In praise of marmalade
I was fascinated by a podcast about marmalade that I listened to on my dog walk today. It started at the world’s first marmalade festival founded by the unlikely sounding Jane Hasell-McCosh at Dalemain House in Cumbria where over 800 entries from across the UK and around the world were examined, tasted and judged. There were some great categories like ‘Man Made’ and ‘Clergy’. The winning artisan producer, Jane Maggs of Wild and Fruitful, devised an intriguing lemon and lavender marmalade.
The bitter orange (actually a hybrid of a pomelo and a mandarin) originated in China and reached Europe via North Africa with the spice trail and Arab migration into Spain. The word marmalade comes originally from the Greek melimelon (quince) and is used in Portugal to describe a quince paste (in Spain membrillo). The first orange marmalades in Britain were of a similar consistency and were eaten to settle the digestion after sumptuous fat-laden dinners. The Portuguese introduced a sweet orange which gained popularity across Europe but the Brits clung onto the bitter Seville for our traditional breakfast preserve.
The Scots were the first to use marmalade for breakfast and it really took off across Britain when tea drinking in the morning replaced binges of ale (yes, our ancestors were sozzled for most of their lives).
But marmalade is under attack; the rise of cereal marketed as a health product, breakfast on the hoof and the fact that our tastes are changing to something sweeter (chocolate spread and peanut butter sales are on the rise). So what should marmalade producers do to ensure this very traditional British food (that we’ve been eating since the 16th century) holds its own on the breakfast table?
Premier Foods is the biggest industrial producer of marmalade and different processes are used for the different grades of the product. At the cheapest end, a sort of orange gel, juice, pulp and essential oils are used. For the premium marmalades, for example, Marks & Spencer, whole fresh fruit is used, but none can equal homemade.
Now someone describing how hundreds of jars of a preserve made from oranges, sugar and water can all differ, makes me want to reach for the jam pan. Unfortunately even in Seville orange season I can’t buy them in Dubai. So the next best thing was to cut myself some thick slices of homemade bread, toast them and slather them with butter and M&S dark, Seville orange marmalade. The deep, bitterness, the soft chunks of peel, the creaminess of the butter and the slight caramel sharpness of the toasted bread did the trick.
For those lucky enough to be making your own, here are the top 3 tips for perfect home-made marmalade courtesy of Eileen Wilson, a national Women’s Institute judge.
- Make sure everything is scrupulously clean including the fruit (give the oranges a good scrub).
- Make sure the peel is well cooked.
- Bring the liquid to a good rolling boil before you add the sugar which you have warmed in the oven before adding. This means that the temperature doesn’t drop and you don’t have to boil it for quite as long so it doesn’t get syrupy.