Marmalade’s had a rough old time of it lately. A recent report in the Telegraph declared it is dying out; that only oldies are buying it because millennials can’t handle ‘bits’ in spreads. Well, excuse me, but I direct you to this year’s World Marmalade Awards, held a few weeks ago in a big Georgian house called Dalemain just outside Penrith, which attracted nearly 2,000 homemade jars from around the globe. Big jars, little jars, jars decorated with glitter, sticky jars that had leaked in the post, jars with gingham hats. All laid out on trestle tables with individual, handwritten tasting notes from the WI judges underneath, marking each jar out of 20.
The two-day festival has been running for 12 years, launched by the matriarch of the house, Jane Hasell-McCosh, who grew up watching her grandmother make marmalade, standing on tiptoes to look into cauldrons of the stuff on the Aga. With foot and mouth disease having devastated this patch of Cumbria in 2001, Jane decided to revive the area. ‘It felt like the forgotten county, so I wanted to do something to help.’ All proceeds — £200,000 this year — go to local hospices.
Sophia Money-Coutts and Misti Traya extol the virtues of marmalade on the Spectator Podast:
She enlisted the support of the local WI to judge, along with Fortnum & Mason as a sponsor. In 2005, around 60 jars were sent in by enthusiastic locals. This year, the number was not only in the thousands; it also attracted a record number of foreign entries from more than 30 countries. The Japanese ambassador was there too, invited as guest of honour. In a speech to launch the proceedings, His Excellency Koji Tsuruoka said he was glad to see so many jars ‘made with love’. Marmalade is apparently ‘huge’ in Japan.
The jars were laid out in 14 categories (including ‘Any Citrus’, ‘Dark and Chunky’, ‘Octogenarians and Upwards’) across three wood-panelled rooms in the house. On one table — technically the ‘International and Commonwealth Marmalade’ category — was a jar of marmalade, lavender and mandarin from Belgium (13/20; ‘good try’ said its notes, slightly damningly), a jar of cardamom marmalade from the Czech Republic (17.5/20), and a whisky marmalade from Japan made from Banpeiyu citrus, a fruit originally from Malaysia. This was awarded 16/20; the spidery tasting notes observing that its peel ‘wasn’t quite cooked’.
Next door sat Eileen Wilson and Doreen Cameron, the two chief judges and members of the local WI, who have overseen the tasting of every jar sent in over the past three months. Dressed in their white lab coats, they watched hundreds of spectators and competitors mingle while they read out the judges’ comments to one another. One woman who received 15/20 was dismayed to see she’d been marked down for letting ‘too many pips’ into her jar. Another, Johnny from Sussex, was ticked off for using old jars with previous labels attached. Marmalade hygiene is a serious business for Eileen and Doreen.
It rained, but that didn’t matter: orangey bonhomie prevailed. Forget Bake Off — if the BBC wants to nail that primetime homely slot, it should concentrate on marmalade.
Sophia Money-Coutts and Misti Traya discuss marmalade on this week’s podcast