Civil oranges


Obviously I would like to write a long and amusing posting about my attempt to make marmalade. And I would like to tell you about the origins of marmalade. But I haven’t got time… because I have been too busy worrying about tax returns… and trying to get my gas supplier to stop trying to sell me ‘value added services’ and simply send me a bill for the gas I used and take payments proportional to the bill.. and trying to activate the new security mechanism on my internet bank account when it asks me for a 12-digit number for telephone banking which I have never had.

So you are never going to learn my theory that marmalade was invented because the Spanish fleet failed in their mission to transport the Duke of Parma’s army across the English Channel to invade England in 1588.

Philip II of Spain was so annoyed about the catastrophic mission of his Armada that he asked all his courtiers to think of ways to get revenge on the English.

Eventually one of them had the ingenious idea of shipping Spain’s winter oranges to England. All the Spaniards knew that oranges in January are horribly bitter and full of pips. They also knew that the English are desperate for vitamin C in winter and all they can grow are leeks and kale. They laughed out loud at the thought of all those English soldiers and sailors trying to eat the abundant bitter oranges.

The next January the demilitarised Spanish fleet transported bushels of oranges to English ports and sold them cheaply to the clamouring crowds who thronged at news of some fresh fruit. The crafty Spaniards told the gullible English that the oranges were called Marmalade, which is, of course, an anagram of El Armada.

Back in their damp hovels the English cooks tasted the exotic delicacy…

“That’s bit sharp,” one celebrity chef exclaimed, “but never mind, we can just add a bit of sugar” (the Spaniards didn’t know that sugar beet was the other staple winter crop in eastern England).

So the barrels of treacherous, bitter oranges were boiled up with plenty of crystallised sugar beet juice to make a pungent, sweet, orange-scented jelly with bits in. And the English tradition of marmalade on toast was born.

The Spanish never did succeed in conquering England.

6 Responses to “Civil oranges”

  1. 1 Andy, Perth

    When did the Marmalade Armarda reach Dundee, the home of marmalade?

  2. 2 Graham


    it would appear about 200 year later, armada was late 1500’s, Dundee marmalade began late 1700’s.

    • Graham – I think that is because it took a while for sugar to reach Dundee. They spent 200 years mixing the bitter orange juice with naturally sweet carbonated water from a Highland spring before they discovered marmalade. That is why Irn Bru is still the national drink.

      (Warning – I haven’t fact-checked this because Wikipedia was on strike).

      • 4 Adele Chaplin

        Actually (being Alex’s old Dundee reference point from Norwich!) Mrs Keiller only revived an old marmalade recipe. Originally it was made from Quinces.

        Mrs Keiller made Marmalade in 1797 however there are earlier written references to marmalade (made with oranges rather than quince) at least 20 years before the Keillers started prodiction.

        And I don’t even like the stuff 🙂

      • Adele – lovely to hear from you 🙂 Great to get the authentic tale from a native Dundeer… um… Dundonian… um… Dundeek… um… whatevs.

  3. 6 Adele Chaplin

    I’ll settle for Dundonian, I think that’s the proper term 🙂

    See, I am still here, checking up on you, I just lurk now that it’s not my fault if something goes wrong 🙂

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