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.

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