Marmalade on toast. Photo: Rex features
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Why marmalade endures: the tale of a bear and his favourite preserve

It's a food Felicity Cloake has enjoyed since childhood. Now Paddington is helping to revive flagging marmalade sales.

A couple of months ago I took two small people of my acquaintance, and one elderly bear in a moth-eaten duffel coat, to see Paddington at the cinema. I laughed, I cried (unlike my stolid, sweet-munching companions) – and, most of all, I rejoiced at the popularity of this 95-minute advertising campaign for the peculiarly British pleasures of marmalade.

Paddington couldn’t have arrived on our shores at a better time. Marmalade sales have been in slow decline for the past two decades, and while preserves with a more straightforward appeal, including honey and chocolate spread, have been enjoying the sweet life, poor old marmalade has been in danger of becoming an endangered species.

This upsets me for two reasons. First, having been weaned on Robertson’s Golden Shred on my granny’s knee, I am a big fan of marmalade in all of its many glorious forms, and would be sad to see it disappear from our shelves. Second, I feel the British love of marmalade, a distinctly bitter preserve, chock full of chewy peel, says something valuable about the national character.

A marmalade-themed statue in the new Paddington trail. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Not for us the childish pleasures of the Nutella so beloved on the Continent, or, God forbid, the tooth-achingly sweet and insubstantial Marshmallow Fluff popular in the States. Our taste for more difficult breakfast spreads, such as salty Marmite and tangy marmalade, historically set us and our Antipodean cousins apart.

No longer: the editor of the Grocer magazine, which reported a 7 per cent decline in sales of the spread between 2010 and 2012, explained that marmalade is now “perceived as being old-fashioned . . . modern consumers have to an extent moved on”.

Yet how on earth can we have tired of something so deliciously various? Last year I had the great good fortune to find myself at a breakfast for the winners of the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, a competition set up by one Jane Hasell-McCosh of Cumbria to try to boost the fortunes of that noble preserve.

There was a blood-orange version with black pepper, a lemon variety with pear and vanilla, one with chocolate, one with vodka, and some superlative marmalade sausages, which confirmed my long-held opinion that a good bitter marmalade is a far worthier addition to a cooked breakfast than that Johnny-come-lately, tomato ketchup. (If you don’t believe me, try it, with a dollop of English mustard, on a bacon sandwich.)

Hasell-McCosh isn’t fighting this battle alone; recently I received a copy of Marmalade: a Bittersweet Cookbook (Saltyard Books) by one of her judges, Sarah Randell, which rejects the usual sticky steamed puddings in favour of more modern fare such as Persian pilaffs and Vietnamese salads. (It also includes cocktail recipes, though I rarely make it further than the bottle of Chase marmalade vodka that’s taken up residence in my freezer.)

Yet still I worried, as I sat in the dark cinema with the old bear, inevitably, on my lap, that this CGI Paddington was going to be powered by a very modern peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. So as the camera panned across a ramshackle Peruvian marmalade production facility manned by the redoubtable Great-Aunt Lucy, a bear clearly familiar with the steamy, citrus-scented joys of home preserving, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Early signs suggest that the film has indeed sprinkled a little Tinseltown magic on this dourest of preserves: Waitrose reported an 88 per cent rise in sales in the first month of release, and Robertson’s a more modest 24 per cent in the first week for its Golden Shred, featuring Paddington himself.

But really you can’t beat the home-made stuff, so I consider it my patriotic duty to inform you that Seville oranges are in season for another few weeks. Don’t let me down, people.

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 30 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Class Ceiling

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The proposed cuts to junior doctors’ pay will make medicine a profession for the privileged

Jeremy Hunt is an intelligent man with a first-class education. This makes his ill-fated proposed contract appear even more callous rather than ill-judged.

The emblem of the British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union for doctors in the UK, symbolises Asclepius, who was believed to be the founder of western medicine. Asclepius was killed by Zeus with a thunderbolt for resurrecting the dead. In the same way, the proposed government-led contracts to be imposed on doctors from August 2016 may well be the thunderbolt that kills British medical recruitment for a generation and that kills any chance of resurrecting an over-burdened National Health Service.

