Marmalade in the rain

Festivals, Food & Cooking, Weather

We’ve just had a typically British weekend.


Coffee stop at Tebay.


And lots of marmalade.

Marmalade shop at Dalemain.


Surely it’s only in England that you would find an annual festival dedicated to marmalade in all its forms?  And it’s no surprise to find it hosted in a delightful country house, Dalemain, the family home of the Hasell-McCosh family.

Delmain, Cumbria

Eleven years ago, Jane Hasell-McCosh devised this very British festival, and now in March every year, some 2,000 marmalade makers submit their entries to be judged .

The day kicked off in a rare rain-free moment with local schoolchildren belting out a jolly song about the delights of marmalade.  In this ballad, they rejected any treat they were offered, preferring instead a slice of toast, well slathered with this bitter orange preserve.  As if.

MC was one of my baking heroes, Dan Lepard.  He introduced everyone, and announced the winners.  And then we went into the house, to visit room after room stuffed with pots of marmalade.  Each jar is awarded a series of marks, and is given an individual critical commentary.  I was quite cross that I hadn’t in the end made the effort to enter any of my own efforts.

The entrants though are not only true Brits, eccentric or otherwise.  In our B&B we had met Chris Brown, a baker from Vancouver, who had come for this one weekend only to enter his marmalade.  He’d already won gold medals in previous years.  So many Japanese have done well that the Japanese Ambassador himself came to the opening ceremony and made a gracious and witty speech.  There were Australians there, and Kiwis, South Africans, Americans, someone from the Czech Republic ….

18 is a decent score: worth a silver medal, I believe.

The competition has categories for Seville orange marmalade of course, for marmalade with a twist, for any citrus marmalade, for dark and chunky marmalade ….. all this could be predicted.  But a category for marmalade makers who are also campanologists?  Octogenarians?  ‘The Establishment’: those redoubtable and upstanding members of society, such as bishops, MPs and judges who used to be the only people who could verify your likeness for a passport application?

This is entirely in keeping with the professional-but-with-a strong-hint-of-the-amateur feel of the festival.


I paid extra to go to Question Time.  Baker Dan Lepard, food historian Ivan Day, marmalade guru Pam ‘the jam’ Corbin, and  Martin Grant,  MD of Mackay’s Marmalade made the hour whizz past.  One conversation stood in my mind. ‘If we sent each of you home with a basket of raspberries, or blackcurrants and asked you to make jam, you’d all come back with much the same product.  If we sent you home with a bag of oranges, you’d each come back with something quite different.’ And it’s true.  They’d range from dense, dark and treacly with big chunky chewy peel to bright jewelled orange jellies with a delicate filigree of fine strands of zest suspended within.  And all stops in between.  This immense variety to be had from a product made simply with oranges, a bag of sugar, a lemon, and perhaps a little secret something is what gives marmalade its continuing appeal.

Who knew that squirrels like marmalade?

After lunch, we popped into Penrith.  The town had gone orange for the weekend.  The face of the town clock was orange: the shop windows were dressed in orange, and there was an orange-themed market in the town square.  Marmalade anyone?  It was all good fun, despite the unremitting rain.

Next morning, we headed home.  The rain was so intense that newly established rivers and waterfalls cascaded from the hills.  Older-established rivers burst their banks and flooded across roads.  Fields developed impromptu lakes.  It reminded us of a remark that Malcolm had overheard at the festival: ‘I come every year.  But it always rains’

Of course.  This is Britain.  This is Cumbria.

But this was our welcome home to Yorkshire.

42 thoughts on “Marmalade in the rain

  1. Wonderful! Ivan Day is a bit of a hero of mine (food historian, my dream career!). I love the way Penrith goes orange for the festival.
    I had a confession though – I loathe and detest marmalade!

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  2. What a wonderfully eccentric British event. (When I saw the title of your blog post I thought it would be about a ginger cat!) I, too, am anti-marmalade, I’m afraid.


  3. What a marvellous eccentric occasion! A lovely old stately home; an orange town; the Japanese ambassador; Pam Corbin (my fave of the foodie people mentioned); marmalade in all its guises; a world event masquerading as a village show (or perhaps it should be the other way around) and of course the rain. It almost has to rain: rain sets off the whole thing perfectly – especially with your gorgeous rainbow to welcome you home. It sounds so much fun!

    I’m happy to report that unlike several commenters, I love marmalade. Unfortunately I’m not supposed to eat it, being pre-diabetic. So for me to attend this event would be a form of torture. But oh, it does sound fab!

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  4. Oh the fun; I tell you that honest to God the French make the best confitures…. I know I know – it’s not marmalade…. but although I hate to say it out loud, so I’m whispering it: I do NOT like marmalade. But I do LOVE confitures/preserves. Already the proper words for the ‘different’ stuff gave me, upon my arrival in UK, reason for much hilarity and a few deceptions. I thought that I had bought anything BUT orange-marmalade and how often it was – because I also don’t like the ‘spreads’. So for this reason alone I’m thankful for living in France. But your story is so typically English; and accompanied by the rain just made it even more likeable and enjoyable. Thank You very much for the fun.

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  5. That sounds like fun. I love marmalade, provided it is the thick cut type with lots of peel.

    I found myself saying ‘Marmalade!’ when I read the title in a way that reminded me of that dog in the YouTube video – if you haven’t seen it, search for ‘Speak about food to a dog’. I think I’m ready for my tea!

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  6. Loved the post! My confession is that I like sweet marmalade which is not very British is it. A good while ago it was possible to buy it even on British shelves, then it went off the scene for several years and now has returned, but much too sweet…. Oh yes, I suppose the obvious answer is that I should make my own, and I have occasionally done so, but now life is too short either for stuffing mushrooms or preparing for a marmalade fest…

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    1. I love making marmalade, but then I’m no longer eating it much, so I give most of it away. Note to self: remember to bring some with me to London for you 😉


  7. Can’t have enough marmalade. 🙂 One year that little secret something was a splash of Jack Daniel’s as I didn’t have any Scotch to hand! Enjoy the rain – just seen the forecast and there’s more on it’s way. Got my brolly by the door already.

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    1. It’s all very odd. Today was supposed to be dire, but much of it was bright sunshine, so I’m hoping for the same tomorrow. Jack Daniels? Why not? I sampled some with limoncello. I liked it.


  8. I love marmalade but don’t like it so much with added extras like spirits or spice. Just plain oranges, thick or thin peel, dark or light – lovely! We visited Dalemain House years ago and enjoyed it there very much. I remember the day was hot and sunny! In Cumbria?!

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  9. I love the way the rainbow in your homecoming photo makes a bridge between the silvery greys of the rainy landscapes and the orange of the marmalade. How interesting to consider that marmalade in all its variations has more in common with wine than jam! You might like to see an old post (from 2012) relating to a very, very, very small marmalade competition at a local (KwaZulu-Natal Midlands) fresh produce market. To find it, type “Citrus Season Dargle Local Living” in your browser’s search box. It starts with a quote from D.H. Lawrence. Apparently he used to like to make marmalade to chase away the blues!

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    1. That’s brilliant! I really enjoyed reading this post, though was very alarmed at the idea of using methylated spirits to test for setting point. I might pass on that one. Dargle looks a great community. Thanks for pointing me in their direction.

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  10. So, next year, will you submit yours? Is that really an option? Can regular people enter or is the competition just for chefs, etc.? I LOVE this sort of quirky festival, where people get all wound up about a local specialty!

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