Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lemons, Limes and Oranges - 1600s to 1750s

Procure a bottle of best Sweet Oyl and Divide it into Two Bottles and have them well filled with New Picked Sweet Orange Blossoms. Send me also a pot about Ten pound Best Lime, Sweet meats about Ten pounds, Tamarins [tamarind] and some other fruit. - NewYork June 30, 1755


For anyone looking at colonial recipes and wondering if settlers had lemons, limes, and oranges; the question is not IF they had these foods, but understanding they were seasonable. As a kid in the 1980s, lemons were a year round fruit readily available, shipped in front he south to up-state New York. However, oranges were not. In up-state Ne wYork, winter was here when there were no oranges in grocery stores for February. By the 1990s, oranges and limes had become year round fruits. It became normal to have a variety of citrus 12 months a year. It seems that predictable weather and shipping has solved the availability issue. As violent storms hit the Gulf of Mexico these past couple years, it is not just a return to seasonability I am seeing in stores. The storms remind me that food sources are susceptible to unpredictable weather too. We are living in an era nearly opposite to the one the first European settler's had when they arrived in the 1600s. Today, the Caribbean citric orchards have floods, 400 years ago they had droughts.  

Documents from the 1600s, speak to a lack of water as the main reason for lemons, limes and oranges not being available at certain times of the year. This time frame was called, The little Ice Age
 about 1645–1715. However, as soon as it rains, the crops grew and all was fine in just a couple of months as can be seen in records below. During ice ages, it is common for there to be a lack of water around the equator, and lots of water (or snow) in the north making crops very seasonable. Which is the opposite to what is happening now where storms are dumping rain on crops in the Caribbean and destroying them. 

Despite the weather, for those looking for an easy treat to remind them of the first settlers, consider making candied lemons and oranges. Lemon was also a flavor for New Years cakes, and lemon juice was used for preserving foods. One can only imaging what the orange blossom oil was used for, but it would make for interesting additions to cakes just as Rose water was often mentioned in recipes. 

Getting Recipes: 

I have enjoyed my copy of Peter Rose's recipe book "The Sensable Cook". This book is based on a historic recipe book by the same name first published in 17C Netherlands. As it happens, Rose cites that an old copy of this book was listed in an Albany, NY inventory. So, it is spot on for historic recipes. It is also a fun book simply to read through as it includes recipes from cookies and doughnuts to meats and stews plus pies and tarts. 

"The Sensible Cook" Recipe Book by Peter Rose, on You can also find an image of the book on the right hand column.

The Roundup: 

Lemons: In fresh, preserved and juice form, they are the primary citrus fruit that is readily available from the Caribbean and being shipped to New Netherland and later New York. Lemons, lemon juice and preserved (in sugar) lemons are available for the entirety of the colonial era. Africa is a source from the beginning of New Netherland and the Island of Curacao since 1634. 

Limes: Whether fresh or in juice form, they are present, but to what volume is not apparent in the 17c documents presented here. They are mentioned less often than lemons, and appear more often in juice form. While we know sailors had access to them in the 1600s, they become common fruit sold by peddlers in the 18th Century.  

Oranges: They are found in fresh or as orange blossom syrup form and make an appearance in New Netherland. They seem to increase in availability over time, fewer in the 17th Century and "common" in the 18th Century. They seem to be mentioned less often than lemons, appear more often in whole form, have yet to see them in juice form. 

The sample documents in the 18th Century show that oranges, lemons and limes are a popular item for sale by grocers and hucksters. Hucksters use a cart or small shed to sell items and are sold by the penny. 

Below Image: Pieter Aertsen, (1553)  Lemons near the bird and grapes. 

