Food & Drink

Unusual Events #1: The World's Original Marmalade Festival

David Banning
Dalemain Marmalade Awards and Festival, image courtesy the event

We love the Lake District for more than just its landscape – try this rather sticky festival up near Penrith.

You can’t get more quintessentially British than Marmalade. It’s right up there with talking about the weather, bowler hats and a cup of afternoon tea. But what makes a good jar, and how it should be eaten – well, these are the sticky questions that the “World’s Original” marmalade festival (for yes, there is more than one) will surely debate this March. Now in its eighth year, the awards have become a firm favourite in the foodie calendar, with around 2,000 marmalade-makers expected to enter this year. And the joy of thick cut versus thin, on cold toast or mixed with a Martini, isn’t the sole preserve (sorry) of the judges: visitors to the festival, held at Dalemain Mansion near Penrith, have the chance to sample over 200 jars of the sticky stuff, take part in workshops  and even attend a marmalade-themed church service.

The joy of thick cut versus thin isn’t the sole preserve (sorry) of the judges: visitors can sample over 200 jars

Growing from just 50 entries in 2005, this little event is now the toast of the town (sorry again), and is the official start to National Marmalade Week (2-9 March). And if you thought this was a niche affair, think again. The awards attract makers from across the world, with categories catering for families, serious artisan and commercial producers, B&B owners and those in the “international” class. The homemade category includes a Tri Services Marmalade where the army, navy and RAF do jammy battle, whilst the heritage category allows historic houses from across England to delve into their ancestral archives for recipes handed down over the generations. The winners of last year’s homemade and artisan categories, incidentally, went on to have their preserves stocked at Fortnum and Mason.

“Making marmalade is part of our cultural heritage and our awards celebrate that in all its glory. I’m delighted to say that signs are boding well for another busy competition,” says organiser Jane Hasell-McCosh, part of the team behind an event that has also raised £90,000 for charity since 2005. Judges know their stuff, and this year include the preserving expert and River Cottage author, Pam “the jam” Corbin, and members of the Cumbria-Cumberland Federation of Women’s Institutes, which sounds like the sort of federation that doesn’t tolerate any talking at the back. But we can’t mention marmalade without referring to its most famous advocate – namely Paddington Bear, who is slated to make frequent guest appearances over the course of the two-day festival and is sponsoring a few of the awards to boot. No doubt he’d agree with Jane Hasell-McCosh’s belief that “making marmalade is one pastime where you can be guaranteed to save money, have fun and create something that is delicious to eat at any time of day.” So, not just for breakfast then…

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