Remember the oranges?

It is odd to start with oranges as a part of Canadian food history, isn’t it? Well, Upper Canadian’s should not think so. They were quite fond of this colourful fruit. Manuscript cookbooks from the nineteen century are full with recipes for orange sweets. Most of the recipes include preserves, marmalade, jellies, puddings, tarts, even an occasional liquor.

The manuscripts that I have looked through are written by English-peaking European settlers in 18th and 19th centuries, and today they are housed at the University of Watreloo Special Collections and Archives and Archival and Special Collections Materials ( Canadian Cookbook Collection) at University of Guelph.

Oranges became popular in Europe in Early modern period.1 Moors introduced Seville oranges to Europe when they arrived and settled in Iberian Peninsula medieval period; this fruit, also known as bitter oranges or Citrus aurantium, was widely used for marmalade.

Seville Orange

Seville orange

Some recipes in Ontario cookbooks use this particular orange when they are making orange sweets, but they also mention other sorts, like Lisbon orange.

Sweet oranges Citrus Sinensis (Chinese Orange) arrived from the East Asia, through India and Middle East, and spread across Europe in the Early Modern period.Remember the flamboyant French king, Louis XIV? Well, he became an “orange aficionado,” and had his personal orangeries at Versailles that had a “shape of 1,200-foot crescent” and was used as a back drop for various forms of entertainments.4 The orange trees were kept in weel pots so they could be easily moved into a warmer accommodations during the colder months.5

L'orangerie de Versailles

  L’Orangerie at Versailles

Now back to Ontario. By late 18th century, oranges reached Upper Canada through trans-Atlantic imports and became one of the recurrent fruits used in recipes.

Here are some examples: 

Orange Liquor – from the personal journal and cookbook of, Hannah Jarvis, Upper Canada, 1792-1845″

Pour a gallon of Brandy into the peel from twelve oranges and leave them to sleep for a fortnight. Clarify five pounds of loaf sugar with the whites of two eggs and, when half cold, add brandy and bottle it.”

Orange Brandy – from Mrs. Coal, c. 1700. Manuscript at University of Guelph special collections.

Take a quart of brandy, the peels of eight Oranges thin pared, steep them in the brandy forty Eight Hours in a close pitcher, then take three pints of water, put into the quarters of a pound of Loaf sugar, boil it till half be consumed and let it stand till cold, then mix it with the Brandy.”

A few recipes from the  Melora Myle 1854, the Myle Family Recipe Book from the University of Waterloo special collections.

Orange Marmalade

Take the weight of the pint in sugar, (some people put a lb-and half, to a lb of oranges, but it is not necessary) boil them in water till quite tender(may be 2 hours), then throw them in cold spring water changing it two or three times, that all the bitter may come out; afterwards cut them in halved, and take out all the pips? and things, and slice them very thin, and boil the marmalade with the sugar about 40 minutes. The pulp and juice must be put in with the sugar.”

Orange Marmalade 2

10 Seville Oranges and 6 sweet oranges 5 lemons.____ 10 lbs sugar. Cut all across the grain, very thin, picking out the seeds. After all is cut, pour 5 arts of water over it, and let it stand for 36 hours. Then boil for to hours without the sugar____add the sugar and boil one hour longer. If you can’t get Seville oranges, take 1 dozen  sweet oranges and 9 lemons.

Seville Oranges

Source: Myle Family Recipe Book at Special Collections & Arcihves, University of Waterloo 

Whole Oranges Preserved

“Pare the rind of the oranges very thinly, then put them in cold water, with a good handful of slat for 12 hours. Take them out of the water. Make 4 small incisions in the sides of each orange, and gently squeeze out the juice and take out any pips. Put the oranges in a kettle of cold water and boil till tender, hence lift the oranges out the water into a strainer. when cool, gently squeeze out any water remaining in them. Allow of a lb of [unintelligible] to a lb of oranges “weighted before peeling” with  a strainer less than 1/2 lb water to each lb of sugar. Boil all together till the syrup is very thick, which often takes 2 hours. Judge by the thickness of the syrup.

Preserved Orange Peel 

“Before cutting Oranges for the table, dip them into warm water to remove any grime on the skins and pat them dry with a soft cloth; then rub the fruit with lumps of sugar to extract the oil, reserving the sugar for the final dipping. Peel the Oranges and throw the skins into boiling water; cook until tender, changing the water twice. Drain well and with a pair of scissors cut into trips and weigh [sic], allowing one pound of sugar, and half a cup of water to every pound of peel. Boil the sugar and water together moment, then add the Orange Peel and simmer until transparent, which usually requires half an hour. Drain and roll each piece in the crushed sugar used to extract the oil. Lay in a warm oven or sunny place to dry.”

These are only a small fragment of numerous recipes with oranges. For comparison, one may look up Mrs. Beeton’s recipe for orange marmalade, where she also recommends Seville oranges; she recommends making the marmalade between March and April “as Seville oranges are then in perfection.”6

From the recipes one may see that orange brandy and liquor are of earlier date and do not mention specific type of oranges. Also, in these two cookbooks orange desserts are not common. This may indicate that import of oranges was not usual at that time. However, by the mid 19th century the global trade widened, and by 1880s the global food system emerged.Therefore, it is not strange that recipes from the later dates also include not only more assorted orange desserts, but also different types of oranges – well, alternatives to Seville ones.

It is interesting how “seasonable” foods, as Beeton labels them, are a thing of the past, and oranges are more likely eaten raw or in the form of artificial sweets. With new trends in eating local and organic foods perhaps trying out old recipes and using fruits in season is not such a bad idea. Do you think they tasted better?

End Notes:

  1. Linda Civitello,  Cuisine and Culture a History of Food and People. (3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2011.), 199.
  2. Ibid.
  3.  Reay Tannahill, Food in History. (New and Rev. ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988.), 115.
  4. Civitello, 199.
  5. Ibid., 200.
  6. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. (Abridged ed. Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford University Press, 2000.), 311.
  7. Iacovetta, Franca, Marlene Epp, and Valerie J. Korinek. Edible Histories, Cultural Politics towards a Canadian Food History. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.), 228-229.

Bibliography and further readings:

Beeton, Humble, and Humble, Nicola. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Abridged ed. Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford University Press). New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Iacovetta, Franca, Marlene Epp, and Valerie J. Korinek. Edible Histories, Cultural Politics towards a Canadian Food History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

Jarvis, Hannah, Gloria. Troyer, Pat Staton, Green Dragon Press, Private Press, and University of Waterloo. Library. Women’s Studies Collection. Every Comfort in the Wilderness : A Personal Journal, with Excerpts from the Housewifery Book, Diaries and Letters of Hannah Jarvis, Upper Canada 1792-1845. Toronto, Ont.: Green Dragon Press, 1994.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking : The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Completely Rev. and Updated, 1st Scribner Rev. ed. New York: Scribner, 2004.

McWilliams, James E. “‘How unripe we are’: the intellectual construction of American foodways.” Food, Culture & Society 8, no. 2 (2005): 143-

Miller, Erston. “The Natural Origins of Some Popular Varieties of Fruit.” Economic Botany 8, no. 4 (1954): 337-48.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power : The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1985.

Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New and Rev. ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988.


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