Bracing stuff, marmalade…

DH Lawrence and marmalade; who knew? Here is the Nottinghamshire novelist on the sweet orangey stuff: “I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred orange and scrub the floor.”

Marmalade on buttered toast is one of the joys of life. But young people aren’t so keen, reportedly; and what with everyone turning ‘bread phobic’ these days, marmalade could well be toast rather than spread upon it.

Yet nothing is better as a treat, eaten on days when porridge is spurned in favour of something bracingly unhealthy. And it is bracing stuff, marmalade: sweet and tart all at once, a treat and an admonishment in one sitting.

Marmalade runs in our family, on my mother’s side at least. We were over there this week to take down the Christmas tree. The boxes containing the decorations have our daughter’s name on the side as my mother is leaving that glittery haul to her. A lovely tattered robin ornament in that box once belonged to her mother, Doris; a third-generation tree trinket.

I did wonder if my mother might leave me her bottomless stock of marmalade. The cupboard in the top bedroom is filled with jars. Or it always used to be, but this time that cupboard was bare. This is as much of a shock as discovering that the final raven has just hopped away from the Tower of London.

Anyway, she has pledged to make a double batch this year. Even at 85 and after a recent hip replacement, nothing will stop her making that marmalade.

But what exactly is marmalade? A daft question but sometimes it is good to ask those. My mother had a friend called Charles Sinclair who died some years ago. He wrote a book called the Dictionary of Food and I have just pull my copy from the shelf.

The relevant entry reads: “A jam made from citrus fruit, especially Seville oranges, by boiling the juice with water, shredded peel and a muslin bag containing all the tipis, pith and excess peel for several hours to extract pectin. The muslin bag is removed, sugar added and the whole boiled for a short time until it reaches setting point.”

A laborious amount of shredding is involved, although my mother gets around this by using a pressure cooker and a food processor. No shreds, but the marmalade still tastes good.

But how did we arrive at this delicious breakfast spread? According to a marmalade season feature in the Daily Telegraph some years ago, the story goes like this. In 1700, a storm-damaged Spanish ship carrying Seville oranges sought refuge in Dundee harbour, and the “cargo was sold off cheaply to James Keiller, a down-on-his-luck local merchant, whose wife turned it into a preserve”.

What a happy accident. Whether something similar happened with the invention of IRN BRU, the Scottish soft drink, is not known. But I did hear a rumour that a tanker containing Donald Trump’s hair dye crashed into a sugar lorry and the two substances combined to devastating effect.

There is a fuss right now about Barrs cutting 50 per cent of the sugar from IRN BRU. Petitions have been got up – “Hands off our IRN BRU!” – although it is fair to say that a petition is launched about something or other every hour of the day.

But back to marmalade. Everyone should eat it, but don’t mess with that marmalade. Lately I have endured two experimental marmalades. One jar contained mincemeat and the result was an abomination. The other was a Frank Cooper experiment, marmalade made with Muscovado sugar. I can see where Frank’s coming from, but marmalade should just taste of marmalade, not the darkest of dark sugar.

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