The Histoy of Jam
The first recipe for jam appears in the first known cookbook: De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) which dates from the 1st century AD. In its simplest form, it was soft fruit heated with sugar (or honey, in this case) and cooled, then stored. Come the crusades, warriors brought back more complex concoctions from the Middle East. Jam’s popularity as a delicacy – rather than just a way to eat fruit – took off. Joan of Arc ate quince jam before going into battle as it filled her with courage. Nostradamus loved the stuff so much he wrote an entire treatise on it, including a love-potion version that, if passed from mouth to mouth, would strike a woman with ‘a burning of her heart to perform the love-act.'
Sailors and pirates stockpiled jam on board their ships as it became clear that Vitamin C prevented scurvy. Meanwhile, Louis XIV was so passionate about it that he insisted that every meal be finished with jams served in special ornate silver dishes. All of his was made from the fruit gardens at Versailles – and as they included tropical varieties like pineapple there must have been some interesting flavours indeed.
But large-scale jam production did not become possible until the discovery of pasteurisation. In 1785 Napolean Bonaparte offered a reward to anyone who could find a way to preserve large quantities of food for soldiers. The lucky winner was Nicholas Appert, who worked out that boiling at high temperatures and then sealing in airtight containers kept food safe. Louis Pasteur validated these empirical findings in the next century.
During WWII there was widespread anxiety about a shortage of food. The Women’s Institute came to the rescue. A government grant in 1940 gave them £1,400 to buy sugar for jam. As a result, 1,631 tons of preserves were made in more than 5,000 ‘preservation centres’ in farm kitchens, village halls or sheds. They were largely made by volunteers, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. 5,300 tons of fruit were preserved between 1940 and 1945.
The apocryphal tale goes that marmalade was invented when Mary Queen of Scots was suffering from sea-sickness (Marie est malade, in the fashionable French spoken in court at the time). Her doctor whipped up a concoction of orange peel and sugar which cured her ailment immediately. Alas the treatment wasn’t so efficacious at curing a beheading. It’s more likely, however, that the word comes from ‘marmelo’ – the Portugese for quince. Marmalade inspires its own cultish rituals. Old-fashioned Englishmen of the Uncle Matthew variety will only eat the stuff if it is homemade, dark and thick-cut. Kitchens of large houses around the country throb with discussions of whether marmalade should be the consistency of wallpaper paste or paint.
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