One item from my childhood, sorely missed as I matured, has been orange marmalade. What sits on supermarket shelves today bears no resemblance in taste or texture to the Scottish condiment I ate in my youth. Then, it was made from real Seville oranges and sugar and now it is a by-product of anonymous orange rind and glucose -fructose.
When Canada was a British colony, we sourced many of our food treats from the UK. American food to the south had been massed-produced by agribusiness for so long that there was no contest in quality or flavor. We favored British products because they tasted better. Whenever my American relatives came to visit us, they would stock up on such food items as tea, cocoa and chocolate candy bars.
Over time, as the Canadian supermarket chains expanded, they too succumbed to sourcing from mass-market food producers just as their American counterparts did. Today, the quality and taste of many basic processed foods sold at retail is mediocre. That’s why the mass market brands of preserves is inferior to the old fashioned marmalade of my youth.
Recently, while visiting a carriage trade food retailer, I discovered the same quality orange marmalade that I ate as a child. It is still produced in Scotland by MacKays of Dundee, who use fresh, whole oranges imported from Seville, Spain, home of the world’s best bitter oranges – Citrus aurantium. Mackays marmalade tastes homemade.
Both bitter oranges (the traditional marmalade orange) and sweet oranges contribute to the recipe. In addition, cane sugar, considered more flavorful, is used instead of granulated sugar. Unhealthy fructose-glucose is avoided. My favorite product in their assortment is whisky-flavored orange marmalade.
Mackays is one of the very few companies in the world today that still uses the traditional “open pan” slow boiling method of jam making. It gives their preserves and marmalades their distinctive homemade taste and flavor. Their marmalade is based upon a local, traditional Dundee recipe. Instead of computers and robots, they prefer to employ artisan jam makers.
The story of Dundee Marmalade begins back in the 18th century when a Spanish ship took refuge from a storm, in the harbour at Dundee. On board was a consignment of Seville Oranges - which a local grocer decided to purchase. On taking them home to his wife, the couple discovered the oranges were too bitter to eat. The grocer’s wife saw the potential in the oranges and boiled them up with sugar, to create the delicious preserve now known as Dundee Orange Marmalade.
Dundee crafters, using copper - because it is the most efficient conductor of heat - make the boiling pans locally. Steam is used for cooking because it provides the most even temperature. The preserves are produced using the rolling boil method by which fruit and sugar is slowly boiled to allow the flavors to be released before gradually setting. To assure a quality taste, the preserves are made in small batches and they encourage homemakers to do the same:-
When making jam at home, don’t try to make too large a quantity in one go. It will take far too long to come to the boil, and then will not boil rapidly enough to produce a good set.
After so many adult years of marmalade disappointment, a party took place on my palate when I tasted Mackays. Now, I am happy that I rediscovered a comfort food from childhood. The only difference between then and now is that today I spoon marmalade onto toast made from gluten-free bread spread with almond butter. Neither of these two foods existed when I was young.