November 13

The Anniversary of Nell Gwynn's Death

Nell Gwynn was an orange girl who became a well-known actress and eventually the life-long mistress of Charles II of England. After the Restoration, English theater flourished. Popcorn had not been invented yet, but theater managers still made a major part of their profits by hawking food before the performances and  during the intermissions. The only difference was that they sold oranges instead of popcorn and candy bars.

The managers would hire young teenage girls to sell oranges to the customers. The girls would stand in front of the orchestra pit and carry vine covered baskets filled with their oranges. The girls were usually hired for their looks, quick tongues, and their ability to entice the
men in the audiences with flirty sexual innuendos.

Nell Gwynn

Nell was history's best known orange girl
and her sharp wit and attractive looks helped her sell more than oranges to Restoration fops. Although illiterate, Nell eventually worked  her way into acting, blessed with an unique ear and memory for dialogue. She quickly rose to lead roles excelling in comedy which served her ready wit. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys, she has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella.

Nell cared deeply about the theater and her profession, and it was on one of her days off while attending a play at a rival theater that she was introduced to Charles
II who was attending the play incognito. Charles was immediately fascinated by her beauty, her openness, unpretentiousness and wit, and eventually made her one of his several major mistresses.

Nell appealed to the down to earth side of the king's personality. regardless of her elevated position, she still clung to her cockney roots remained unpretentious, always witty,
impulsive and occasionally vulgar, coupled with a childlike sense of wonder. She had no qualms about calling herself a whore, even in front of the king's friends.

Nell has been portrayed several times in film and television  (with a variety of spellings of her name) starting with Dorothy Gish in Nell Gwynne (1926); Anna Neagle in Nell Gwyn (1934) and again in Lilacs in the Spring (1954); Emma Pierson in the TV miniseries Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003); and possibly best by Zoe Tapper in Stage Beauty (2004) .

One of Nell's favorite pastimes was feeding her royal lover hot buttered oranges as a remembrance of her former occupation. Nell's recipe for buttered oranges became so popular that they became known throughout England as Nell Gwynn's Buttered Oranges.


Nell Gwynn's Buttered Oranges


5 large Florida oranges
4 TB sugar
6 egg yolks
4 TB

4 TB butter
cup whipping cream
Crystallized violets for decoration


  1. Wash oranges.
  2. Hold the orange so that the stalk end is at the base. Using a small knife, cut off the top about two inches down and discard.  Scoop out all the flesh, being careful not to break the skin. This can be done quite easily with a teaspoon.  Repeat with three more oranges.
  3. Grate the peel off the remaining orange and then squeeze all the juice fran this orange into a bowl.. Place the flesh you have extracted fran the other oranges in a sieve and squeeze all the juice into the same bowl.
  4. Mix the juice with the sugar and egg yolks in a double boiler over low heat. Beat with a wire whisk until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove the top of the double boiler and cool it in a bowl of cold water while you continue to stir it then add the rum.
  5. Remove the bowl from the cold water. Cut the butter into I-inch cubes and mash it into the mixture piece by piece. Add the orange peel.
  6. Whip 3/4 of the cream and fold it into the mixture. Pour the mixture into the four orange shells am refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  7. Before serving, place three crystallized violets on the top of each orange whip the remaining cream and force it through a pastry tube in a curly pattern around the top edges.
Serves 4