I have been making marmalade over the last couple of weeks. Everybody’s doing it, it seems. Over the last few years, this seasonal rite of the British kitchen has been the subject of many articles in national newspapers.
Despite reports that marmalade consumption in the UK is in decline (kids today can’t handle the bitter aspect of its taste, they say) it feels as if we’re all filling up our jute bags at the greengrocer with Seville oranges.
Making marmalade seems to chime with the culture of ‘Keep calm and carry on’. It fits well with the nostalgic longing for a spirit of pulling-together in a time of austerity – the love of today’s metropolitan middle classes all for things homemade, crafty and cosy.
A useful example of this cultural trend is found in the form of the Labour and Wait homeware/hardware shop on currently trendy Redchurch Street in east London.
The Seville orange season is brief, but coming in January/February rather well timed. The other afternoon, as I made another batch of marmalade, the weather outside was bitterly cold. But the heavenly citrus aroma of oranges transported me to their nominal place of origin: Seville.
I found myself pining for the place — dreaming of escape from the dispiriting effects of the northern-European winter. And right now – early February – is arguably the best time to visit Seville, where the temperature is spring-like, the sun shines much of the time (the city gets unbearably hot later in the year) and crowds are absent.
Nothing beats sitting in the gardens of the Reales Alcazares (Seville’s royal palace) on a February morning, among the date palms and fountains, gazing up at a blue sky.
In Seville at this time of year, the oranges hang from trees like luminous globes – a quite magical sight.
Back in cold, rainy England, making your own marmalade makes perfect sense simply because the home-made stuff is way better than anything you’ll ever get to buy in the shops. Frank Cooper’s doesn’t come close.
I’d like to pretend that my marmalade recipe was handed down to me across the generations, but in truth it was culled from a recipe I came across in Country Living magazine about ten years ago.
Before that, I would always take a jar of my mother’s marmalade back to London with me after a weekend visit to my parents.
When my mother died of cancer, I had to start making marmalade myself. And whenever I do, I think of her and the example that her generation set – those who grew up during the second world war and who experienced the culture of ‘keep calm and carry on’ for real and carried its values with them for the rest of their lives.
I say it again: they were an example to us.