The Annual Marmalade Breakfast

It’s a spring morning, and light is flooding The Gallery Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason. The royal grocers is yet to open, and there’s just a gentle murmur amongst the guests who have gathered for breakfast. Chilled champagne, steaming coffee, an impeccably-set table. It’s the epitome of a sophisticated, British breakfast.

Then, an enormous parp - that first squeeze of bagpipe, pushing the air out of the bag in a discordant blast. The kilted piper sets off from the kitchen, heading-up a solemn procession consisting of two chefs each holding aloft a silver and gold chalice full of marmalade. They circle the table at funeral pace, and end up next to Karen Jankle – daughter of Michael Bond, the Paddington Bear author – a lady of renowned marmalade lineage. She dips a silver teaspoon into each chalice –  everyone watching this Masonic ritual, and tastes the two marmalades. Then with a smile and nod of approval, the ceremony is over and breakfast officially begins.

As with bog snorkelling, cheese rolling and Morris dancing it’s easy to be baffled by Britain’s own traditions. These rituals which are supposed to unite us all often leave me watching in wide-eyed bewilderment at our own country’s strange customs. And now it appears that marmalade-making has turned competitive and joined the ranks of slightly daft diary dates, as competitive conserveationists flock to Dalemain Mansion, Cumbria each year to pitch their marmalade against hundreds of others.

This year was the tenth anniversary of the competition, which now attracts entries from all over the world. The main two awards go to amateur cooks. Firstly, ‘The Stirring of the Clans’ which goes to a blend –  won this year by Catie Gladstone from Dumfriesshire for a sticky-sweet Seville and Honey Marmalade. Secondly, the ‘Military Marmalade’ which is a straight-up traditionalist’s marmalade –  won this year by the Gardening Leave Army Veterans Charity.

Four other professional marmalades were awarded Artisan Double Gold in for winning their class. In the ‘Best Seville Orange’ category, was The Proper Marmalade Company’s fine cut Seville orange marmalade. In the ‘Marmalade with Interesting Additions’ class was Glaore! Food’s orange and Amontillado sherry marmalade. The ‘Best International Marmalade’ went to Marmeady Safranko’s Lemon and Mochito marmalade. And a new category for ‘Best Savoury Marmalade’ went to Radnor Preserves Smoky Campfire Marmalade.

Each was on offer throughout breakfast: hot cross buns to start, bacon and sausage sandwiches and then madeleines for ‘pudding’. Oh, imagine if breakfast could always end with a pudding! The biggest revelation of the morning was how much a smoky marmalade enhanced a sausage sandwich –  a serious discovery. Really, you shouldn’t knock it until you try it –  I can tell you, a jar of the smoky orange marmalade has found its place between the brown sauce and ketchup on my breakfast table.

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