Museum marmalade: preserving the past in the colonial kitchen at Vaucluse House

The preserves pantry at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Adding some flavour to their labour, the staff at Vaucluse House have been adding some colour to the pantry under the stairs in the colonial kitchen. Museum guide, Nicole Sutherland takes us through the process: 

Sweeten up!

Peek into the pantry of the colonial kitchen at Vaucluse House and you will see a host of pickles and preserves, harking back to the early kitchen of the 1830s and 1840s. Using nineteenth century preservation techniques, and authentic heirloom produce from the kitchen garden, these fruits, vegetables and eggs have all been pickled on site by house staff. Until recently, however, there was a conspicuous lack of sweet preserves in the kitchen. To remedy this, a couple of dedicated colleagues spent a rainy Tuesday making orange marmalade in the staff kitchen at Vaucluse House, hoping that the fruits of our labour (pardon the pun) might add another layer of interpretation to the colonial kitchen.

Delicious orange marmalade made at VAucluse House. Photo Nicole Sutherland © Sydney Living Museums

Bottling abundance

When the Wentworth family packed up their home and left Sydney for England in 1853, the 515 acres of their Vaucluse estate were well-established. There were orangeries and orchards, a vineyard, a dairy, greenhouses, a pleasure garden, and an extensive kitchen garden. Wentworth even won prizes for his pineapples in horticultural shows in 1841 and 1842.[1] Fruits and vegetables were grown at home and fed many mouths, including the family, their servants, and their livestock. That which couldn’t be consumed right away was saved for later.

Before refrigeration, colonial households like the Wentworth’s preserved fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs in pickles, jellies, jams, syrups and cordials to extend their storage life, ensuring that very little food was wasted.[2] Pantries, larders and cellars were stocked with preserved produce, and cured meats spared for the winter months.

A view of Vaucluse House from the kitchen garden. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Marmalade, a potted history

With thousands of fruit trees on the Vaucluse estate, and jam melons growing in the kitchen garden, jams and marmalades would have been a common sight in the Wentworth’s kitchen. Marmalade in particular is often associated with colonial households and British fruit-preserving traditions. What was originally known as ‘marmalade,’ however, originated in Portugal. In Portuguese ‘Marmelo’ means quince, and in the sixteenth century quince pastes were being imported into Britain from Portugal and the Iberian Peninsula. These pastes took on an orange colour not dissimilar to contemporary marmalade. At some point the word ‘marmalade’ became commonly used in Britain to refer to all fruit preserves, particularly those containing candied citrus peel, which was a popular sweetmeat in sixteenth century Britain.[3] Today, ‘marmalade’ refers specifically to a preserve made from citrus fruits with rind suspended inside, differentiating it from the broader category of ‘jam’.

Mrs Beeton’s Orange Marmalade 

Ingredients.– Equal weight of fine loaf sugar and Seville oranges; to 12 oranges allow 1 pint of water

Mode. – Let there be an equal weight of loaf sugar and Seville oranges, and allow the above proportion of water to every dozen oranges. Peel them carefully, remove a little of the white pith, and boil the rinds in water 2 hours, changing the water three times to take off a little of the bitter taste. Break the pulp into small pieces, take out all the pips, and cut the boiled rind into chips. Make a syrup with the sugar and water; boil this well, skim, and, when clear, put in the pulp and chips. Boil all together from 20 minutes to ½ hour; pour it into pots and, when cold, cover down with bladders or tissue paper brushed over on both sides with the white of an egg. The juice and grated rind of 2 lemons to every dozen of oranges, added with the pulp and chips to the syrup, are a very great improvement to this marmalade.

Time. – 2 hours to boil the orange-rinds; 10 minutes to boil the syrup; 20 minutes to ½ hour to boil the marmalade

Average Cost.—from 6d. to 8d. per lb. pot. Seasonable.—This should be made in March or April, as Seville Oranges are then in perfection.[7]

Ripe for the picking!

In our experiment with colonial marmalade, we consulted 19th century household gurus Mrs Beeton – Book of Household Management (1861) and Mrs Rundell – A new system of domestic cookery (1816). Inspired by the lost orangeries of the Vaucluse Estate, we settled upon Mrs Beeton’s orange marmalade recipe (above), which allowed us to incorporate authentic produce. You could say the recipe was ‘just ripe for the picking’! We wondered, however, if Mrs Beeton ever trialed her recipe, because the preparation took twice as long as instructed, or perhaps she had more efficient servants! After hours spent around the kitchen table slicing, dicing, peeling, straining, boiling and waiting, we finally had a gooey substance, brimming with orange chunks, which resembled marmalade.

By the end of our jam-packed day the staff kitchen was filled with the delicious aromas of sweet oranges, boiled rind, and the heady scent of sugar syrup infused with fruit. And the finished product – delicious!

Tips, tricks and further reading

If you’re jamming for the first time, or want some tips and inspiration, the following links might be of use:

Follow our step-by-step guide for sterilising jars here, and watch a ‘how to’ video for reaching setting point and bottling jams here.

Ashley English, ‘Small Measure,’

Pam Corbin, ‘400 Gooseberries’,

Courtney and Robert, ‘His and Hers Homesteading,’

Nicole Sutherland, Visitor and Interpretation officer, Vaucluse House. Photo courtesy Nicole Sutherland.

About Nicole.

Nicole began working as a Visitor and Interpretation Officer at Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Bay House over two and a half years ago. Her undergraduate studies in history at the University of Sydney propelled her towards a career in the museum industry, and her love for all things colonial inspired her to work for Sydney Living Museums. She has recently completed a Master of Museum Studies at the University of Sydney and hopes to develop her experience in the areas of historical research and interpretation. Nicole is passionate about museums and gardens, and can often be found in the kitchen garden at Vaucluse House, collecting heirloom produce for the house.

[1] ‘Reconstructing the kitchen garden at Vaucluse House,’ a publication of the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

[2] Jacqui Newling, Eat Your History, NewSouth Publishing (2015), p. 82.

[3] ‘The history of marmalade’,

[4] Ashley English, ‘Small Measure,’

[5] Pam Corbin, ‘400 Gooseberries’,

[6] Courtney and Robert, ‘His and Hers Homesteading,’

[7] Mrs Beeton, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, London: Chancellor Press (1985), p. 786