Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s…

Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s…
There are plenty of recipes out there for dishes referred to as ‘St Clement’s…’, whether it’s a pie, a cocktail, or roasted vegetables. What they all have in common is the combination of oranges and lemons, but until I started looking closer at the history of this designation, I had no idea from where it was derived. For the past five or so years I’ve been working on place-names containing personal names, so when I find a food name derived from a personal name I’m particularly intrigued. What’s interesting here is that, although St Clement is the name of a saint, the label used for these recipes do not actually appear to be derived from the saint itself (although I’ll admit that I might’ve had some preconceived notions about it possibly being related to stories relating to the healing properties of citrus and the patronage / intervention of a saint since St. Clement’s recipes often have these type of connotations). Rather, any references I have been able to find relating to the origins of these recipes trace it to the famous nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and lemons’ (as in this recipe for St. Clements orange and lemon drizzle cake ). The first verses of the rhyme are as follows:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.[1]

In the nursery rhyme which references various churches of London, the St. Clement’s in question is most likely to be either St. Clement’s, Eastcheap or St. Clement Danes,[2] meaning that this is only indirectly a reference to a saint (a slight disappointment on my part there!). If the rhyme refers to St. Clement’s, Eastcheap, it is possible that the association with oranges and lemons stems from its location ‘near the Thames Street wharves at the foot of London Bridge, where the berths for landing citrus fruit from the Mediterranean used to be situated.’[3] There’s disappointingly little evidence for when and how St. Clement’s as a name for orange and lemon recipes became commonly known, and most entries I’ve been able to find primarily emphasise the children’s game associated with the rhyme.[4] However, it seems to have been around since at least the 1930s, when a newspaper article recorded that ‘Hard by St. Clement Danes fruit-boats of shallow draught came up the water-way now covered by Strand Lane, to unload their fragrant cargoes at Surrey Steps for the City markets; thus, most likely, giving rise to the familiar couplet.’[5] Whatever the exact process of transmission was, it’s a good example of the fact that name origins are not always what we expect them to be.

[1] Opie, I. & P. (eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951), 337.
[2] Ibid., 337-9.
[3] Ibid., 339.
[4] ‘orange, n.1 and adj.1.’ OED Online, January 2019.
[5] ‘Oranges and Lemons – Fruits of St. Clement’s’, Geography vol. 15, no. 6 (1930), 480.

Serves 4
Cooking:30 mins
2-4hrs to chill

400ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 lemons, zest and juice
1 orange, zest and juice

Candied lemon slices
200 ml sugar
200 ml water
2 lemons, thinly sliced, seeds removed

Combine cream and sugar with zest from the oranges and lemons. Gently heat in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts simmering. Let the posset simmer for 3 minutes. Add the juice from the oranges and lemons and gently simmer for another 3 minutes, then remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly before pouring the posset into individual ramekins or glasses. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until set.
For the candied lemon slices, combine sugar and water in a saucepan and dissolve the sugar over medium heat. Add the lemon slices and simmer for around 15 minutes, until the lemons are softened and begin caramelising. Remove from the sugar and place them on baking parchment. Leave to cool for at least an hour before using.