In January 2008, a feature about the World’s Original Marmalade Festival by Dan Lepard in the Telegraph Magazine, grabbed my attention. The sight of WI Judges in their distinctive white coats inspecting jars of marmalade with different colours, shapes and labels reminded me of the enjoyment I experience as a WI Preserves Judge.
A photograph of the winning jar from the previous year, with its bright colour and evenly sliced peel inspired me to enter one of my marmalades. Of all the preserves I make, marmalade is one of my favourites. The combination of sweet and sour ingredients, and the texture makes marmalade special. I never tire of making marmalade-I practice a traditional skill and every batch I make is different.
Despite the distance between Somerset and Cumbria, I felt compelled to visit the festival and I have returned each year; an annual pilgrimage to the home of marmalade. Much to my surprise in 2008, my Seville orange marmalade won its category and it was declared the overall winner. The accolade provided the catalyst to formalise my teaching, establish a web presence, and to publish First Preserves.
As a consequence of sharing my skills, I’m always happy to hear about successful marmalades made by individuals who have used recipes from my books.In 2012, Steve Probert won the Man- Made category and Rob Walster the designer of my books and website won a gold award. Both used the Seville orange marmalade recipe from First Preserves. Last week, three food bloggers, Karen from Lavender and Lovage, Sue from Heaven on a Plate and Charlotte from Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary made marmalade with me to celebrate my first Marmalade Monday. Armed with jars and recipes they went home to create their own marmalades. I’m looking forward to seeing some of them on display at this year’s Marmalade Awards, 2nd-3rd March.
Over the years I’ve come to realise the Awards provide a unique opportunity for artisans and amateurs to have their marmalades evaluated by experts. It is the largest gathering of marmalades and marmalade enthusiasts in the world. Each year the number of entries grows and the competition is truly global, with entries from many countries including Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Philippines, Spain and USA. At a beautiful venue, Dalemain Mansion, I have met marmalade enthusiasts, swapped knowledge and forged new friendships. I am honoured, this year to have been invited to help judge the Marmalashes - England v Australia on 2nd March. The jars from the Australian team of marmalade makers has won for the last two years. Will it be England’s turn this year? As always, I’ll be evaluating each jar using the WI Mark scheme awarding marks for the container, colour and quantity, quality and consistency, flavour and aroma. The judging for this competition is open to the public, so do come and watch some live judging. Full details of the programme for the weekend is on the Marmalade Award’s website.