Film and food discussion leads to marmalade memories

March 24, 2023

Last week, I attended a fascinating presentation about the intersection of cinema and cuisine. We were hosted by Shelby Cooke, editor of the recently released anthology, “Eating the Screen,” published by Film East, a film programming group based in the United Kingdom. Before the talk, we sipped wine, nibbled on chips and sampled marmalade sandwiches, the perfect segue into the afternoon’s presentation.

Shelby read aloud from her article in the anthology, “Marmalade and Masculinity: Combatting Toxic Masculinity with Paddington Bear” and shared clips from the film, “Paddington 2.” For those who may not be familiar with Paddington, he is a beloved character in children’s literature, featured in more than 50 books, an animated television series and two films. He always sports a red bucket hat (in which he stores a spare marmalade sandwich) and a blue coat.

The focus of the article about toxic masculinity is the transformative role Paddington plays after he is wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. His naiveté plays into the hands of the mean-spirited criminals who encourage him to complain about the tasteless food they are forced to eat. Knuckles, the brawny cook, doesn’t react well to the complaint and begins to shake the little bear.

A sweet surprise ensues when Paddington’s hidden sandwich flies out of his hat and into the mouth of the screaming cook. Not unlike Proust’s madeleines, the effect of the delicious flavors shocks the cook, and Knuckles invites Paddington to make marmalade for the next morning’s breakfast. In the kitchen scene that follows, we see the kindly bear connect with Knuckles and encourage him to work as a peer.

The next morning, we see more of the prison’s toxic masculinity undone by acts of inclusion, respect and humanity. This time, when they ask for more tasty foods from the kitchen, other inmates volunteer to make their favorite treats. Over time, the prison opens a tea room, the warden begins to read bedtime stories, and Paddington continues to serve as the facilitator of civil behavior.

During the preparations for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, she appeared in a video with Paddington at her tea table. As the bear bungles things (drinking tea directly from the pot and smushing a pastry), the queen remains serene. And, when he offers her a marmalade sandwich, she pats her purse and says she keeps one there herself, “for later.”

While it’s unlikely she carried a sandwich in her purse, she is reputed to have enjoyed marmalade on toast at breakfast. After her death, people began leaving marmalade sandwiches near the floral tributes at Buckingham Palace. It became such a problem, park officials requested that people not leave food, as it was troublesome for attracting unwanted wildlife.

What is so magical about marmalade? First, it is made from whole citrus fruit (typically Seville oranges), so the final product will be studded with bits of peel, which also help thicken the texture. The flavor is sweet from the fruit and sugar, while tart and tangy from the bits of peel. Marmalade is thicker and more complex than jam, which uses peeled fruit, and much thicker than jelly, which uses fruit juice.

The color of marmalade ranges from the bright yellow-orange to darker shades (as in the photo), depending upon the specific fruits involved. You don’t have to go through a canning process if you plan to store it in the refrigerator once it cools. If you’re planning to give jars as gifts, you should process the sealed jars in a canning water bath. Marmalade is widely available at grocery stores and specialty shops, but if you’d like to try making your own, I’ve included a basic recipe.

Orange Marmalade

2 large seedless oranges
1 lemon
4 C water
4 C sugar

Scrub the skin of the oranges and lemon to remove any surface dirt. Cut in half lengthwise and then into thin slices; discard any seeds. Place fruit slices along with their juice in a large pot. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Remove pot from heat and add sugar; stir until dissolved. Cover the pot and allow to stand at room temperature overnight. The next day, place a small plate in the freezer. Place the pot on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Turn up the heat and boil gently until the marmalade reaches a temperature of 220 F. To test whether the marmalade is ready, place a teaspoon of marmalade on the chilled plate. If the mixture wrinkles slightly when you draw your finger through the spoonful, it has reached the setting point. Decant the marmalade into sealable jars and store in the refrigerator (for up to 1 month) or freezer (for up to 3 months). If planning to put up the marmalade for shelf storage, process in a canning water bath. Yield: 6 half-pints of marmalade.

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