Bread and Thread: Jam (and Marmalade)

opening music

Liz: Hello and welcome to Bread and Thread, a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m Liz
Hazel: I’m Hazel. We’re two people who studies archaeology together and love history
L: So what have you been up to this week, trapped inside?
H: So, I mean I guess the upside of this – as with a lot of people, I’m hearing – is I’m getting a lot of making stuff done. So there’s that, but also, you know, it’s nice to have social interaction. But I can replace that with crafts! And bread. I made bread
L: Oh, what kind of bread did you make?
H: Well, I haven’t made bread in a while so it was just a sort of basic, white loaf, but I’m planning to finally get a sourdough starter going
L: Aww, I love my sourdough starter. His name is Doughrain Grey, because he does not change as he ages
H: laughs How old is he now?
L: Almost two years?
H: You have a toddler
L: Yeah there’s a toddler in a jar in my fridge and it’s made of yeast
H: Is it going to be heartrending when he finally goes to school?
L: I’m not ready. I’m not ready for him to leave home
H: Well at least you have a few years before that
L: I have also made bread
H: Oh cool
L: We made some poppy-seed bagels
H: Ok that’s a bit more involved
L: Because I like bagels
H: That sounds amazing
H: We’re syncing up this week
L: I’ve been doing both bread and thread. I’ve made bread and I, yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of yarn things because I managed to sprain my toe taking some rubbish out
H: Oh no!
L: So I’ve just been on the sofa distracting myself from my food
H: That’s like the least cool reason to be injured
L: Yeah. It’s just…a wet patch in the yard
H: Oh no
L: Yeah, don’t sprain your toes kids, it’s not fun
H: Yeah don’t, don’t do that. Or at least do it in a cool way
L: But it did at least give me plenty of time to research and I tell you I am jam-packed with information
H: disappointed noise Is it because we’re talking about jam
L: It is
H: I can’t believe you just did that
L: How long have you known me?
H: laughs Very true
L: Like you’ve known me longer than my spouse has known me
H: Yeah. Ok. Tell me about jam then
L: Ok, so…
H: You know, at least make it…a fruity explanation
L: Ok, so the actual, the oldest reference that we have to preserving fruits is actually in a first-century collection of recipes by Apicius, which is also the second-oldest collection of recipes that we have. Just at all
H: The oldest?
L: The second oldest. The oldest is Akkadian clay tablets
H: I was not expecting that
L: Yeah, like this is first civilisation stuff
H: That’s some seriously old bread and…I assume it was bread, or
L: I mean, the recipes that I managed to find – ‘cos I can’t find just a translation – but there’s, there’s a stew. And there’s some sort of fancy fowl, um, kind, almost like an hors d’oeuvre? Fancy, like, you take one and you go on with your day, kind of thing? With ten different seasonings
H: That’s definitely fancier than I expected
L: Some stuff where culture is definitely a barrier, because there’s a lot of recipes on these tablets that mention “meat-water”, which some people think is probably stock, but we don’t actually know
H: I…I’m gonna start calling stock meat-water now
L: It’s not inaccurate. It’s meat-flavoured water
H: Fill up the stew with some good old meat-water. But anyway yeah what about the oldest jam?
