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Lions Roar : January 2003
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 85 THEBRITISH FOOD HISTORIAN, writer, and rather prodigious marmalade-maker Alan Davidson states unequivocally in The Oxford Companion to Food, “Only bitter oranges can be used to make proper marmalade, which depends not only on their bitterness but also on the aromatic rind, quite dif- ferent from that of the sweet orange.” The unspoken sentiment here, like some irrefutable first cause, cast a disheartening pall for me over the idea of making mar- malade—real orange marmalade—in these United States. “No Seville oranges? Don’t waste your time.” The worst of the thing is that there’s more than a little truth to this. It lies in that phrase “proper marmalade,” which can roughly be translated as “marmalade as we Brits know and love it.” Once you’ve tasted the stuff, you don’t forget it. It is, after all, the only fruit preserve with an attitude problem. Where the other fruit preserves are all lambs, this one is a lion. Ordinarily sugar works as a calmative, soothing everything into unctuous fruitiness. With marmalade, it plays the lion tamer, which with whip and chair just manages to keep the marmalade’s bitterness at bay. There have been many efforts to put a finger on what distinguish- es marmalade from other preserves; it is made only from citrus fruits, it contains chunks of peel, it has no added pectin. But what makes it special is its potent mixture of the noble and the uncouth. It is, in other words, the Rob Roy of fruit jams—an analogy all the more apt when one learns that it was the Scots who first ate marmalade for breakfast. How and why they arrived at marmalade is another story. IT WAS THE SCOTTISH HABIT,wellintotheeighteenthcentu- ry, to start the day with a neat dram, or “skalk,” of Scotch whisky. It warmed the body (which was more than the smoldering chunks of peat in the fireplace could do), provided the system with a salutary slap and boosted the spirits sufficiently to face another gray and driz- zling day. And, whatever you might think of the habit, to try it once is to know that it is far from hedonistic, but rather on a par with a cold bath or a dose of cod-liver oil. After the dram came breakfast itself, which for most Scots was one or another variation of oatmeal mush, either poured into a bowl or fried into a cake and eaten with butter and cream. Those who could afford to might also eat some smoked fish or a slice cut from a mutton ham or a singed sheep’s head. The very wealthy had all of the above. Everything was washed down with buttermilk or, more pop- ularly among the menfolk, a jug of ale. However, at just this time the rising popularity in tea drinking touched off a sea change in Scottish breakfast habits. Tea by itself might never have been able to bring this about, but its adoption coincided with a drop in the price of sugar. Who wanted hot mush and ale when with the teapot, creamer and sugar bowl came barley bannocks, wheaten scones, oat cakes and toast, served with preserves made of black currants, raspberries and strawberries, along with the now ever-present bitter-orange marmalade? The ritual of the morning dram, too, was doomed to fall from the favor of all but rural diehards. Caffeine and alcohol are uneasy com- panions, especially in the morning, because they propel the drinker in contrary directions. But to the Scot who cherished not the alcohol itself but the austere cathartic it embodied, the disappearance of the dram threatened to reduce the breakfast table to nothing more than a simpering synecdoche of self-indulgence. Casting about for some- thing—anything!—that might offer an echo of that manly physic, he found it in the pot of marmalade. There, in profuse quantity, was the same bitterly astringent peel that had for centuries been prescribed to revivify the heart, calm the stomach and cure rheums, coughs and colds. Before I set out to prepare my own marmalade, I researched a variety of recipes. To make orange marmalade, you are essentially directed to clean and cut up the fruit, cover it generously—some- times very generously—with water, and boil it for about half an hour. Then you add sugar and cook the mixture down until it sets. However, I noticed that recipes written before the Depression often IllustrationbyTatjanaKrizmanic THE ELEMENTAL COOK • JOHN THORNE, WITH MATT LEWIS THORNE A Lion Among Jams “Where all other fruit preserves are lambs, ‘proper marmalade’ is a lion.”