Then Serve It Forth…

By Lady Rosemary Willowwood de Ste. Anne

Well, back to business; preserves can no longer wait! I apologize for waiting so long on this recipe, since by the time this is printed we will have missed both the strawberries and cane-berry seasons. However, this recipe can be applied to almost any fruit, and plums, apples, and quinces are still to come.

"Marmulate of Cherries"

from The Closet of Sir Kenelme Digbie, Knight, Opened

Published by his son’s consent, London, 1669

Take four pound of the best Kentish Cherries, before they be stoned, to one pound of pure loaf Sugar, which beat into small Powder: stone the cherries, and put them into your preserving pan over a gentle fire, that they may not boil, but resolve much into Liquor. Take away with the spoon much of the thin Liquor, (for else the Marmulate will be Glewy)leaving the Cherries moist enough, but not swimming in clear Liquor. Then put to them half your sugar, and boil it up quick, and scum away the froth that riseth, When that is well incorporated and clear, strew in a little more of the Sugar; and continue doing so by little and little, till you have put in all your sugar; which of course will make the colour the finer. When they are boiled enough, take them off, and bruise them with the back of a spoon; and when they are cold, put them up in pots.

You may do the same with Morello Cherries, which will have a quicker-tast, and have a fine, pure, shining dark colour.

Both sorts will keep well all the year.

TRANSLATION: (I have tested this with a modern friend, and not much translation is necessary. I will put some of the more unusual terms in the glossary for comment. The only term I will translate here is “Glew” = “glue”.)

REALIZATION: I recommend that you start with about two pounds of cherries. You will find sweet dark cherries to be most available in the store, but red pie cherries are wonderful, if you can get them at a farm stand.. If two pounds looks like a small amount, you can go up to three pounds, but unless you want a lifetime supply of jam, I would not recommend the full four pounds. The cherries may be stoned with a paper clip, or with one of the convenient modern devices available which “pit” the cherries by pushing the stone out the bottom side. Put the pitted cherries into a large pot over low heat; you can add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. By the time they have come almost to a simmer, they will have given up a large amount of liquid. Spoon off liquid until the cherries are just covered – you don’t want them to float. Measure the quantity of fruit and liquid remaining, and measure 1 pound of granulated sugar for each two cups of fruit. (Rremember, “Pint’s a pound the world around.” Two cups of sugar are close emough to a true pound to make no appreciable difference in cooking.) Add half the measured sugar to the fruit, and bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, but keep the liquid boiling, and add the remainder of the sugar ½ cup at a time until all has been added. Boil “to a jelly height” (see below), remove from heat, and bottle in modern canning jars according to package instructions. You CAN just store it in the ‘fridge, but the recipe makes a lot of jam!

Since there is no added pectin in this recipe, I am going to give you a couple of modern tests which are not mentioned in this recipe, but were used in the time. “Boil to a jelly height” is the instruction you will see in recipes from the 16th to the 19th century. While you are stirring, occasionally pick up some of the liquid in a large spoon. Pour it from the side of the spoon. You should see it fall from the spoon in separate drops. As you continue to boil, the drops will tend to run together in a little sheet, instead of separate streams of drops. This is “jelly height”, and is called “the sheeting test.” You can confirm with another medieval test. Keep a glass or pottery saucer cool in the ‘fridge or freezer. Drop a few drops of the liquid on the cold plate. After it cools (in about 20 seconds), turn the plate sideways – if the jelly runs down t6he plate, keep cooking. If it sticks to the plate in a spot without running, this is also “jelly height”. Take off the fire and bottle as directed.

The “glewy” condition that Digby talks about is usualy caused by an imbalance in the proportion of pectin, acid, and sugar in the mixture. The medievals just dealt with it, or had enough experience they could tell from “granny tales” when fruit needed to be “doctored” to make good jam; we have some more scientific tests to make up for our lack of experience. I give credit for these tests to the book “Keeping the Harvest” from Garden Way Publishing.

To test for pectin, put 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl) in a shallow cup. Add 1 teaspoon of fruit juice. Stir very gently. If there is enough pectin to jell, the fruit juice will form a gelatinous mass that can be carefully picked up with a fork. If only a few threads of fruit form, the jelly will either be very soft, or will be hard and gluey when you finally get it to jell. THROW THIS STUFF OUT!! RUBBING ALCOHOL IS POISONOUS!! Low pectin can be corrected by adding one tablespoon of commercial liquid pectin per cup of juice. The medievals would have added a few slices of apple or quince to correct the problem.

Acid is determined by a taste test. Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in a mixture of 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water. Taste this mxture, then taste your fruit or fruit juice. If the fruit is not a tart as the lemon/sugar mixture, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit. Ripe, sweet fruit will need more adjustment than fruit that is partially green.

People in the middle ages all the way through the nineteenth century just used approximately equal amounts of fruit and sugar. Once pectin and acid are adjusted, “Keeping the Harvest” recommends ¾ to 1 cup of sugar per cup of juice. Too much sugar will either make a syrupy jelly, or will make a very stiff, sticky, “gluey” jelly when you finally boil enough water out of it. When in doubt, stop short. Failed “syrupy” jelly is wonderful on modern pancakes.