Thursday, 14 June 2012

Some Thoughts on Labels

Some Thoughts on Labels

In a post a while back I wrote about a friend who said that she couldn't buy a jar of marmalade she'd seen because she didn't like the label. While that might strike some as odd, to others it will make perfect sense. The label is telling you what to think about the contents, and she didn't trust its rather rustic, folksy signals. As a preserve, she feared it lacked imagination.

Which made me start looking more closely at labels.

The mistake a lot of manufacturers make is to feature a statement-of-the-obvious image on the label, which is usually oranges/lemons or some kind of botanical image, as if we might otherwise be suspicious of the contents. But what they should be doing is projecting an image, not depicting the ingredients. Is this marmalade for the very sweet-of-tooth, or for hard-to-please urban foodies hoping for a surprise ingredient (vodka, basil, Marmite)? Is it for aspiring housewives (preserving pans and wooden spoons) or retired colonels (words only, crisp typography, no damn fool pictures)? This is what the label is for.

The benchmark is, of course, Frank Cooper; classic, dignified, not too olde-worlde, surviving nicely in the 21st century.

But I also like this, which I saw in the achingly chic Melrose & Morgan:

This takes the prize so far for absolute minimalism, and is to be applauded. It means you can really see the marmalade in all its tawny orange glory, and it's not trying too hard. It's just very.... calm.

I shall trawl the grocery stores of north London to gather some more examples. Do please send in your nominations. I might even give out prizes.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coffee & Oranges Part 2

Coffee & Oranges Part 2

Regular readers will remember that way back in February I discovered the existence of a Sicilian Orange & Coffee Marmalade that sounded so intriguing I felt I had to try it. The only problem was that it was sold exclusively in the US. So after some fruitless enquiries (which required me to 'Like' the distributor on Facebook, who instead of sending me any useful stockist information now sends me weekly marketing messages that are not about marmalade, grr), I asked Kelly, my US marmalade buddy, to procure some and send it over.

So far, so simple.

In March, she duly sent over two jars of the stuff and in return I sent her a Fortnum's chocolate Easter bunny. A fair exchange, apart from the fact that the bunny actually arrived.

A few weeks after the marmalade was mailed from the US, it had not arrived, so I optimistically tried searching for it on the Royal Mail website. Ha, ha, ha. Do not try this. The supposed helpdesk contains only imaginary questions and unhelpful answers, not least of which was that they couldn't track any parcels sent from overseas. So we gave up on the Sicilian marmalade and went back to our lives.

A few weeks later, Kelly emailed to tell me that the marmalade had turned up on her doorstep, bearing a Royal Mail sticker and looking a little the worse for wear. The sticker said 'Not called for', though no one at my local post office knows what that means. So it had gone from Sicily to Massachusetts to London and back to Massachusetts without anyone getting so much as a lick.

In the interests of research, we decided to give it one last chance and it was mailed once more in a much smaller container from Boston to London, and *fanfare* it arrived two days ago. Realising that after all this trouble it was clearly not going to be worth it, Sod's Law being what it is, I tasted it with considerable trepidation.

Now, I do have a rule about not being rude about marmalade that I don't like, as someone else might like it very much. So all I will say is that this was Not To My Taste. After I had recovered from tasting it, I had a piece of toast and marmalade and drank a mouthful of coffee, which was very nice and just as nature intended. But sadly I can't recommend putting the two elements in a jar and calling them marmalade.

And I am still feeling very bad about the food miles.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Marmalade in Decline

The Decline of Marmalade - Again

Very pleased to see Victoria Coren taking time off from sparring with politicians on Question Time to blog about marmalade - even if it's about its apparent decline. (Note: her link goes to an old news story - the actual link is here. Which is forgivable, as it's a subject revisited with increasing gloom by the papers each year, usually in February when we're all awash with Sevilles.)

Apparently a mere 7% of British families now eat marmalade for breakfast, which the Daily Mail blames on 'US-style imports' such as peanut butter and chocolate spread. I'm fairly sure (as one of the comments points out) that the Italians invented Nutella, at least. Can't blame everything on the US. But 7% is rather alarming, especially as sales allegedly dropped by 6% last year alone. The solution, according to one manufacturer, is to make marmalade sweeter and shred-less 'so that children will like it'. (A little shiver runs down my spine when I hear that.) But then it won't be marmalade. It'll just be runny orange jelly. And the backbone of the British breakfast will be a little less ramrod-straight. And then what will become of us all?

This story does get trotted out each year, and is usually countered by rival stories about how we're all making our own instead, sales of Sevilles soar, etc., etc. But I fear that such domestic industry does not make up the shortfall. In the midst of all the proud-to-be-British stiff-upper-lipness of this Jubilee week, this is a depressing story.

And then I realise with horror that my own son exists almost entirely on peanut butter or honey (I blame Winnie the Pooh for that one) and has started rejecting my marmalade with a disdainful turn of his head. (And this is a boy that licks lemons for fun.) So that's how the fall of an empire begins... So starting tomorrow, I shall fight a rearguard action from my own breakfast table. Marmalade or nothing, young man. It's for your own good.