L: But Apicius, yes. So, in chapter 12 of “The Art of Cooking”, there’s a whole bunch of different fruit-preservation things, including boiling pomegranates in sea water and just hanging them up, and apparently that’s fine
H: I…that doesn’t sound delicious
L: And just straight-up pickling peaches
H: Mm. Oh no
L: I mean, I know pickled plums is a thing
H: Is it? I mean I guess
L: But that sounds bad
H: Fruit and savoury is a thing, but I guess it depends which fruit
L: I mean, I guess strawberries and balsamic vinegar is a thing
H: Yes, that is good
L: So like, fruit and vinegar, maybe? But there’s a lot of other fruit he basically recommends “put it in a jar with honey and wine”
H: That sounds better
L: Including figs, apples, cherries, quinces – which will be relevant later – and also things like, yeah like plums, as well. So pretty much any fruit you can get your hand on. But I just found it interesting because the idea of like, doing this thing of like sweetness and wine, which would presumably become vinegar, just really reminded me of ploughman’s pickle, which is like, onions and apple, in like a vinegary thing
H: Ok, I never knew what was in that before
L: So I’m just wondering if that’s just something that’s just kept going, is this idea of preserving onion and apple in vinegar
H: Ok. That’s something to talk about
L: But he does mention
H: We should talk about the ploughman’s lunch at some point because that’s like an interesting
L: That would be a very good Local Larder
H: Yeah
L: But yeah, he does mention one thing that does actually sound like jam, which is mulberries cooked in wine and their own juices, and then sealed in a jar
H: Are mulberries particularly juicy, or high in pectin?
L: Oh yeah, mulberries are one of the ones that you make wine from. You can make mulberry wine so they’re very juicy. And I mean most berries are very good at setting once you’ve boiled them up
H: Ok. I don’t think I’ve ever had a mulberry
L: I don’t think I have either, but I know that mulberry wine is a thing
H: But I did learn the other day that apparently, I think it was King James, tried to start a silk industry in Britain by like paying a couple to look after some mulberry trees to try and make silk but it didn’t work
L: Is that because he didn’t have silk worms?
H: I think they did, they, it just, the silk worms didn’t like it because nobody likes the English climate
L: That’s fair
H: I think they have to be at a very specific temperature or something?
L: But yeah I just find that quite interesting, that we do have actual evidence of jam kind of, before refined sugar
H: Wow, that’s older than I expected jam to be. Although certain fruits have higher like, setting, pectin content than others, right?
L: Yeah. ‘cos I have actually made jam and I saw, basically, if you, if you’re using berries, a lot of the time you don’t actually need pectin
H: Yeah, depending on what, or you could put, does putting lemon in work?
L: I don’t know? I did put lemon in mine, but that’s ‘cos it was blueberry jam, and my standard go-to with blueberries is lemon and brown sugar, like if I’m baking with them
H: Ok. My grandma always put lemon, but I can’t remember if she said it did anything
L: I mean, it presumably makes it taste good
H: Yeah
L: But with the fall of the Roman empire, like a lot of things, Europe forgot how to make jam, by the look of it
H: Lost ancient knowledge!
L: But then we went and dicked around in the middle east and were horrible people and stole making of jam
H: gasps was there a jam renaissance?
L: There was a jam renaissance! Mary Queen of Scots’ doctor gave her marmalade as a treatment for seasickness. There’s a wonderful folk-etymology which claims that “marmalade” comes from “Marie est malade”, but it’s probably just from the Portuguese word for quince
H: Wow. That’s a good story though
L: Yeah. Told you quince would come back later
H: Just every time you have marmalade now you can think of Mary Queen of Scots throwing up
L: Yeah! But quince was like, the big thing for making jam with at this period
H: Is there a reason for that?
L: There’s a lot of it about and it’s not hugely nice on its own
H: Ok. Yeah is, is quince the one that is basically rotten before you eat it or?
L: Yeah it’s like a weird little wrinkly apple
H: Weird
L: As featured in “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Actually the fact that they eat quince with a spoon in that, I have actually seen suggestions that they’re actually eating quince marmalade
H: Ok. Awe
L: But the idea of us getting back the concept of jam through marmalade I think is quite interesting, especially because the words are the same in Spanish. They call both “mermelada”
H: Huh. So I guess, would that mean we nicked it from the Spanish?
L: I mean, the Spanish probably nicked it from the middle east
H: That makes sense
L: They were big into crusades
H: Yeah. Ok, yeah, I can see that. Spain is still quite well know for marmalade, right?
L: Yeah, Seville marmalade, made with their special kind of oranges
H: I never knew why that was, that’s so cool!
