Many of us, including me, are very fragile in the
morning, and I certainly don’t like any surprises at
breakfast. Marmalade is really a personal thing.
-- Darina Allen
In my mind’s eye, where I live most of the time, there is adjacent to the kitchen, a room size pantry painted in Farrow and Ball Glossy Cream #67 with groaning shelves of contentment humming hosannas.
Here reside the crown jewels, sparkling amber, burgundy, and midnight blue in their cut glass jars, with their crocheted collars and crisp calico caps ready for a Queen’s review. My hand alights upon of jar of dark orange with fruit slivers suspended in the thick amber of anticipation. I’m preparing the breakfast tray for tomorrow. It is the beginning of March, the longest month of the year. Only five days into it and everyone is waiting for it to be over: for winter to be gone, for spring to arrive, for the annual report, the royalties statement, the school and college acceptance letters, the taxes done, the retirement annuity to come. March is the month we all spend stranded on an Agatha Christie mystery island waiting.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting while knowing there’s no one coming to rescue us; waiting while the other random guests are dropping like flies in rooms locked from the inside.
"No one’s coming for ye’ in this storm Madam,” (rhymes with ham) shouts Old Ben, waterlogged for the last century in his slick yellow Mackintosh and sou’wester hat. “Better you be in the Big House” until April like when your reg’lar man be back with the boat and the post.”
The boat and the post? Not until April? Have we to wait an entire month to get to April and the @#$%^& Report? Don't you understand? I need this information now!
Lord, have mercy. It’s freezing, rainy, and clammy, the kind of dampness that creeps into your very bones only to leave pleurisy as a personal memento of these four weeks of hell and high water. March, more than any other month in the year, has been known to drive sane women mad, behind bars or on the floor of one. Better we get back to the Big House and our reverie, Babe. I'll put on the kettle.
You’ll recall when last we left the reverential quietude of the pantry, the slender female hand was alighting upon the jar of Seville orange marmalade, as should we all.
Did you know that after gifts of gold, silk, and fragrance had failed him, King Solomon seduced the Queen of Sheba with oranges? Queen Isabella gave royal orange tree cuttings to Columbus as a bonus for discovering the new world. The great 17th-century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes found inspiration sampling them as he wrote his bittersweet romantic fantasy Don Quixote. There’s a lot you can do with a box of Spanish oranges. Now imagine bearing gifts—fruits—of the bitter Spanish Seville or Malaga oranges which come in season for just six weeks after Christmas. Romantics and political rivals have known how to play these subtle but persuasive gifts in their pursuit of power. A bribe? Don't be ridiculous; it was merely a jar of jelly. Did I mention that at the beginning (practically of Time) oranges blossomed only in the perfumed palace gardens of Far Eastern potentates and that Chinese empresses, Arabian princes and Indian maharajahs reserved this rare, prized fruit for special occasions: love offerings.
“Marmalade fueled the breakfast tables of the British empire—the high sugar content meant it survived the journey from Dundee to Darjeeling with characteristic stoicism,” the award-winning British food journalist and author Felicity Cloake tells us, leaving “its sticky legacy in many former colonies, remaining popular in Australia and New Zealand in particular. [Captain Robert Falconer] Scott took some Frank Cooper’s Vintage Oxford Marmalade to the Antarctic (which I hope provided at least one small moment of cheer on that ill-fated endeavor), Sir Edmund Hillary carried a jar with him on his Everest expedition, and James Bond’s breakfast of choice is a boiled egg—followed by whole meal toast, Jersey butter, and more Cooper’s. Even the Queen is partial to a spoonful or two of Frank’s finest.”
Now you might be able to make the best marmalade in the world yourself, but I can't, and if this is the first time you've even thought about it, probably you won't either. However, for our information, the empirical scope of marmalade is so grand and far-reaching that there is now an international competition known as The Worlds' Original Marmalade Festival 2017 which is being held the weekend of March 18th-19th at the English Lake District’s Dalemain Mansion and Historic Garden in Cumbria, England (dalemain.com).
The categories are smile-inducing:
Home Cooks (Seville Orange Marmalade; Romantic Marmalade; Citrus Marmalade; Military Marmalade)
Children’s Marmalade (under the age 16)
Man-Made Marmalade (testosterone fueled only)
Clergy Marmalade (ministers, rabbis, monks and anyone working with religious group)
The most enjoyable instructions and philosophy on marmalade I’ve found so far is Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best—Over 700 Recipes Show You Why by the extraordinary Darina Allen, who has been called the Irish Julia Child" and who runs the world-renowned cookery school at Ballymaloe in County Cork, Ireland.
But I did title this musing “Marmalade for Beginners” and here’s my best recommendation— Amazon. They have Tiptree, Dundee, even Frank’s Oxford marmalade. I wish Dalemain, which now sells winners, shipped to the US, but you must enquire about shipping costs, and I've learned that always means more costly “waiting.”
I also wish I could tell you there’s an American made marmalade which I recommend, but I can’t. In fact, I was “gobsmacked” to discover in my California supermarket a French version which I’m still puzzling over. My sister found me in the supermarket aisle starring off into space, my disconnect puzzling. Baguettes, croissants, brioche, Brie, salted chocolate chip cookies? Mais, oui bien sûr! French orange marmalade? Absurde!
For true marmalade requires the bittersweet Seville Spanish oranges (and only a 6 week season—it’s an international offense to pick an orange in Spain) and they simply can’t be cultivated here, so I’ve been told. However, I’d also be wary of a bottle of Kansas City barbecue sauce if it was sold at Harrods’s because I’d be checking its sell by date.
So here's a parting thought as we wait until March goes all together. Did you know that Victorian homemakers called their preserves "good deeds?" If you wanted to host a March Marmalade brunch with family or girlfriends, it could yield hours of laughter, well-spent moments, a new taste sensation and maybe even a new activity for the annual wish list. Next year’s Marmalade Festival. They’re taking international entries now. I’ll be waiting for one of you clever Babes to let us all know where we can get our Seville Oranges!
Sending dearest love and blessings to you and yours,