I looked out the window the other day and saw a magpie and a wattlebird in the small fig tree in our garden. It was time to have a look at the figs. I don’t like figs but I don’t like to let food go to waste either, if I can help it, so I looked up some recipes and made fig jam. Sugar, a bit of water, a bit of vanilla, a bit of pectin, a couple of old jars and a fair amount of patience. Money for jam, indeed.
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the word ‘jam’ back to 1736, to Nathan Bailey’s second edition of the Dictionarium Britannicum, in which (according to the OED) Bailey states that the word stems ‘prob. of J’aime, i.e. I love it; as Children used to say in French formerly, when they liked any Thing’. In 1755, however, in his Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson writes: ‘I know not whence derived’. The OED is careful, too, stating that the word is perhaps derived from the verb ‘to jam’ in the sense of ‘to bruise or crush by pressure’.
Last year, I made my first ever marmalade from cumquats from our garden. Also a great success! Still according to the OED, ‘marmalade’ is an older word than ‘jam’, borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada and dating from 1480. It was originally used to describe a solid quince paste that could be cut in cubes. Citrus fruit only came into the picture from the 17th century onwards, as an optional ingredient, but these days the word ‘marmalade’ is almost exclusively used to denote a preserve made of citrus fruit.