L: Yeah it’s just this whole chain of just the concept of jam going back and forth across the Mediterranean, basically
H: New history of the world, through jam. Jam roads.
L: That would be so bad for the horses
H: they’d be so sticky
L: oh god imagine the sound.
H: the danger of the jam roads
L: it’s dangerous to go alone, take this… hands you a slice of toast
H: At least you’d never starve
L: nothing much happened with jam for a while but then Welchs, who you’ve probably heard of they make juice they’re probably most known for juice in the UK
H: i haven’t
L: they used to have this weird advert with people dressed in different colours to represent the different kinds of fruit and they got into giant glasses. it was very weird. they created grape jam which they sold as grappleade so grape marmelade which i feel is a horrible name but in their defence it was 1918
H: lovely girls name
L: then the US Army basically went t ‘preserved fruit great idea’ and they bought the whole batch and gave it to the army which was great for them, they sold it all, changed their name to Concord and they still sell grape jelly in the uS. I think that’s quite cool. personally i’m not a fan of grape products.
H: i don’t think I’ve had grape jelly or grape jam. can you explain the distinction between grape jelly and jam?
L: it’s to do with having bits of fruit in it. what we tihnk of as jelly it’s a similar texture to it’s just a bit thicker and spreadable whereas jam is more a preserve where it’s got actual bits of fruit in it.
H: ok that makes sense.
L: i much prefer blackcurrant but blackcurrant is largely illegal in the US.
H: It’s illegal in the US?
L: it’s an invasive species, so it’s illegal to plant in most of the US, mint levels of aggressive. i think there’s one… county? where you can have blackcurrant plants, so instead they have grape flavour as a way of saying ‘here’s a purple drink’.
H: I feel so bad… do they have ribena?
L: only in british shops and having had grape flavoured pop i’m gonna stick to ribena and the vimto i think. it’s alright but blackcurrant’s better. it might be what i’m used to but imo blackcurrant is superior to grape.
H: it’s better, ribena has about as much sugar as a pot of jam though.
L: i do like vimto though it’s a rounded flavour as it has a lot of other stuff in. one of the things might have grape in it.
H: vimto does have a lovely mouthfeel.
L: the word or the substance?
H: yes.
L: that’s fair. as a manc i have to be loyal to vimto. it’s the manchester drink. it was invented here we have a statue of a vimto bottle in our city center.
H: where’s that?
L: near Piccadilly station.
H: how have i not seen this statue? take me on a pilgrimage.
L: next time you’re here i’ll show you the vimto statue. so jam doesn’t change much from that point. there’s new aseptic canning methods to make it last longer and again in the US, high fructose corn syrup, or here we use glucose-fructose syrup. in the cheaper jams the more expensive ones tend to use actual sugar. so that’s why jam doesn’t go off until you open it, because of how much sugar there is. and that is the story of jam.
H: wow i feel enlightened. that truly was… jam packed.
L: there are many twists and turns here. i wasn’t sure when our lovely listener Jeremy recommended this topic that there would be a lot to say, turns out there’s a lot to say.
H: turns out the deeper you dig, the more jam there is?
L: thank you for recommending this jeremy, i learned a lot.
H: so did i. and i hope you learned a lot too.
L: before we move on to local larder, i want to remind everyone that we do have a patreon, if you want to support us you can go to for patreon rewards such as recipes including my lovely banoffee cookies and access to the bread and thread server where you can talk food and crafts and anything else it’s just gonna be a chill space.
H: it’s gonna be wholesome.
L: so hazel what have you been learning about this week?
H: I have for you the story of the fat rascal.
L: the fat rascal?
H: this is a slightly legendary yorkshire cake. sort of a cross between a scone and a rock cake. it’s not gonna break your teeth but it’s got a bit of bite to it, but it’s the same kind of thing it’s made of flour and currants essentially, it’s made of more things but it’s a curranty cake. it is definitely strongly associated with yorkshire, not seen it for sale anywhere else. it’s mentioned a couple other places in the UK, but…
L: i have lived in multiple northern counties but only encountered it in yorkshire.
