The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 30, 1808
By Jane Austen’s day, oranges were no longer a novelty, though they were certainly an expensive delight. Orange Marmalade, also known as Dundee Marmalade, was developed in Scotland and so popular that, by 1797, James Keiller and his mother Janet opened a factory to produce “Dundee Marmalade”,a preserve distinguished by thick chunks of bitter Seville orange rind. The business prospered, and remains a signature marmalade producer today. Martha Lloyd’s household book contains a recipe for “Scotch Marmalade” and the Austen’s were known to bottle their own Orange Wine.
There are no reports of sweet oranges occurring in the wild. In general, it is believed that sweet orange trees have originated in Southeast Asia, northeastern India or southern Chinaand that they were first cultivated in China around 2500 BC.
In Europe, citrus fruits – among them the bitter orange, introduced to Italy by the crusaders in the 11th century – were grown widely in the south for medicinal purposes, but the sweet orange was unknown until the late 15th century or the beginnings of the 16th century, when Italian and Portuguese merchants brought orange trees in the Mediterranean area.Shortly afterwards, the sweet orange was quickly adopted as an edible fruit. It was also considered a luxury good and wealthy people grew oranges in private conservatories, called orangeries. By 1646, the sweet orange was well known throughout Europe.
The orangery at Kensington Palace (1761) is the earliest surviving work there by Sir William Chambers. At 28 m (92 ft) long, it was the largest glasshouse in Britain when it was built.
Such private orangeries were not sufficient to produce enough fruit to satisfy the needs of the nation and most oranges were, and still are, imported from warmer climates such as Spain and Italy.
Still, recipes for everything from Austen style Orange Wine to Orange Water can be found in cookbooks of the day, and this “Orange Cream”, from Hannah Glasse’s 1774 “Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” is no exception. It is designed to be poured into dishes or glasses and served cool, like a modern blancmange or American pudding.