In 17th Century Primary Sources: 

We can see from the images that the wealthy kitchens of the Netherlands and Belgium in the 16th Century had access to lemons and oranges. No one knows where lemons originated but genetics point to it being a cultivate fruit as it is a hybrid of the sour orange and citron, possibly developed in India. By mid-15th Century lemons were imported to Genoa. Cristoforo Colombo (from Genoa) brought lemon seeds with him to Hispaniola (Central America) in 1493. The Portuguese often stopped in port to use the lemons that had grown on the Curacao island from 1499-1630s. Later, the Dutch establishing themselves at Curacao 1634, which gave them dirrect access to the fruit resources of the island. The lemons in New Netherland came primarily from Curacao and neighboring island but there is also an account noting some lemons from Africa. As the documents point out, citrus in New Netherland and later New York was not just for the wealthy, the military employees, WIC employees and middle class traders and shop keepers also had access. During the early years of New Netherland everyone was a WIC employee and had regular access to food supplies through the company which had a number of forts from Brazil to the Caribbean to New Netherland and even ships going up to New Foundland.

September 1658:

List of the following which was also sent by the vice-director with the ship Diemen  [from Curacao] to the following [people of New Netherland ]
To the honorable lord director-general P. Stuyvesant:Four casks, to wit: two with preserved lemons and two of the same with lemon juice with the same mark. 

To the honorable Jacob Alrichs on the South River [Delaware]:Two casks, to wit: one with preserved lemons and one of the same with lemon juice with the same mark. 

To the newly-wedded Mr. Johannes van Brugh with Miss Rodenborgh:One cask of preserved lemonsOne of the same with lemon juice marked

Image below: J. Beuckelaer, The Good Kitchen (1566), Lemons and oranges top right corner, and Lemon and kumquats in pewter/silver dish bottom.

August 1659 - From Curacao to New Netherland:
On account of the continuing drought here, we have not been able to send your honor any oranges or lemons; nevertheless, I am sending your honor herewith four "ankers" of lemon juice received from the coats of Africa,...

A few months later, in the Galiot New Amstel, 1659:

At the island of St. Cristoffel Pieter van Loo to Tieleman van Vleck: 1 cask of lemon juice

It was not unusual to see letters stating that in one month that citrus was not available to be followed a few months later with a supply becoming available. For reenactors this is an interesting point to bring up to guest, for many modern persons getting a lemon or orange anytime of the year, even in up-state New York is possible. But at this time, food was not scarce, but seasonal

One's source for vitamin C had to come from citrus, but also other sources such as greens. The early colonist of New Netherland had access to a surprisingly balanced diet with both citrus and greens. 

February 1660:

With great difficulty we have put together a small barrel of lemons from St. Maechiel, and also asked Franck Bruyn at St. Crous to do the same, and on this occasion send them to your honor. Because it is the only thing that we are able to send your honor at this time, we hope that your honor will be pleased to accept it in the spirit of our good intentions.

May 1660 - The Island of Curacao: 

To Petruc Stuyvesant:
1 pot lemon juice[ ??   ]  lemon juice1 anker lemon juice1 chest lemon juice
The honorable lord vice-director Matthias Becx consigns to Mr. Cornelis van Ruyven:2 pots of lemon juice
The honorable vice-director Matthias Becx consigns to Mr. Johannes Verbruggen:2 pots of lemon juice

The pattern of shortage and plenty repeats again in 1664 but is stable in 1665. Here again is the emphasis on citrus being seasonal rather than accessible.

July 1664, Curacao: 

We regret that we [ ____ ] no suitable lemons or oranges here to send to your honor as we had hoped and must postpone doing so until another opportunity arises, God willing.

November 1664, Curacao to New Netherland:

[____] lemonsSome oranges and lemons

April 1665, Curacao to [adressed to ] "New Netherland":

One anger of preserved lemons

Below Image cropping of Still life with Bowl of Curacao Oranges [and a lemon] - French - by Louise Million.

The 18th Century Primary Sources: 

As we move forward in time, we see limes becoming a hot seller on the streets of Manhattan. Unfortunately, lime sellers appear to be cursed.

1719 - Hannah, who sold limes in NYC - found murdered Oct. 15 near the college in NYC.

1721 - Mary "Callichan", a noted lime seller, wife of Dennis Callichan of NYC, laborer - when intoxicated she fell into the water on the evening of Feb. 17 and was drowned.

