THE MUCH-MALIGNED MARMALADE
For centuries, the rituals of breakfast that emerged from the United Kingdom have spread, like their once great obsession, Marmalade, across the far-flung British empire. Tea, toast, and a tête-à-tête with the fam before heading off to the day began with a little orange preserved in a whole lot of sugary high-test human engine-starter.
What’s a marmalade? Preserves that incorporate varying size “chips” of the more bitter peel of the fruit as a counter-balance to the sweetness of jam are the thing that separates the marmalades from the jams. Keiller popularized the magic of the marmalade throughout the world.
Changes in the large number of options for foods, the pace of the morning, understanding of the health risks from overconsumption of sugar, and general tastes have shifted away from the marmalade game.
Still, marmalades, for a slightly more mature palate, and lots of culinary creations, offer some wonderful flavors and textures, in moderation.
This key lime marmalade, then, is a great gateway back to the palate-pleasing possibilities of the much-maligned marmalade.
Its unique sweet-to-tartness makes it stand out from other Key Lime jams and preserves that I’ve tried. Made with real cane sugar and fruit it’s a good treat in limited quantities.
- A traditional breakfast marmalade on toast, English muffins, etc.
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- A great condiment on a charcuterie board;
- A base plating of a scoop of my homemade vanilla ice cream;
- Pared with sharp cheddar in Keyqueso Melts;
- A sub for mint jelly with roasted lamb dishes;
- Mixed with chiles and a touch of soy, rice, oil, and garlic a great spring roll dipping sauce!
James Keiller is not like Betty Crocker. Even though this pioneering company’s centuries-old business has been reduced to a brand-name of a food-conglomerate, Hain Celestial, there really was a company, James Keiller & Son, in the Scottish port town of Dundee, that made marmalade a marketing miracle.
They manufactured the first mass-produced orange marmalade from Seville’s bitter oranges, with thick bits of the cut peel that offset the sweet jam.
That a-peeling change moved marmalades made in France from quince in the 1600s to oranges in the 1700s; from condiments with main meals, like a cranberry sauce, to a Scottish slathered staple of breakfast on toasted bread.
Keiller’s fame in the marmalade game came from a tall-tale. A lie about the origins of the orange marmalade.
In the mid-1700’s, James Keiller allegedly bought the orange cargo off of a ship waylaid by a winter storm on the Scottish shore.
Rather than have it go bad, Keiller’s wife Janet made up a huge batch of marmalade. Thus the historic biz was born.
The only thing that was made-up was the story. It has been debunked. Janet was James mom, not his wife. He was single in the year that she started making marmalade.
At best, Mrs. Keiller bought a couple of crates of fruit from Seville that were probably headed to another Scottish or British port. The legend of the brand, though, is now the defacto tale everywhere but here. It has helped sell millions of jars of Dundee marmalade, and turned it into a cultural wonder of the British Empire of more than two centuries on breakfast tables.
Keiller was the Nestlé of its day, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Their marmalades became an obsession of the British upper-class, found its way to the table of King George IV, and became a coveted crock of homes across Great Britain’s far-flung empire by the time of Queen Victoria, through a couple of wars, and into the close of the 20th century.
It became an officially appointed food of the King of England, a coveted standing, with King George V in 1931.
The Keiller’s family business was bought and sold more times than the rights to X Men movies.
Today, sadly, it is little more than a forgotten label of Hain Celestial, not even mentioned on their website. You can’t find it in the UK anymore. HC only makes it for export to the Americas and other places where it won’t be crushed by Robertson’s, Tiptree and upstart TESCO.
You’d think, with shelves full of every conceivable jam/preserve/marmalade available in the North American market that there would be sixty good Key Lime ones. Key lime pies are a staple the “safe” desserts of the American dining scene. Yet this is one of a small handful, and, even though it’s made soullessly by the mega-corp these days, whomever is the modern-day Janet Keiller must take some pride in their ingredients, because they stick to the simple success that Keiller’s orange and grapefruit marmalades have enjoyed since the 1700’s. If you can’t get it where you are, ASK your store to stock it. Amazon carries it, as you would expect, and we offer it to you via their fine warehouses of good stuff.
I give it four diamonds, and would be happy to give it a high five if Hain Celestial would quit making it the Rodney Dangerfield of the jam world and show this historic brand a little respect.