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.


Unknown said…
So marmalade is the quintessential (quincessential? *groan*) British breakfast spread that's being threatened by imports like peanut butter (American) and Nutella (Italian).

This is perhaps ironic given that marmalade's essential ingredients can't be cultivated en masse in the UK.

Surely honey was here before marmalade? And oranges are no more native than peanuts... Maybe bramble jam is more British?

Though of course, all jam relied on the production and/or import of cheap refined sugar.

This also raises questions about the class implications of marmalade. Was it originally the conserve preserve of the rich, aristocrats who had orangeries? And which came first as an import: ready-made marmalade, or oranges that were cheap enough for people to make their own marmalade at home / British manufactures to make it in the UK?
Jo said…
Completely agree with all of the above. Because, of course, marmalade isn't English by origin, it's Portuguese. (Or possibly North African or French or Spanish.) It's what makes it so interesting - why has it become such a symbol of Britishness? As for what came first, the marmalade or the oranges, I think marmalade arrived in different forms (solid, in paste form, made with other fruits, etc), but we soon worked out how to make it ourselves, so everyone got to eat it, rich and poor. I'm still a bit hazy on the historic details, but working on it...

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