire if they are unattended,” the steward lamented.


“Nonsense,” I said. “My sister is expert with oranges, and it seems the King is too. Fetch another bottle of that malt whisky and we shall toast their success.”

The Other Gwyn Girl will be published on March 7th and is available to pre-order now in the US and from here in the UK!

Do you enjoy marmalade or other jams and preserves? Do you make them yourself? I’m offering an e-copy of The Other Gwyn Girl to one commenter between now and midnight on Tuesday.



38 thoughts on “A Taste Of Marmalade!”

  1. I’m not a big jelly or jam girl, but I do love orange marmalade. Never made jelly myself, but I remember sitting at the table in my great aunt’s kitchen while she turned the concord grapes she grew in their garden into jelly. Every time I open a jar of grape jelly, the aroma takes me right back to that farmhouse kitchen.

    Thanks for the teaser. Your book sounds great.

    • Thank you, Mary. I love the sound of that grape jelly! And the smell! It’s wonderful how scents can connect so clearly to memories.

  2. My sister makes a lovely ginger/orange marmalade. I tried making raspberry jam but couldn’t get it to set properly!
    Your book sounds intriguing. I hope I’m lucky!

    • Hi Ross. I’m told there’s a lot of skill to getting jam and marmalade to set properly. Luckily I had a very good cook helping me! 😀

  3. I’m looking forward to the book!! My mother made marmalade by the galleon when we were young, however, I was the only one in the family who didn’t like it and I still don’t today! I do like jam which my mother also made. These included gooseberry, raspberry and blackcurrant as we grew all our own fruit. Blackcurrant was and still is my favourite.
    Lovely post!!

    • Hi Teresa! It’s funny how some of the things we don’t enjoy eating as children stick with us! I remember when olives became popular and everyone thought they were so sophisticated! I hated them. Marmalade was similar- it lured me in by being sweet then had a bitter aftertaste I didn’t like. Blackcurrant jam on the other hand is fab!

  4. Nicola, marmalade is the queen of preserves! When I lived in England I’d go to the market for fresh Sevilla oranges and make my own, and it was delicious. The touch of bitterness leavens the sweetness and makes it an adult preserved. HEAVENLY on fresh croissants!

    • An adult preserve is a very good way to describe it, Mary Jo. It is more sophisticated in flavour than a jam. We have it with croissants and those members of the family who like it say it’s scrumptious!

  5. I used to love strawberry jam, but it is one of the things I’ve had to give up since becoming diabetic. I allow myself a treat once in a while when my numbers allow, then one piece of grilled sourdough toast and a thin skim of jam feels like heaven.

  6. What a fun post, Nicola, both the history and the excerpt.
    Like you, I am not a fan of orange marmalade; however, I’ve recently had some lemon fig marmalade (from Fischer and Wieser) which I can recommend. Like Teresa Broderick, my favorite jam is blackcurrant.

    • That’s another vote for blackcurrant! There is something special about it. I haven’t tried the lemon fig – that sounds rather luxurious. Thank you for the recommendation, Kareni.

  7. Thank you for the marmalade history; it reminded me of the episode of “Come Outside” when Pippin was not well and marmalade made her better! Auntie Mabel also told a story about the queen who remedied her seasickness with marmalade.
    I regularly take orange marmalade as a gift to my relatives and friends in Poland; my uncle is particularly partial to the one laced with whisky.

    The sequel is great! I am looking forward to reading your book.

    • It’s very interesting about the medicinal qualities of marmalade. I didn’t know about that. And of course we haven’t even mentioned Paddington Bear and the fact that the late Queen was partial to a marmalade sandwich…
      Whisky and marmalade do seem to go well together!

  8. Not a fan of marmalade, but I like other jams, jellies, and preserves. I remember reading historical fiction about Nell Gwyn, but nothing about a sister. Sounds interesting.

    • Thanks, Sally. I hope it will be interesting to people to find out more about Nell’s sister and her life. I love finding out about lesser-known historical characters.

  9. Fun blog, Nicola, and I loved the excerpt.
    Add me to the list of those who love marmalade, and yes, the best marmalade is made with Seville oranges. I often make my own but sometimes it’s hard to find Seville oranges, so I’ll use a combination of lemons and oranges, and sometimes a cumquat or two.

    • That’s interesting, Anne. I will pass that on to the marmalade expert in the house! Love the addition of the cumquat as well. I imagine the mixture of flavours is rather special.

  10. Another pre-ordered story to look forward to reading! And the marmalade information is mouth-watering, Nicola! I love thick-cut orange marmalade, the more bitter the better – here in the US, most marmalades are exceedingly sweet, so I buy Frank Cooper’s Original Oxford when I can find it.

    While they did not make marmalade, my grandmother and her two sisters made multiple jams and preserves every summer, and I am lucky enough to have their jelly pan. I’m also lucky enough to have several gardener friends, so have made strawberry, peach, blueberry and raspberry preserves, and last year for the first time made grape jelly. Must admit I found the jelly-making much less rewarding than preserves – so much work for so little final product! I always gift some of the results to those who provided the fruit – it’s become a summer tradition for all of us.

    • Interesting that you are a fan of the less-sweet marmalades, Constance. Not everyone likes the sharpness of the Seville oranges, do they, but as Mary Jo said, it’s a more “grown up” flavour than sweet jams! I love the sound of those different preserves. Here we have tried quince jelly and that is much the same as the grape one – a lot of hard work for a small amount of jelly at the end, although it does taste lovely and is delicious with cheese!

    • That sounds very tasty! I’m with you on the tartness of the marmalade and prefer a fruit preserve. I’ve never had blueberry jam though and must try it!

  11. I will eat marmalade occasionally, but it isn’t my favorite. My husband who was born in England and whose mother is British loves marmalade. However, he was horrified when his mother made grapefruit marmalade since he hates grapefruit.

    • Yikes! That must have been a less than welcome surprise for your poor husband! Grapefruit is another tart fruit that I suppose lends itself well to marmalade if you like the sharp flavour but it’s not going to suit everyone. My mother was also very fond of grapefruits but she did put masses of brown sugar on them!

  12. There is a company I like, Stonewall Kitchen, and they make red raspberry preserves with pure ingredients. If you can’t find it in stores, it can be ordered online.

    With Kerry Gold Pure Irish Butter underneath, the red raspberry is sublime.

  13. I never used to like marmalade and definitely prefer the kind without “bits” (rind) in it! But in recent years I have discovered that I love a tiny bit on top of toast that is so dark it’s almost burnt, and with lots of salted butter. Try that – you might change your mind 🙂 Very much looking forward to Rose’s story!

    • Thank you, Christina! I do hope you enjoy the book. I will give your recommendation a try… Like you, I don’t really like “bits” in anything!

  14. I love marmalade and I always can my own! I wait for California oranges and lemons to find there way up to me and make a small batch of carefully horded jars. Delightful spread ontop of cakes! The book sounds delightful too, glad I don’t have to cook over a fire though!

    • That sounds absolutely delicious, Jenni! I hadn’t thought of spreading marmalade on cakes though. Cooking over a fire must have been very tricky, I imagine. No wonder good cooks were so highly prized!

  15. Thank you very much for all the comments! This was a fun topic to chat about. The winner of a copy of The Other Gwyn Girl, whose name was drawn for the hat, is Jenni. Congratulations, Jenni!


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