Monday, April 19, 2010

Question from Jacob - Oranges in Tudor England

I'm having trouble finding an accurate answer to the following question: approximately how many oranges, both bitter and sweet, were imported into Britain yearly during the first 50 years of the 16th century?

I'm also looking for an early English description of the orange.


Ladyhoby said...

Hi Jacob sorry i can't tell you every thing you wanted but i am currently reading
a taste of history 10,000 years of food in britain by black ISBN 0-7141-1732-3

in it it says
" in addition to apples, pears, plums, cherries and woodland strawberries which had been grown here for centuries, new fruits from southern Europe were introduced into the gardens of the wealthy. these included quinces, apricots, raspberries, red and black currents, melon, and even pomegranates, oranges and lemons. the last were never really successful however, and citrus fruits continued to be imported from Portugal, the bitter Seville type of orange now being imported by improved sweet oranges carried from Ceylon into Europe by the Potuguese, and known as Portingales."

there are no recipes for oranges in this book until the Stewart times when oranges are mentioned in a salad. take mandarin oranges, peeled and divided into segments the picture by the side of the recipe is dated 1641 and titled a 'Grand Sallet'

Lara said...

I've done some digging and found a few interesting tidbits. In "All the King's Cooks" (a book on Henry VIII's kitchens at Hampton Court) there are references to servants being paid for services and there is a mention of a servant bringing in oranges. There were also a few mentions that they were eaten candied.

But I got an even more interesting bit of info in "Food and Feast in Medieval England" - and while it pre-dates the period you're looking at, it might be indicative of the early 16th century as well. Here's the info:

"The same ships that carried spices also tended to carry fruit, such as oranges, of which a surprising number were brought to England. These were frequently imported in the tens of thousands per ship, and occasionally as many as a hundred thousand (in March 1480). These oranges were probably always a bitter variety. For customs purposes they were declared at about ten for 1d."

The notes for the paragraph that included that have the following as sources:

"Overseas Trade" by H. S. Cobb
"English Trade" by L.F.Salzman
"Agriculture and Prices, Vol 4. 1401-1582" by Thorold Rogers

kb said...

Is this for a research project?

You might want to contact Mark Dawson, he's a Tudor food specialist. See:

Plenti and Grase: Food and Drink in a Sixteenth-Century Household
Mark Dawson
Prospect Books 336pp
ISBN 978 1 903018 56 9

I will forward his email address to Lara if she will be so kind as to forward it on to you.

Anonymous said...

This may be off the mark somewhat, but I read somewhere once that bitter oranges from Spain were imported in wooden tubs full of sea water, decomposing eventually into marmalade. I could be completely wrong, however.

Anonymous said...

There is a North African technique for preserving citrus fruits in strong brine. This pickling prevents, or at least greatly slows, decomposition, and the result is not sweet, like modern marmalade, but salty and sour. "Lemon pickle" is more usual, but I don't doubt that bitter oranges could be treated this way, too.