When Bridget Wranich told me she was going to take me to the bunker kitchen, I assumed she used the adjective in a figurative way. Not so! She in fact led me to a door in what I thought was Fort York’s stone embankment wall and inside to a very bunker-like narrow dwelling on one end of which was a busy kitchen. Wranich, who is a historian and Fort York’s Program, introduced me to half dozen bonnet and apron wearing ladies of all ages who were volunteering themselves to prepare for the 11th annual Mad For Marmalade event at the Fort on Saturday, February 21. One of them, who was at an oven, stirring a large copper bowl filled with orange things, was the award wining author, editor and journalist Elizabeth Baird, who’d introduced me to Wranich and invited me down to the fort to see what they were up to.
Wranich explained that the scene before me was more or less routine: “We have about 20 regular volunteers who help in the Fort York kitchens, cooking and testing historical recipes, doing research.” Baird is one of them, and so is Liz Driver of the Culinary Historians of Canada, to which Wranich belongs and is deeply involved. Mad for Marmalade, which is both a competition (Sarah B. Hood is head judge) and a symposium (see the program here) is a joint-event between Fort York and the CHC. This year’s theme is Italy, and the speakers and workshops reflect this, but always with an eye to the past. Baird is presenting a workshop on Panpepato, a fruit cake loaded with candied citrus.
When I asked Baird what she was stirring, she explained it was no ordinary marmalade, but one made from elusive colomondon oranges. They were sourced, she explained, from a friend of author and broadcaster Bob Blumer. Blumer had brought them especially to Baird for Mad for Marmalade from California. Wranich produced a large green fruit, which she called a sweetie, grown in Israel as a hybrid between grapefruit and pomelo. “It’s citrus season,” she said, offering me a bowl of custardy lemon ice cream with nutmeg made from an 19th century recipe, while coaxing me out of the way as a tray of cookies was laid into an oven by another volunteer. From what I could see, and taste around me, Mad for Marmalade ought to be an interesting and delicious day.
N.B. Baird and Wranich are also the authors of Setting a Fine Table: Historical Dessert and Drinks from the Officers’ Kitchens at Fort York. The research for the book was done, of course, by the Volunteer Historic Cooks at Fort York. More on this to come…