For two days in February, a team of judges deliberated over more than 2700 entries from 30 countries, including Kenya, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and Brazil. Plenty of classic Seville marmalade was tasted, while entrants in the artisan category got particularly creative, mixing it up with ingredients such as yuzu, kumquat, roasted pineapple and beetroot.
Marmalade-making is a precise art, and co-head judge Dan Lepard is the first to admit “the devil is in the detail.” Yet he’s noticed a marked improvement in the homemade entries: “In past years, one big no-no we saw was overcooking once the sugar is added. This toughens the peel and ‘seizes’ it, like a woollen sweater does in a boil wash, and also ruins the aroma, colour and set.”
The 2017 winner, Shona Leckie, a retired Scottish school teacher had no such problems. Her Miss Minto Treacle Marmalade took out the Double Gold and, as a result, was stocked in London’s prestigious Fortnum & Mason stores. “After the initial astonishment (at hearing of the award), I soon became excited and I have thoroughly enjoyed the year. It was amazing to see how much Scottish publications made of a Scottish win, highlighting someone who lives in Angus, which is near Dundee, the place where marmalade was invented!”
Sadly for Scotland, Shona didn’t have time to enter this year, so 2018 will see a new winner announced at Dalemain Mansion & Historic Gardens, open all weekend to the public, with cookery demonstrations, Q&As and, of course, marmalade tasting. Australia–England rivalries will also be reignited with the judging of the ‘Marmalashes’ on Sunday 18 March. And for the third year, a Marmalade Festival is being held in nearby Penrith; the entire town will turn orange, and Paddington Bear will even make a special appearance.
Update: The World’s Best Marmalade for 2018 was announced with much drama during a blizzard outside Dalemain Mansion in Cumbria (the first time it’s snowed in the 13-year history of the awards). For Cornwall winner, Janice Miners, it was a sweet victory, not least because it was the very first time she’d entered the competition. The global popularity of gin remains undiminished, with the judges declaring her Grapefruit & Gin marmalade ‘zesty and fresh’ and you can now buy it at London’s Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly store, with 50p from each jar sold going to Hospice at Home Carlisle & the North West.
Karyn Noble is a judge in the World Marmalade Awards.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Recipe from Pam Corbin, co-head judge, World Marmalade Awards
1 kg Seville oranges
Juice of 2 lemons (100mls)
2 kg golden granulated sugar
- Scrub the oranges, remove the buttons at the top of the fruit then cut in half around their circumference. Squeeze out the juice and keep to one side.
- Slice the fruits into the size pieces you prefer, removing any marked skin and any thick pieces of the white inner pith. Save these – the pith is where the most pectin is – tie these off-cuts in a square of muslin.
- Place the sliced peel, orange juice, pith bag in a large bowl and cover with 2 litres of water. Cover and leave to soak overnight or for up to 24 hours – this helps to soften the peel and release the pectin.
- Transfer the whole mixture to a large heavy based pan or preserving pan. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 2 hours (Sevilles have tough old skins) or until the peel is tender and breaks when gently pulled – the contents of the pan will have reduced by approximately one- third. Remove the pith bag, first squeezing it firmly against the side of the pan to remove all its gummy goodness.
- Add the lemon juice and the sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached –this should take approximately 15 minutes at a full rolling boil but will depend on the size of pan you use and how hard the boil is. The marmalade is done when the mass of foamy bubbles on the surface have disappeared and the mixture appears to be thick and glossy.
- Test for setting point by dropping of the mixture onto a very cold plate or a large stainless steel spoon – after a minute or so it should form a slight skin on the surface. Avoid over-cooking which results in a stiff overly sweet marmalade.
- Remove from the heat and leave to cool for several minutes to allow the peel to evenly distribute – if you pour when the marmalade is too hot the peel will float to the top of the jar. Pour (to within 3mm of the top) into sterilised jars and seal immediately.
This story was updated on 19 March 2018.