Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Marmalade

When we produce homemade jams and jellies in our kitchens, we often pat ourselves on the back for being particularly frugal. In the early modern period, preserving with sugar was an especially luxurious, even pretentious, means of keeping the summer’s bounty for later enjoyment. Drying and pickling were far more economical in locales and eras where sugar was expensive and firewood scarce. Early National Virginia suffered neither of these scarcities. The number of preserve recipes (and their liberal use of sugar) in Randolph’s collection suggests that sugar preserves were a popular means of putting up fruits for colder months.

Nearly all the preserves in Randolph’s cookbook, except for a few pickles, rely on sugar to prevent spoiling and extend the shelf life of foods. During the eighteenth century, sugar transitioned from a luxury item to an everyday necessity within many European societies,  including England and, by extension, Canada and the United States. The establishment of sugar colonies in the West Indies and South America dramatically increased sugar’s availability in English and American markets. In 1660, England consumed one thousand hogsheads of sugar. By 1753, that number had ballooned to over one hundred thousand hogsheads.

As sugar production increased with enslaved labor on New World plantations, a mass market emerged. Before this explosion in availability, sugar was used in small quantities by an elite few as a medicine, spice, or decorative substance. The production and sharing of fruit preserves, such as Randolph’s marmalade, manifested status through women’s “associations with the fruits themselves and, second, in their extravagant use of sugar.”[1] Alongside the increase in sugar production, were new ways of consuming it. Historian Sidney W. Mintz traced growing uses for sugar within the English working class’s diets via increased consumption of “sucrose-heavy foods – treacle, jams, raw sugar for tea and baking, puddings, and baked goods.”[2] Similar transitions occurred in American diets with jam and jellies, cakes, pie, cookies, doughnuts, and many more sweet treats.

Randolph’s Peach Marmalade is an example of the sorts of simple jams produced for short-term use during the Early National period. Currently, we firmly associate marmalade with citrus fruits. However, historically the term refers to a simple jam employing few ingredients and little effort to refine the end product. Randolph’s chunky, delicious peach preserve fits this definition perfectly. It’s an easy jam to simmer on the stove while attending to other matters in the kitchen, and the results are scrumptious served over ice cream for a simple summer dessert.

Peach Marmalade

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds peaches
  • 1 pound light brown sugar

Method

1. Peel and slices peaches. Randolph recommends paring the peaches, but a simpler method is to plunge the peaches in boiling water with an x cut into the skin. Remove after one minute and place in an ice bath.

2. Place the peaches in a pan with the sugar. Stir and allow the mixture to rest to pull out the juices (10-15 minutes).

3. Simmer the peaches over medium-low heat stirring frequently. Use the spoon to break up the peaches as they cook.

4. Simmer until the peaches become “a transparent pulp” or about thirty minutes. When the mixture thickens and no longer rushes to fill the space when you drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan, the marmalade is ready.

Yield: ~1 pint marmalade

Serving: Randolph notes, “Puffs made of this marmalade are very delicious.” My family enjoyed the marmalade stirred into plain yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, and with whipped cream on puff pastry. This final version, a take on Randolph’s suggestion to serve the marmalade with puffs, was delectable.

Notes:

Store your marmalade in a tightly sealed jar and refrigerate. This recipe has not been tested for canning.

This marmalade can be made in virtually any amount following to 2:1 ratio of peaches to brown sugar.

Randolph recommends yellow peaches for this recipe and I concur. They make the prettiest and tastiest preserves.


Sources

[1] Amanda E. Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 55-6.

[2] Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985), 39, 96-102, 143.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, or Methodical Cook, ed. Karen Hess (Washington, D.C., 1824; repr., Columbia: S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984), 156.

Sue Shephard, Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).

Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 477.

Fruit, Preserves, Summer

Peach Chips

By Randolph’s day, sources suggest peaches and other stone fruits were plentiful in Virginia. Peaches (Prunus persica) originated in China. Traders spread the fruit into Persia, Greece, Italy, and parts of northern Europe. The earliest accounts of fruit growing in colonial Virginia suggest the first orchards dated to the 1630s. In 1633, a Dutch sea captain recorded peaches growing at George Minifie’s estate between Blunt Point and Jamestown. Of the first peaches he had seen in the Americas, the sea captain wrote, “Arrived at Littleton, where Menifit [sic] lives. He has a garden of two acres full of primrose, apple, pear, and cherry trees . . . Around the house there were plenty of peach trees, which were hardly in bloom.”[1] By the early eighteenth century, Robert Beverly recorded an abundance of stone fruits in Virginia, including peaches: “Peaches, nectarines, and apricots, as well as plumbs and cherries, grow there upon standard trees. They commonly bare in three years from the stone, and thrive so exceeding that they seem to have no need of grafting or inoculating.”[2] With this profusion, it is unsurprising The Virginia House-wife includes nine recipes for peaches. Aside from recipes for peach ice cream and pudding, all aim to preserve the sweet fruit for later enjoyment. In Virginia, peach varieties ripen from early June until mid-September, providing the enterprising housewife plenty of time to produce a few of Randolph’s recipes and enjoy peach flavor year-round.

One such recipe is “Peach Chips.” The recipe itself is straightforward with instructions to thinly slice the fruit, boil the slices until transparent in a simple syrup, and dry in the sun. The results are reminiscent of fruit leather, and a tasty, simple way to preserve some summer peaches for later enjoyment. Since I had raw, local honey on hand, I made mine with honey, and the combination of honey and peach was fantastic!

Peach Chips

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 156.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe peaches, any variety
  • 3 oz granulated white sugar or honey
  • 3 oz water

Method

1. Thinly slice the peaches as uniformly as possible. A mandolin would work well here but is not required.

2. Mix together the sugar (or honey) and water. Simmer gently until the sweetener dissolves.

3. Add the thinly sliced peaches and boil gently until transparent (to check this simply slide your cooking utensil under a peach slice, if you can see the utensil, the slices are sufficiently transparent).

4. Carefully remove the peaches from the syrup and place them on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper-lined sheet (Don’t discard the simple syrup, save it for cocktails!).

5. Bake at 200 degrees for one hour. Gently flip the peaches and bake another hour.

Yield: ~15 peach chips

Storage: Randolph advises storing layered in jars with powdered sugar between the layers. Mine kept nicely in an airtight container without powdered sugar for one week.

Note: This recipe is easily scaled up or down. For testing purposes, I used just two yellow peaches; however, it’s worth the effort to make more.


[1] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 5.

[2] H.P. Gould, Peach-Growing (New York: Macmillan, 1918), 7.