1754 - Mary Alexander - a NYC "huckster" seller of bread, beer, candles, cheese and by the penny; lemons, oranges and limes from her small store or shed. (Is set up and sued in court and looses.)

We can also see that the supply was not always consistent in the 18th Century and subject to the weather but not necessarily the winter season so much as ships getting stranded.  The Beekman Mercantile Papers show the following supply chain: from farmer to wholesale to wholesaler to shop keeper to end user. Beckman not only buys lime juice from the wholesalers in the Caribbean to resell in New York, but also in London. Interestedly, we can also see that New York was a port to transfer citrus and other goods coming up from Curacao to the Province and then out to England. However, his papers also show how merchants as compared to others in the colony could score gourmet food stuffs. 

To Archibald Cunningham and Adam Schoals, Londonerry, Dec. 26, 1752. 

"...I could not git any good Lime Juce or should have sent Some for Mr. A. Coningham." 

From Gerard G. Beckman 1746 - 1770, BMP Vol. 1 page 161

To Archibald Cunningham, Londonerry, Jan. 30, 1754

"We daily Expect a Vessell in from Curraco with Lime Juce if she Comes before Waldrom Sails Shall send You the two Cask you ordered."

 From Gerard G. Beckman 1746 - 1770, BMP Vol. 1 page 205

To Archibald Cunningham, Londonderry, Feb. 10, 1754

"I here inclose You Invoice and bill of Landing for Two Cask which Contains 98 gallons of fine Racked Lime Juce and Twenty Gallons best Jamaica Rum amounting to L13.18.11 Which I make no bout Will Prove to You Satisfaction I could have had Lime Juce for Something Less Leas and all, but then often it will not fine [settle] down when disturbed and for the most part a quarter sediment which is Lost so Judged it most for Your Interist to draw it of[f]. 

From Gerard G. Beckman 1746 - 1770, BMP Vol. 1 page 207

To James Cebra (Ship Captain in Caribbean), June 30, 1755

With the net proceeds send me "... Good Proof Rum or Sugars... Procure a bottle of best Sweet Oyl and Divide it into Two Bottles and have them well filled with New Picked Sweet Orange Blossoms. Send me also a pot about Ten pound Best Lime Sweet meats about Ten pounds Tamarins and some other fruit...." 

From Gerard G. Beckman 1746 - 1770, BMP Vol. 1 page 257

To James Beekman 

Includes you have your Accept Balance In your favor 25 milreis [dollars] Owing to our not being able to procure the Citron you request, which however you may depend On receiving by the first opportunity that present after the New is made.

From Chambers, Hiccox and Chambers, Madeira, March 20, 1758, Vol. 2 page 568

To James Beekman

We now Embrace this opportunity of the Sloop Lena Captian Jonathan Lawrence, to Comply with the order for Nine half Rove Boxes of Citron....

From Chambers, Hiccox, and Chambers, Madeira, Sept 2, 1758, Vol 2. page 568

To Effie Buyckinck, Curacao, Aug. 31, 1771

" also [thanks] for the 'kegg' limes and bottle orange blossoms which you was also pleased to send me."

From James Beekman, 1764 - 1776, Vol 2. page 979

I came across this one in North Carolina, a bonus citation to show their availability during the Rev. War.

December 1775

"The Naval Documents of the American Revolution" Volume 2, 2012

Captain Andrew Snape Hamond, R.N., to Commodore Marriot Arbuthnot
Roebuck at Halifax [North Carolina] 6th Decr 1775
I beg leave to acquaint you that I have in consequence of my orders, examines the Cargo of the Bob & Joan Schooner, detained here last night by his Majesty's Ship under my command, and find that no pair thereof appears perishable, except the ten barrels of Limes and Oranges. I am &ca. 


1 comment:

  1. How were lemons and limes shipped barrels and casks? Where they salted or placed in sand not touching. I noticed that some lemon shipments had lemon juice in them also, similar to 11th and 12th century recipes from the middle east. Any insights would be appreciated. Thank you! Great blog!