Readers won’t be surprised to hear that I’m more of a Marmite girl than a marmalade lover. But in the hierarchy of sweet spreads, marmalade is probably my favourite, in that it is bitter as well as sweet, and is made of citrus, a particular food obsession.
On my way back from the Outer Hebrides, I stopped at Dalemain, near Penrith in Cumbria, a historic Tudor and Georgian house where the World’s Original Marmalade Awards take place annually.
I met Beatrice McCosh and her bag-piping brother George who live at Dalemain and organise the awards. By April the judging is finished, and the award-winners in all the differing categories are announced. The best of the best, a double gold winner, is chosen to be jarred and sold by Fortnum & Mason in London.
After a rainy night in the camper van, I pushed into the large marquee decorated with orange, green and yellow balloons. Hundreds of jars of marmalade stood on tables, ready to be tasted. A giant ‘live’ Paddington waited at the front, along with celebrity baker and author Dan Lepard, dressed in an orange shirt, a bow tie and tails. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion. The tent blazed with shades of tangerine, calamondin, burnt gold, salmon and mandarin.
The night before, Dalemain had a reception for the Japanese ambassador, to renew the licence for the Japanese world marmalade awards.
During a panel event called ‘Marmalade Question Time’ including Dan Lepard and the food historian Ivan Day, questioners revealed themselves to be preserve nerds, asking variations on ‘what about the set?’, ‘what sugar is best’, ‘do you cut your peel before or after blanching’.
Dan Lepard asked an elegant Japanese lady in the audience to describe her process, claiming ‘This is the best marmalade maker in the world’. I photographed Atsuko Hayashi later; she runs ‘The English Kitchen’ and won the competition several times. I tasted her wares; the balance of flavours, light, refreshing, juicy, sufficiently sweet, the set, not too hard and not too soft, and the fine precision of her cut peel, was perfection.
I saw in an adjoining room, tables and tables crowded with jars on top of small cards with judges notes. A common note which would lose marks from judges was ‘ jar not filled to the brim’. ‘Any oxygen in the jar facilitates mould and contamination, so filling is important’ advised Dan Lepard, to much nodding and murmuring.
I’m beginning to get the urge myself to have a go at making it. Watch this space this winter when the Seville oranges come in.
Another fascinating talk was given by Karen Jankel, daughter of famous marmalade fan Paddington author Michael Bond. You could say she is Paddington’s sister as she was born the same year he was published. Her dad liked ‘thick cut’ marmalade. She recounted the Queen’s filmed skit with Paddington Bear last year, just before she died. Karen said the Queen was game for the experience, and while courtiers balked at asking her if she’d mind putting actual marmalade sandwiches in her posh Launer handbag (approximate cost £2,500.), she was more than happy to play along.
There was a new category ‘The King’s Marmalade’ to celebrate this coronation year. Karen mentioned that she did an event with the Queen Consort Camilla. A group of three year olds sitting at the front were given marmalade sandwiches. Very young children find marmalade too bitter, spitting out their first bite and handing over the chewed up sandwich to the nearest adult, which happened to be the Queen Consort. She sat there with a dozen spat-out sandwiches in her hand, completely unfazed.
The winner of winners this year was Tim Nind, who wore a fruity orange shirt while accepting the award.
If you are a marmalade fan, I recommend a visit to the beautiful house, the interesting talks, tastings and awards! I ended up spending almost £40 on marmalade!
On this trip I was given use of a camper van by Camper Days.
Lovely to read about the marmalade comp. Your post coincided with my latest batch of lime and rum marmalade. I follow a recipe that recommends slicing the limes then covering them with 10 cups of boiling water and leave overnight. This seems to hurry up the setting point which is a bonus. Brit husband is a marmalade and British Marmite enthusiast and has completely converted me.
I heard during the marmalade question time that leaving overnight to marinate was a good method. Haha! good for your husband, spreading the word!