Egyptian marmelade oranges (معجون النارنج, ma’jun al-naranj)

We still had some sour oranges left and this 14th-century recipe is just perfect for the en-of-season batch! It has primarily a medicinal purpose in that it combines a stomachic (جوارشن/جوارش, juwārish[n], a borrowing from Persian) and an electuary (معجون, ma’jūn, literally meaning ‘paste’, from the verb , عجن/‘ajana, ‘to knead’), which referred to medicines mixed with honey or juice syrup of some kind. It’s a bit labour- and time intensive, but so worth the effort.

The ma’jūn is made by soaking orange peels for ten days and then boiling them (this removes the bitterness). The next step is to cut up some of the peels which are then added to boiled honey. The remaining peels are kept whole, except for the tops being cut off (don’t throw them away as they will be used later), since they will serve as the receptacles for the juwārish mixture. Naturally, aromatics (saffron) and spices are added as well. The juwārish is made by slow-cooking sour oranges before boiling them in rose water and syrup, and adding spices like cinnamon, cloves, spikenard, and mace. The result is something that most people will recognize as marmelade — did I tell you that’s another Arab invention that was passed on to Europe?

The final step is to cram the stuffing in the orange peels (alternate layering of peels and marmelade works wonderfully well) and then — yes, we’re not done yet! — pour on sugar syrup you’ve prepared in the meantime, and you end up with what is essentially a stuffed toffee (candied) orange.

Medicinally, it would have been recommended as a breath freshener, for its digestive, appetizing and anti-emetic properties, and the fact that it strengthens the heart. It is not certain whether it also had the effect of the lemon stomachic, which slows down intoxication, clears hangovers, as well as increasing sexual potency. Not that any of this matters, though, as people would have just enjoyed it for its own sake, just like toffee apples today.

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