Jelly Lessons #4

History of Preserves

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 honey, cooled and stored. In 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 was said to 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.’ (Presumably this wouldn’t be the same woman who had slaved for hours over a scalding hot stove, praying desperately for seven different batches of it to set.)

The 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. It’s more likely, however, that the word comes from ‘marmelo’ – the Portuguese for quince. 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.

But large-scale jam production did not become possible until the discovery of pasteurization. In 1785 Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward to anyone who could find a way to preserve large quantities of food for soldiers. It was Chef Nicholas Appert, who worked out that boiling fruit at high temperatures and then sealing in airtight containers kept food safe. Louis Pasteur validated these empirical findings in the next century.

Immigrants to the US brought their own recipes with them, the first book on making jam appeared in this country in the 17th century. Early settlers in New England used other ways of making jam, using molasses, honey and maple sugar to give it the sweet taste. They used pectin obtained from boiling apple peel to use as the thickening agent.

In the early 1800s in the United States, the country was experiencing a surge westward. Of the many legendary characters to emerge during this period was John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. A nursery-man from western Pennsylvania, Chapman walked through the Midwest planting apple orchards. His purpose was to provide crops for the coming pioneers.

One of those pioneers was Jerome Smucker of Ohio who used Chapman’s apples to open a cider mill in 1897. Within a few years, he was also making apple butter. Smucker blended the apple butter in a copper kettle over a wood stove. He and his wife ladled the apple butter into stoneware crocks. She then sold it to other housewives near their home in Wayne County, Ohio.

Fifty years earlier in Concord, Massachusetts, Ephraim Wales Bull finally achieved his goal of cultivating the perfect grape. His rich-tasting Concord grape became enormously popular. In 1869, Dr. Thomas Welch used the Concord grape to launch his grape juice company.

In 1918, Welch’s company made its first jam product, Grapelade. The entire production was purchased by the U.S. Army and shipped to France for consumption by the troops during World War I. When the troops returned to the States after the war, they demanded more of this “Grapelade,” and it was produced in quantity. The company’s trademark Concord grape jelly debuted in 1923.

During WWII in the UK, 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 centers’ 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.

To appreciate today’s gourmet jam and the artisans that create it. One must look to the past and understand it’s journey from the Kings and Queens who regaled in its delicate creation, the settlers who relied on its nutritional value and sustainability, to troops and sailors that utilized the quick energy jam would provide them during battle.

 

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