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 is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

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

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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder