By THL Elska á Fjárfelli
Dominion of Myrkfaelinn
Inspired by Harvest Raid’s A&S Competition theme, “The Harvest,” I decided to make something to enter in the competition with a fruit harvested from our own homestead orchard. As we were blessed with many peaches this year, I chose to make a peach ginger conserve, modernly called a jam.
But what I found when researching jams was something I did not expect. While preserving fruits has always been a staple of the medieval kitchen, looking deeper into the subject I found that preserving fruit as a jam was not. The word “jam” began to creep into manuscript cookery books in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, and into the printed ones early in the eighteenth. It might have had a Middle Eastern origin, as there is an Arabic word—jam—which means “close-packed” or “all together.” From its more general usage in English for things that were jammed against one another, the word passed into the realm of confectionery to indicate those preserves where soft fruits cooked with sugar were crushed together, rather than sieved, and could thus be described as “jammed” or “in a jam.”
In period, fruits were preserved in sweet, spiced syrups of wine and sugar or honey, or in the form of solid marmalades. Syrup preserves are found in sources starting with Apicius, a collection of 4th to 5th century Roman cookery recipes, and solid marmalade recipes have been found as early as the 14th century. The spreadable, soft-fruit preserve we currently know as jams and jellies are usually sealed up in preserving jars or cans of some kind, which is necessary to avoid spoilage like mold. Recipes for soft jams and jellies are mostly found from the eighteenth century up, when canning also became a possibility. A storage technique that could have been used in period, and has been used post period, is using some kind of vessel like a ceramic jar that is topped with a brandy-soaked disk of parchment and then covered with melted tallow or beeswax.
An interesting nugget is the idea that the word “marmalade” originally came from “Marie malade,” or sick Mary, because marmalade was regularly made for Mary Queen of Scots to keep her healthy. “Marmalade” actually comes via French from the Portuguese marmelada and means quince jelly. The earliest reference to marmalade is from 1524—18 years before the birth of Queen Mary—when one box of marmalade was presented to the king (it was an expensive delicacy). The French condoignac and chardequynce are antecedents of the marmalade we know today and are themselves descendants from the cidonitum of 4th-century Palladius. The medieval malomellus was a term used both for the fruit quince and for the conserve; the modern Portuguese for the fruit is still marmelo.
My recipe was a mix of “Old Fashioned Peach Preserves” and “Ginger Jam” from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. Because this conserve is meant to be preserved, as advised by the FDA I used a modern conserving recipe to make sure it canned safely. All ingredients, taken separately, were available in period, including the lemon juice, but due to the lack of canning technology not necessarily used in this manner. The quinces in the period recipe are used to thicken the marmalade so it is solid, as it is very high in pectin.
Even though the conserve in this form is technically not period, it was well received in the competition and many samples were tasted. Spiced peach preserves and peach ginger conserves are favorites in our household, and I was happy to be able to share our bountiful harvest with the many gentles visiting the Harvest Raid A&S Display and Competition.
PERIOD INSPIRATION RECIPES:
This 15th century Portuguese recipe indicates peaches were used in conserves:
60 – Pessegada. Cortem ao meio duas partes de pêssego e uma de marmelo, e levem-nas a cozer, em separado. Depois que estiverem cozidas, passem tudo por uma peneira fina. A seguir, ajuntem tanto açúcar quanto for o peso da massa, e levem o tacho ao fogobrando. Deixem atingir o ponto de marmelada, e coloquem o doce em caixetas.
Peach Marmalade. Cut in half two parts of peach and one of quince, and cook them separately. After they are cooked, put everything through a fine sieve. Next, add a like amount of sugar to the weight of the paste, and take the pot to a low heat. Allow it to reach the point of marmalade, and place the confection in little boxes.
From A Treatise of Portuguese Cuisine from the 15th Century.
This 16th – 17th century recipe indicates boiling to candy height (interpreted as sheeting):
#S112 TO MAKE A PASTE OF PEACHES
Take peaches & boyle them tender, as you did your apricocks, & strayne them. then take as much sugar as they weigh & boyle it to candy height. mix ym together, & make it up into paste as you doe yr other fruit. soe dry them and use it at your pleasure. Peel and slice peaches. Bring them to a boil over medium heat in a thick pan. Cover pan, stirring occasionally. Add a little rosewater if desired.
From A Booke of Sweetmeats, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, 1550-1650.
This 1608 recipe indicates ginger was used in spicing conserves:
- To make rough-red Marmelade of Quinces, commonly called lump-Marmelade, that shall looke as red as any rubie.
Pare ripe and well coloured Peare-quinces, and cut them in pieces like dice, parboile them very tender, or rather reasonably tender in faire water, then powre them into a Colender, and let the water runne from them into a cleane Bason, then straine that water through a strainer into a Posnet [skillet], for if there be any grauell in the Quinces, it will be in that water : Then take the weight of the Quinces in double refined Sugar very fine, put halfe thereof into the Posnet, into the water with a graine of Muske, a slice or two of Ginger tied in a thrid, and let it boile couered close, vntill you see your sugar come to the colour of Claret wine, then vncouer it and take out your Ginger, and so let it boile vntill your sirupe being to consume away, then take it off the fire, and pomice it with a ladle, and so stirre it and coole it, and it will looke thick like tart-stuffe, then put in your other halfe of your Sugar, and so let it boile, always stirring it vntill it come from the bottome of the Posnet, then box it, and it will looke red like a Rubie, the putting of the last Sugar brings it to an orient colour.
A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1608.
Costenbader, Carol W. The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. Storey Publishing, 1997.
Gomes, Fernanda (trans.). A Treatise of Portuguese Cuisine from the 15th Century.
Hess, Karen (transcriber). Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Columbia University Press, New York, 1981.
Holloway, Johnna. A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1608). 2011.
Wilson, C. Anne. The Book of Marmalade. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
And the cooks at the SCA Cooks Facebook group. Thank you!