The BMA voted to ballot their junior doctor members for industrial action for the first time in 40 years against these contracts. What this government has achieved is no small feat. They have managed, in the last few weeks, to instil within a normally passive profession a kindled spirit of self-awareness and political mobilisation.

Jeremy Hunt is an intelligent man with a first-class education. This makes his ill-fated proposed contract appear even more callous rather than ill-judged. Attacking the medical profession has come to define his tenure as health secretary, including the misinformed reprisals on hospital consultants which were met not only with ridicule but initiated a breakdown in respect between government and the medical profession that may take years to reconcile. The government did not learn from this mistake and resighted their guns on the medical profession’s junior members.

“Junior doctor” can be a misleading term, as we are a spectrum of qualified doctors training to become hospital consultants or General Practioners. To become a consultant cardiac surgeon or consultant gastroenterologist does not happen overnight after graduating from medical school: such postgraduate training can take anywhere between 10 to 15 years. This spectrum of highly skilled professionals, therefore, forms the backbone of the medical service within the hospital and is at the forefront of delivering patient care from admission to discharge.

Central to the opposition to the current proposed contract outlined in the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration is the removal of safeguards to prevent trusts physically overworking and financially exploiting these junior doctors. We believe that this is detrimental not only to our human rights in a civilised society but also detrimental to the care we provide to our patients in the short term and long-term.

David Cameron recently stated that “I think the right thing to do is to be paid the rate for the job”. This is an astute observation. While contract proponents are adamant that the new contract is “pay neutral”, it is anything but as they have tactfully redefined “sociable hours” as between 7am and 10pm Mondays to Saturdays resulting in hardest working speciality doctors seeing their already falling inflation-adjusted pay slashed by up to further 30 per cent while facing potentially unprotected longer working hours.

We acknowledge that we did not enter medicine for the pay perks. If we wanted to do that, we would have become bankers or MPs. Medicine is a vocation and we are prepared to sacrifice many aspects of our lives to provide the duty of care to our patients that they deserve. The joy we experience from saving a person’s life or improving the quality of their life and the sadness, frustration, and anger we feel when a patient dies is what drives us on, more than any pay cheque could.

However, overworked and unprotected doctors are, in the short-term, unsafe to patients. This is why the presidents of eleven of the Royal Colleges responsible for medical training and safeguarding standards of practice in patient care have publically stated their opposition to the contracts. It is, therefore, a mystery as to who exactly from the senior medical profession was directly involved the formation of the current proposals, raising serious questions with regard to its legitimacy. More damaging for the government’s defence are the latest revelations by a former Tory minister and doctor involved in the first negotiations between the BMA and government, Dan Poulter, implying that the original proposals with regard to safeguarding against unsafe hours were rejected by Mr Hunt.  

The long-term effects of the contract are equally disheartening. Already, hundreds of doctors have applied to the General Medical Council to work abroad where the market price for a highly trained medical profession is still dictated by reason. With medical school debts as great as £70,000, this new contract makes it difficult for intelligent youngsters from low-income backgrounds to pay back such debts on the modest starting salary (£11-12 per hour) and proposed cuts. Is medicine therefore reserved only for students from privileged backgrounds rather than the brightest? Furthermore, the contracts discourage women from taking time out to start a family. Female doctors form the majority of undergraduate medical students – we should be encouraging talented women to achieve their full potential to improve healthcare, not making them choose unfairly between work and family at such an early and critical stage of their career.

Postgraduate recruitment will therefore become an embarrassing problem, with many trusts already spending millions on hiring locum doctors. Most hospitals are not ready for Hunt’s radical reforms as the infrastructure to supply seven-day working weeks is simply not available. With a long-term recruitment problem, this would also be a toxic asset for potential private investors, should the health secretary venture down that path.

Jeremy Hunt has an opportunity to re-enter negotiations with the BMA to achieve a common goal of improving the efficiency and recruitment to the health service while protecting patient care. Although the decision for industrial action should never be taken lightly, as future leaders of clinical care in the UK, we will do everything in our power to defend against such thunderbolt attacks, by men playing god, the integrity and dignity of our profession and on the quality of care it delivers to our patients.