Tag Archives: preserves

Wet Suckets (or, candied orange peels)

‘Wet sucket’ is one of the more unappetizing culinary terms I’ve run across, but Markham and his contemporaries would have understood it as referring to fruit in syrup. The Oxford Companion to Food indicates that wet suckets and dry suckets (candied fruit) appeared in England in the early 17th century, right around the time Markham would have been compiling The English Housewife. They were made using fruit, but also vegetables, roots (like Angelica root), and nuts. Markham’s recipe may require a bit more adaptation than the other ones I’ve worked with, both because of size and ingredients.

Here is Markham’s recipe for suckets (from Best, pg 120):
Take curds, the parings of lemons, of oranges or pomecitrons, or indeed any half ripe green fruit, and boil them till they be tender, in sweet wort; then make a syrup in this sort: take three pound of sugar, and the whites of four eggs, and a gallon of water; then swinge and beat the water and the eggs together, and then put in your sugar, and set it on the fire, and let it have an easy fire, and so let it boil six or seven walms, and then strain it through a cloth, and let it seethe again till it fall from the spoon, and then put it into the rinds of fruits.

There are quite a few terms in there that may be worth explaining: wort (or sweet wort) is “the liquor made by an infusion of malt in water, from which beer and ale are fermented” (Best, 312). As awesome as I think home brewing is, I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, so I don’t have the actual malt water that they need. My internet browsing suggests (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) that wort is the substance you have prior to adding the hops. I don’t have any malt here (and I suspect not all my readers keep it around either), so I’m going to cheat (I know, and I’m sorry). Malt is just a sprouted grain using in brewing and distilling, and while I don’t have any wort laying about, I do have malt whiskey. I know it’s not the same, but I’m hoping that adding a little bit of it to the water will be close-ish to the flavor Markham was going for. The amount of sugar Markham asks for is pretty steep too (almost 7 cups) which may warrant halving the recipe to keep me from having to buy more bags of sugar. A few other terms in the recipe you may not know are pomecitron (which, as far as I can tell, is a member of the citrus family although I haven’t found a really thorough description yet), swinge (to whip or beat), and walm (boil). I haven’t found any modern recreations of the wet sucket, so I played it by ear when determining how thick my syrup should be. Since I’m making the fruit in syrup today (and not regular suckets, which are more like hard candy) I won’t want the syrup to completely harden when it cools!

There are a couple things to point out when doing this recipe: first of all, you want to heat the egg white mixture slowly and stir it often so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Also, don’t whisk it too vigorously (like I did in the beginning) or you’ll end up with fluffy meringue on top of your syrup. If you do get a couple bits of egg that harden, just scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Markham suggests straining the mixture, which leads me to believe that this might be a problem inherent in the recipe. When you’re finished, you’ll have a really thick syrup (egg white has been used as a thickener in foods and binder in all sorts of things, including photographs). Just toss your fruit in there and toss to coat, then put it in a jar!

For the peels:
4 oranges
1/4 whiskey
2 c water

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of orange rind, being careful to not get too much of the bitter white pith. Cut into bite sized pieces (1/4″-1/2″ long).
  2. Boil the whiskey and water in a saucepan and add the orange peels. Boil until tender (about 10 to 15 minutes). (Sidenote: I also prepared some ginger this way since I had a lot of syrup.)
  3. Drain.

For the syrup:

2 egg whites
8 cups water (make sure its cold or room temperature)
3 1/2 cups sugar

  1. Whisk egg whites into water until incorporated.
  2. Heat slowly over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to ensure that the egg doesn’t scramble. While heating, add the sugar to the water, 1/2 cup at a time.
  3. Boil for 30-45 minutes, or until the syrup is very thick (for those who have made caramel, you want it to coat a spoon in the way caramel sauce does).
  4. Let cool slightly, then toss the orange peels into the syrup and pour the mixture into a jar.

I’m not sure how I’ll serve this yet, although I suspect it would be good on ice cream (which, I know, is not a historically accurate way to use fruit in syrup!)

Candied orangesOranges on top, ginger on bottom.A few hours after posting this, I discovered that the top of the syrup in the jar crystallizes somewhat. This means you can lay the candy out on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and the sugar should crystallize (although it won’t turn into a hard candy, just a slightly crunchy exterior).


