Friday, 13 December 2013

Marmalade & Class

Killing time at work before a book launch and browsing through some books on our office bookshelf, I found The Breakfast Bible, by Seb Emina and (yes, really) Malcolm Eggs.

Page 87 has a good riff about breakfast and class barriers, followed by a run-down of things that are considered U and non-U (or posh vs common). His entries are charmingly brief.

'Jams and Preserves: Good homemade marmalade is wonderful. Robinson's Golden Shred less so. Marmite is rather working class but acceptable.'

I think we can agree on the first part, though Marmite is hardly working-class any more.

Later on, he quotes George Orwell on the same subject. Orwell described a typical three-course breakfast as consisting of porridge followed by fish or meat (i.e. bacon, kidneys, sausages and ham) and eggs, 'then finally toast, which, he stipulated, would be served with butter and orange marmalade. On this point he was unambiguously firm: "It must be orange marmalade, though honey is a possible subsitute. Other kinds of jam are seldom eaten at breakfast, and marmalade does not often appear at other times of day." '

It is true, though odd, that we just don't eat marmalade at any other time; and usually don't eat jam for breakfast. How particular we are as a nation.

As a sign-off, Mr Eggs explains: 'Today, of course, those other kinds of jam are naturalised residents of the breakfast table, clustered around your hotel toast rack in those cute little jars they provide. Some claim this is a worrying symptom of a dumbing-down society, that the complexity of marmalade has become too much for the breakfasting mainstream. But the stats say otherwise: with just shy of 95 million jars being sold each year, marmalade is still king of the breakfast spreads.'

Not everyone shares his confidence, as sales seem to decline year on year, but his description of the transformation of Seville oranges 'into something aromatic and magical' is very cheering. Roll on January, I can almost smell the Sevilles.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A Bear Called Colin

A Bear Called Colin

Big news in Marmalade World - Colin Firth is to be the voice of Paddington in a new live-action film. Which means that within the year, we will hear the divine tones of Mr Darcy Firth saying the words 'marmalade sandwich'. Sigh.

And just to prove I'm not making it up, click here.

I predict a tidal wave of Paddington merchandising - and quite a lot of marmalade.

And pictures of Colin Firth instead of Paddington. Obviously.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Dundee marmalade

I saw in The Sunday Times this weekend that marmalade will make an appearance on a proposed Invention Bus, which is to tour the country, celebrating the talents of British inventors through the ages, one-third of whom appear to be Scottish (Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird and Dolly the sheep to name but three).

It's slightly cheeky, as the British didn't invent marmalade, though it's often said that the Scots did. As I'm too mean to get through the Sunday Times paywall, I can't yet find out what is being claimed, but I assume that the Scots are claiming that they were the first to produce it commercially in Britain - which they were.

The story goes that on an unspecified date in the late 1700s, one Janet Keiller was presented with a load of Seville oranges by her husband, a grocer. He had bought them from a ship that had been forced to land at Dundee because of fierce weather. Faced with a huge amount of oranges and a free supply of sugar from her husband's stores, she took the obvious route and turned it into marmalade, which Mr Keiller sold in his shop. It seems to have been a success, because the Keiller factory was founded in 1797 and has been producing excellent marmalade ever since.

However, sometimes the story is told in such a way that it sounds as if the industrious Mrs Keiller invented marmalade in order to use up the oranges, which would have been unusually resourceful. But in fact marmalade was well-known in both England and Scotland at that time, and plenty of recipes were already in circulation.

But the Scots can certainly be proud of several marmalade-related innovations; as well as kick-starting its commercial production, it is also said that they pioneered marmalade as a breakfast food, whereas it had more commonly been eaten as a sweetmeat or part of the pudding course. They also contributed to the popularity of 'chip' marmalade, i.e. marmalade with bits of peel in. (Marmalade was more often made by pounding the peel to a paste.) This is what is meant by 'Dundee marmalade', hence its inclusion on the Invention Bus under the Scottish umbrella. So, well done Scotland; if it hadn't been for Mrs Keiller and her ilk, we might still be chewing on solid bits of orange paste and eating jam on toast for breakfast.

Classy marmalade
While we're on The Times, I found a brilliant cutting under piles of less interesting flotsam on my desk, about the supposed 'new British classes' that someone invented a few weeks ago, mostly, I presume, to fill space in the newspapers. There are now seven new classes, defined by various things such as our education, income and cultural habits (e.g. opera, cinema or X Factor?) Writer Roland White was unconvinced by the new criteria:

'This research is clearly flawed. Can social class really depend on trips to the theatre, whether you have a Facebook account and what type of music you like? Surely it's far more subtle than that. For example, I would suggest that nobody who is truly upper class (and at a stretch the upper middles) would dare to eat marmalade that has no chunks.'

