Monday, 19 January 2009

(Literary) Musings on Marmalade

It must be said that, so far, the question of marmalade has not greatly exercised the literary mind, apart from the honourable and obvious exception of Paddington Bear, who is the arch example of profligate marmalade eating. D.H. Lawrence maintains that, 'It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” (How right he is.) And of course, in other children's literature there is A.A.Milne, who asks in the poem The King's Breakfast, 'Would you like to try a little Marmalade instead?' (The King rather grumpily doesn't--he wants butter on his toast). Other than that, marmalade is of rather more interest to lexicographers, who squabble over whether the word has its roots in a Portugese mess of fruit (mermelo is the word for a quince), or whether it was a queen's cure for seasickness (a corruption of Marie est malade). Personally, I prefer the romance of the latter, however questionable. I like to think of the pale, listless queen lying around in the state cabin of her armed and dangerous dromond or carrack being coaxed into eating morsels of dry toast and orange jam by her fluttering ladies in waiting. It makes a much better story--and I am, after all, a writer.

The rĂ´le of marmalade in my own life is inextricably connected with the rhythms of the seasons. January--that dark and dreary month when the excesses of Christmas and New Year are behind, lingering only on the waistline and in the wallet--is brightened immediately by the sight in shops of misshapen, mottled green-and-orange fruits which, if eaten raw would pucker the mouth into disapproving maiden aunt mode. But combine them with water and sugar and heat, and an almost magical alchemy occurs. That opaque, sour ugliness turns to pots of clear, sparkling beauty which bring to your kitchen a blaze of the sunshine which ripened the original fruit (see pic above for the alchemical results of my own labours this week). Not making my own marmalade would be unthinkable. Shop-bought is not the same at all--too sweet, and not enough fruit (and don't even mention Golden Shred, which is anathema to real marmalade connoisseurs). There is something about the ritual of scraping and shredding and sieving and boiling which is deeply comforting to the soul--and the glorious smell permeates the house for days. I should perhaps also mention that I have a Wanton (but fussy) Toast Eater in the house. My very own Paddington Bear, in fact (though marginally less messy). No truck with dark Muscovado sugar for him though--only the finest white cane, and a hint of lemon juice so that the sweetness is tempered. I have worked out that it will take 10lbs (yes--I'm old-fashioned in my weighing habits) of fruit and 20lbs of sugar to satisfy his breakfast addiction for a whole year. That's why I'm off now to do some more stirring and chopping.


Anne Rooney said...

'Humph!' Mrs Bird looked thoughtful for a moment. 'Then I expect you like marmalade.'

Or is it just the demon toast-eater who likes it? You make marmalade sound so attractive I want to rush off and make some. And your jars look beautiful! I love the tale of marmalade as cure for sea-sickness. Not sure how well it would work, but it's a lovely image :-)

Mary Hoffman said...

And isn't there marmalade pudding somewhere in literature?

Your jars look clearer than mine, Lucy, but I did use SOME muscovado as well as Jam Sugar, because my resident Toast Consumer likes it dark.

And I like the artistic be-leafed "squinges" as they are known in our family.

Lucy Coats said...

like it on Special Sundays--as a treat with homemade granary bread as part of Brunch. Otherwise I am a boiled-egg-and-dipsy-soldier woman as far as breakfast goes. The Wanton Toast Eater, on the other hand, piles great golden ledges on his toast every single morning. Hence the large quantities.

Hmmn! Marmalade pudding? I wonder where that appears. Sounds good, Mary--and I like 'squinges', though they have a different meaning in my family, to do with gippy tummies, not decorations.

Mary Hoffman said...

Oh no! A "squinge" is any orange citrus fruit that is not an orange. A very useful term invented by Jess so that we don't have to specify satsumas, tangerines or anything similar.

And I am a muesli and half-banana girl, as long as accompanied by a large cup of black coffee. So I hardly ever EAT the marmalade (or the jam) but do like making it, or rather having made it.

I think you'd like this link:

Lucy Coats said...

Lovely, Mary--a treat to read later, having had a brief glimpse of the length.... Ah! 'squinges' as a generic non-orangey orange citrus term. Sorry for misunderstanding.

Lynne Chapman said...

Mmmm I can just imagine that smell - delicious.

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