H: i couldn’t find much information on how it got its name, it’s a good name. the fat rascal.
L: i did wonder if it was anything like the singing hinny in northumberland
H: apparently charles dickens did lump them in together which i like and i didn’t know about the singing hinny until recently.
L: i feel like i got back my northern credentials.
H: you’re peak north right now. i feel like you’ve alphaed me. it appeared in the 19th century as far as recipes of it go back under thqat name but it turns out it’s a descendant of turf cakes, which were cooked in the ashes of a fire, in an upturned pan, which is a fairly cost effective way to use up bits of flour and currants and things. but it appears in the 19th century as a thing people are making as a fat rascal and it’s pretty much the same recipe until bettys got involved
L: is thaht of harrogate?
H: it is indeed. now if you don’t know about bettys, it’s the most famous tea room in northern england.
L: i’d say most famous tea room in england. the only other tea room i can think of is in glasgow.
H: i haven’t heard anything else referred to as a famous tea room. bettys is kind of incredible it’s a very very fancy tea room with cakes and tea and all sorts
L: full on cream teas
H: there’s one in york and one in harrogate, i can’t remember which was the first one
L: i assume harrogate if it’s betty’s of harrogate
H: well the one in york is quite big as well and it’s very fancy
L: there’s two in york, a really small one
H: oh yeah, tiny bettys. when liz and i were students in york we’d push our noses against the window of bettys like poor victorian orphans and look at the delicious cakes inside as they were also very expensive
L: not an inaccurate description. this time of year they’ve got their very expensive very fancy easter eggs
H: yeah once there was a giant easter egg with things painted on it, that was great. there’s also always massive queues of tourists outside. so in 1983 bettys decided to make fat rascals and their twist on it was cherries and almonds on top which was their signature thing
L: do they still call them fat rascals cause that doesn’t seem very bettys
H: you wouldn’t think so but they do, cashing in on the yorkshire brand.
L: authentic yorkshire.
H: a best seller. they sell over 375,000 a year. which is a large number of cakes.
L: that’s a lot of butter
H: a lot of rascals. and apparently, this is something i didn’t expect to learn today… they own the trademark on the name fat rascal.
L: oh that’s not right
H: i feel like how could you possibly enforce that. can you imagine someone from betty’s going into a yorkshire bakery saying no you can’t call these fat rascals. you’d get pelted out of the shop with fat rascals..
L: possibly
H: that is some information. so if you want to stick it to the man make a fat rascal
L: and tag us. Bread and Thread made me do it.
H: reclaim the fat rascal. that is the short and great history of the fat rascal.
L: i kinda want one
H: i know, i kinda want one now. there’s a few recipes online. Sainsburys has a recipe which has a lot of things in it weirdly enough but i’m pretty sure you can just make them with currants butter and sugar. i might have to go make some.
L: it does sound like the yorkshire welsh cake and i do make a very good welsh cake.
H: i think that’s one for next time, the welsh cake.
L: is that the local larder i’m researching then?
H: if you want to.
L: why not it means i get to say cake a lot, which is the word i’m told i sound the most northern when i say.
H: you’ll have to do it in a welsh accent if you’re making welsh cakes.
L: I can’t do a welsh accent, i can say some things in welsh but i can’t do a welsh accent unless i’m speaking welsh.
H: that’s probably quite right.
L: we hope you enjoyed today’s episode. if you have a topic suggestion or a local larder suggestion you can email us at or you can tweet us we’d love to see pictures of anything you make or bake.
H: especially if they’re fat rascals.
L: especially. you can tweet at us @breadandthread and as I say don’t forget to check out our patreon at for lovely bonuses and we’ll speak to you next time.
H: see you next time

closing music

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