Mrs Keiller has a lot to answer for.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Marmalade Ice Cream (again)

Marmalade Ice Cream (again)

Happy to see in last week's Metro a marmalade recipe in the middle of what we are laughably calling summer. Admittedly it was for Marmalade on Toast Ice Cream, which would have been seasonally appropriate had the temperature ever risen above chilly. The book is called Melt, by Claire Kelsey, and the recipe looks superb. It is very like my mother's Brown Bread Ice Cream, which was homemade vanilla ice cram with nuggets of brown breadcrumbs caramelised in sugar. This does the same thing and adds marmalade. So it's clearly a winner. 

It was accompanied by a beautiful picture of the ice cream served in an old Keiller’s jar, but as I am copyright-shy, I haven't nicked it - instead the picture above is of Ruby Violet’s Marmalade Ripple ice cream from my local ice cream shop. As good as ever. Even when the temperature is only 15ÂșC.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Military Marmalade

Military Marmalade

On leaving for a week in Brittany last Friday, I grabbed a random selection of books from my shelf as I headed for the front door. Hopeless, of course; holiday reading needs careful consideration, and this last-minute grab was given anything but.

It turned out to be a rather earnest brace of paperbacks; a book of Chekhov's short stories (abandoned at our Wiltshire stopover after just a couple of paragraphs; the translation was a bit stiff); and Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That, a sparely written, cold-eyed and extremely absorbing account of the horrors of, first, life at an English public school and, second, of the author's time in the WWI trenches. And, as so often happens with the books I read (which do tend to be a bit British/historic/foodie in their theme), it wasn't long before marmalade made an appearance.

From Chapter 12 (from a lovely, worn, 1960 Penguin edition, priced at 3/6, rather than the edition shown here):

"Breakfast at company headquarters consisted of bacon, eggs, coffee, toast, and marmalade. There were three chairs and two ammunition boxes to sit on... [Dunn] had begun telling me just how much I could expect from the men at my platoon inspection of rifles and equipment, when a soldier came rushing in, his eyes blank with horror and excitement. 'Gas, sir, gas! They're using gas!'

'My God!' exclaimed Price. We all looked at Dunn, whose soldier-servant the man was.

Dunn said imperturbably: 'Very well, Kingdom, bring me my respirator from the other room, and another pot of marmalade.' "

Blackadder couldn't have put it better himself.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Victorian Marmalade

I have just spent three weeks obsessively reading Judith Flanders' wonderful book, The Victorian House, which is worth buying for the footnotes alone (particularly the one on page 1 about sex and U-bends). I knew there had to be a mention of marmalade somewhere, and sure enough...

In Chapter 7, the author reproduces a typical weekly menu for a middle-class household, which shows how thriftily they used up leftovers, recycling food throughout the week rather than thinking up something new every day.

For example, mutton for dinner on Sunday became cold mutton for breakfast on Monday and curried mutton for Monday's dinner. On Tuesday, what was left of the mutton was then given to the servants, who ate it hashed for supper, then ate it again cold on Wednesday.

I was also pleased to see that, in this particular menu, there was baked marmalade pudding for dinner on Monday; cold fowl and tongue followed by eggs and marmalade for breakfast on Wednesday; and buttered eggs, tongue (again), bloaters and marmalade for breakfast on Thursday.

They must have been very grateful for the marmalade; the rest of the menu sounds monotonously grim.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Food Programme

Marmalade on Radio 4

If you have half an hour to spare, listen to today's Food Programme on Radio 4 (repeated on Monday at 3.30pm) reporting from the annual marmalade festival at Dalemain in Cumbria and musing on the general state of marmalade in the UK.

Presenter Tim Hayward's conclusion was that while the buying and eating of marmalade seems to be in decline, people are beginning to see the value of high-quality marmalade and are pursuing that instead, either by making their own or by buying artisan preserves rather than the mass-produced offering. So while quantity may be suffering, quality is not. So the bad news is really good news.

Allegedly, marmalade's decline is partly caused by the fact that we are all too busy to sit down and eat breakfast, and marmalade doesn't lend itself to being eaten on the move, along with a takeaway coffee. But this is not true. A marmalade sandwich is a fine thing - and even better made with cold toast.

This year's winning entry at Dalemain was made by a Dr Yen-Chung Chong, a retired microbiologist from Brighton, whose blood orange and vodka marmalade will be on sale at Fortnum & Mason soon. That would put quite a kick in your daily breakfast.

Monday, 18 March 2013

To marmalade (vb)

To marmalade (vb)

In the absence of any marmalade-related news today, here instead is a helping of P G Wodehouse.