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Quince Marmalade

Today I’m making something I’m a little more familiar with cooking: marmalade! I found a website where you can order quinces, although because shipping of perishable goods is pretty hefty, I want to make sure I use them in a recipe with a high chance of success (thus increasing the likelihood that I will get to try my quinces in a finished dish!) Quince was one of the most popular fruits in Markham’s day–it appearsed probably more often than any other fruit in The English Housewife, and that holds true for the other books I’ve looked at as well. Its history goes back to ancient times, and although they aren’t especially common now in the U.S., they are a popular addition to recipes in several global cuisines. The fruit is useful in these sorts of preparations because of its high pectin content, which allows the marmalade to thicken considerably. Markham’s recipe (pg 112 of Michael Best’s book) goes as follows:

Marmalade of Quinces Red

To make red marmalade of quinces; take a pound of quinces and cut them in halves, and take out the cores and pare them; then take a pound of sugar and a quart of fair water and put them all into a pan, and let them boil with a soft fire, and sometimes turn them and keep them covered with a pewter dish, so that the steam or air may come a little out; the longer they are in boiling the better colour they will have; and when they be soft take a knife and cut them cross upon the top, it will make the syrup go through that they may be all of a like colour; then set a little of your syrup to cool, and when it beginneth to be thick then break your quinces with a slice or a spoon, so small as you can in the pan, and then strew a little fine sugar in your box’s bottom, and so put it up.

He also has a recipe just below it for “Marmalade white:”

To make white marmalade you must in all points use your quinces as is beforesaid; only you must take but a pint of water to a pound of quinces, and a pound of sugar, and boil them as fast as you can, and cover them not at all.

The quinces I received are huge (about a pound each), so I used one for each type of marmalade.


Large quince fruit prior to cooking.

Red Marmalade

As per Markham’s instructions, I peeled the quince, halved it, and cored it. The peels are thin, so you can use a vegetable peeler unless you prefer working with a knife. Markham urges readers to let the quince boil for as long as possible to develop the color, so I planned on simmering them for about 2 hours. This marmalade is very easy to make, and like the strawberry conserve I made a while back, it’s something you can have on the stove without attending to it constantly. Here is the recipe for those who wish to try it:

Red Quince Marmalade

1 lb quince(s)

2 1/4 c sugar

4 c water

  1. Peel the quince using a knife or vegetable peeler, cut it in half and remove the core.
  2. Place in a medium saucepan with the water and sugar.
  3. Simmer over a low heat, loosely covered, for about 2 hours. Turn fruit occasionally during cooking.
  4. After the first half an hour, take a knife and made two perpendicular cuts on the outside of each half.
  5. Once most of the water has evaporated and the fruit is in a thick syrup, use a spoon or potato masher to break the quince apart into evenly distributed bits.
  6. Allow to cool.

White Marmalade

The only difference between this and the preparation method above is that it is cooked quickly to prevent the red color from developing. The raw quince fruit has a light, cream-colored flesh, and so in this instance we are trying to preserve that color rather than allow the reactions to occur that turn cooked quince red (see a blog post with a brief explanation of that process here). The water is reduced by half so that it evaporates more quickly.

White Quince Marmalade

1 lb. quince

2 cups water

2 1/4 cups sugar

  1. Peel, halve, and core the quince.
  2. Combine the halved fruit in a pot with the water and sugar.
  3. Boil rapidly until a thick syrup develops (about 30 minutes), then break down the fruit with a spoon or potato masher to desired smoothness.
Quince marmalade

The finished white and red marmalades.


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fruit conserve

I’ve decided to start out this project with one of the simpler recipes from the book. The English Housewife is full of recipes for preserving food, so it is likely that I will be doing a lot of it in the coming months. Preservation would have obviously been important for storing food without refrigeration, but this method also would have been viewed as healthful, because the fruit was cooked prior to being consumed (raw fruits and vegetables were seen as non-nutritous at best and poisonous at worst). I mentioned that Markham’s book is filled with recipes for preserves, and I think part of that might be due to his focus on frugality. While preserved foods are found in contemporary cookery manuals, I have yet to see one with as large a section on the subject as The English Housewife. Many books stress the importance of impressing guests and using fashionable food preparations (which Markham does too, but perhaps to a lesser extent). Markham instead chooses to place emphasis on cultivating frugality, and this point is reiterated (again and again!) in his section on the character traits a good housewife should embody (frugality, modesty, deference to the husband, etc). Growing food in a kitchen garden is encouraged as a way to save money, and what better way to stretch that money farther than by preserving the excess produce?