'I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don't suppose I have ever come much closer to saying "Tra-la-la" as I did the lathering, for I was feeling in mid-season form this morning. God, as I once heard Jeeves put it, was in His heaven and all right with the world. (He added, I remember, some guff about larks and snails, but that is a side issue and need not detain us.)'
From Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

If this is the sort of thing that amuses you, you can get a daily dose of Wodehouse here. If in dire need, just keep clicking 'Refresh' - it throws up a fresh quote each time. Very cheering.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Designer labels

Designer labels

So, these arrived in the post today:

It's hard to find anything that costs £2.99 that amuses me as much as these do. And they work brilliantly.

So simple, but so pleasing. A good start to the week.

If you want some for yourself, you can get them here: just choose a design and email them with your choice of wording.

Following the last post about the dearth of nice jam jar labels, I’ve now discovered that there are hundreds of talented designers out there, creating fantastic labels that you can download for free and print yourself, assuming your printer is up to the job.

These, for example, which you can download here:

And I found these vintage labels, and lots more like them, in an inspired collaboration between an independent designer and a stationery website:

They are designed to fit a particular size of pre-cut label, which I can get from my local stationery shop and put through my printer. Brilliant. The website also offers instructions on how to customise them.

So I hereby withdraw my previous whine that there are no nice labels out there. There are hundreds; I was just looking in the wrong place.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The importance of labels

Find me a label

I've mentioned before the importance of the marmalade label - how it conveys the very character of the marmalade and, possibly, the character of the person who made it. Which is why it's always annoyed me that I can't find any decent labels for homemade marmalade.

A brief trawl of the internet for jam jar labels plunges me into a depression. They are, almost without exception, bland, twee and folksy. There's a predominance of gingham and polka dots (I have a strange loathing for polka dots) and a lot of badly drawn flowers and oranges. There's also a lot of tartan, as if suggesting that the Scots invented marmalade, which we all know they didn't. It is as if the designers think that everyone who makes their own marmalade is woefully lacking in sophistication. Which, having met a lot of marmalade-makers, I know is not the case.

And then I found these.

At last, a bit of wit! I can't quite work out how HW Designs gets past the copyright issues, as they bear a remarkable resemblance to some very well-known brands, but that's their problem. I chose Design 4 (bottom right-hand corner - we'll call it 'Cooper Style', I think), and asked if I could change the wording from 'Homemade with Love', which is a bit hokey for me, to 'Handmade in Tufnell Park', which they did in a trice and posted the labels out the same day. Full marks. My undressed jars of marmalade are trembling in anticipation.

I also quite liked these, by Samantha Barnes - at least they are bold and colourful rather than twee and pastel.

But what I really yearn for is something like this, from Nutley's Kitchen Gardens. Something a little decadent and Art Deco in tone. Rococo, if you like.

I shall keep looking. But if you know of a good source, please do tell.

Friday, 18 January 2013

January brings the snow

January brings the snow...

Today, to my son's delight, it snowed - and to mine, as it's the perfect backdrop for the first marmalade session of the year. Standing over a bubbling pot of oranges as the snowflakes drift down (covering up all the rubbish in our untidy garden, excellent) is rather pleasing.

After last year's tribulations over recipes, I've reverted to my mother's recipe and am being very particular about following the instructions. I put in less sugar - just 2.5lbs sugar rather than 3lbs to 1.5lbs of oranges - and avoided stirring it as it cooked, as that lowers the temperature, thus increasing the overall cooking time (which is probably why it's often overboiled). I also tested it on a saucer placed in the freezer rather than the fridge. Success - it was setting beautifully after 20 minutes. I recommend this as a good way to spend a snowy morning. It makes one feel very mellow.

This is the batch destined for the World Marmalade Awards in March, so it has to be good - I was awarded 16/20 last year, and am keen to find out whether I've improved at all. It smells heavenly and is a beautiful colour. But those WI judges are tough. We'll see.

Marmalade on film
Spent a nice evening at the Everyman Theatre a few days ago, drinking wine in comfy seats (they are the best cinemas) and watching Quartet with my sister. After enjoying Tom Courtenay playing the perfect gentleman for the first half hour, we were startled when he suddenly shouted 'Bitch! Frog!' at a pretty French girl who works at his retirement home. Maggie Smith's eyebrows shot up. 'She won't give me marmalade at breakfast,' he spat, by way of explanation. 'She gives me [withering tone] apricot jam.'

Later on, Maggie Smith buys gifts for her friends to make up for being a bit of a cow through most of the film. Her present to Tom is a jar of lime marmalade. It is the perfect gesture; by the end of the film they're in love and singing beautiful operatic arias together. Such is the power of marmalade.