Today, I am using the recipe entitled “to make any conserve,” found on page 116 of the work edited by Michael Best:

“To make conserve of any fruit you please, you shall take the fruit you intend to make conserve of; and if it be stone fruit you shall take out the stones; if other fruit, take away the paring and core, and then boil them in fair running water to a reasonable height; then drain them from thence, and put them into a fresh vessel with claret wine, or white wine, according to the colour of the fruit: and so boil them to a thick pap all to mashing, breaking, and stirring them together; then to every pound of pap put to a pound of sugar, and so stir them all well together, and, being very hot, strain them through fair strainers, and so pot it up.”

This recipe is a slight departure from my normal method of jam production, in that it includes wine, which I typically don’t add. I chose this particular recipe because it works for “any fruit you please,” and strawberries happened to be on sale at the grocery store. I used red wine in order to stay true to Markham’s recommendation for red fruit with red wine. We have some tasty wines that are made here in Iowa, so I picked up a Cabernet Sauvignon from Cedar Ridge Vineyards.

I tend to make jams that are boiled and reduced down to the finished product, rather than jams that are strained. I’ve looked at several different jams from Markham’s time period, and the method described in the recipe above seems fairly typical.

While modern strawberry hybrids come from species native to the Americas, strawberries would have been available in Europe at this time too. The species was called ‘fraises de bois’ (literally ‘strawberries of wood’ or wild strawberries), and was found around Europe. For centuries, the only ones available in Europe were wild varieties growing in the edges of wooded areas, and were known by a variety of names in countries all over western Europe. The term ‘strawberry’ came from the English practice of placing straw under the fruits to keep the off the damp soil. They were not cultivated until the 15th century, in part because of the amount of room they took up and the fact that they drained the soil of nutrients so had to be moved occasionally (Toussaint-Samat, 652). Thanks to Ken Albala for telling me about this variety

Dr. Albala also mentioned that more tart fruits are usually used for jams, and that is definitely true of Markham’s book. Quinces were very popular (see Best, pg 112, for ‘Marmalade of quinces red’) but so are oranges. Markham also has a recipe (on Best, pg 117) for a ‘conserve of flowers,’ which is not a cooked jam in the way fruit jam is, but would be very interesting to try.

This recipe and the others of its time are not written using the measurements we use today (cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.) Cookery manuals of the time were more of a guide rather than a specific set of instructions, so many of the recipes use weights (if they provide any specific measure at all) and guide you by how the food looks or feels during cooking rather than using times and temperatures (cooking temperatures were not as exact as a thermometer in a modern oven, so time and temp aren’t as useful for someone using this technique).

I’ve been in the process of moving, so I had packed my kitchen scale and thus could not measure out equal weights of sugar and fruit pulp. I had initially considered doing a 1:1 ratio, but worried that would make it too sweet. I planned on adding sugar in ¼ cup increments, but ended up not needing any more than one addition. Markham doesn’t specify what ratio of wine to other ingredients one should use, so I had to guess on that as well. ¼ cup seemed like the magic number in this recipe!

After straining the jam one last time, I finally got to taste the finished product. I had been worried that all that boiling and straining might result in a bland jam, but that was not the case at all. The wine added a more complex, deeper flavor to the jam, and the limited amount of sugar I added made the jam tasty (but not overly sweet). I bought some Delice de Borgogne cheese, and I think dinner tonight will consist of cheese and baguette topped by this jam, accompanied by the rest of that bottle of wine.

The recipe:

4 c strawberries, sliced

¼ c Cabernet Sauvignon

¼ c sugar

-In a medium saucepan, place the strawberries in the bottom and add enough water to cover them. Bring to boil, and cook until very soft (about 20 minutes).

-Using a fine strainer, strain the liquid from the strawberries and add to a high-sided skillet. Add the wine, and bring to a boil.

-While the mixture is boiling, use a potato masher to mash the fruit into a pulp.

-Turn off the heat and add the sugar, stir until dissolved.

-Using a fine strainer, strain excess liquid from the mixture and place into a heat-proof container.


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