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Shaftesbury Cooks Challenged To Produce The Town’s Tastiest Marmalade

Do you think you make great marmalade? If so, you’re being invited to have it judged by professional chefs next weekend, when Shaftesbury Arts Centre is hosting its second Marmafest.

“Last year it was amazing. We didn’t know how it was going to be received and we were really pleased,” explained Rosie King, who came up with the idea for the town’s first marmalade-making contest and marmalade-themed breakfast last year. “We had nearly sixty entrants for the marmalade itself and the breakfast was buzzing,” Rosie added.

But why marmalade? Shaftesbury doesn’t have a special link with the preserve, unlike Seville – or even Paddington. “The only obvious connection is that there are quite a lot of good home cooks in Shaftesbury. Homemade marmalade is delicious, and I always make marmalade, even though I am now on my own. Quite a few of my friends also do and there are a lot of men who do it,” said Rosie.

Rosie King

There were audible gasps of surprise – interestingly from women – when a string of men clinched the top marks in last year’s marmalade categories. Andy Hollingshead was named Shaftesbury’s best marmalade maker. He brought his fruit back from France and followed the River Cottage Jam and Jelly recipe book to inspire his winning formula.

Like any first event, Rosie says the inaugural Marmafest taught her some lessons. “Last year we tried to do a children’s category of six marmalade tarts. We didn’t get any entries at all so we haven’t put it in this year but getting the children to do something we could look at in the future.”

Rosie also feels that there were too many different classes in 2019. “I’ve reduced the categories this year,” she said. “I think we had too many last year. We had one for lemon marmalade and I think there was just one entry.”

This year there are five categories to enter – thick-cut orange, thin-cut orange, grapefruit, citrus marmalade with alcohol and own choice. That allows creativity and locals rose to the challenge in 2019, entering concoctions made with kumquats, bacon, onions, garlic, chilli, coffee, brown sugar, malt vinegar and maple syrup. It’s a far cry from Britain’s first recorded recipe for marmalade. Eliza Cholmondeley’s 1677 mixture created a firm, thick, dark paste.

Manston resident Imelda Adams is looking forward to entering the competition. “I love marmalade. I love making it and also jams and chutneys,” said Imelda. “Some people paint, some sew, and I love to make things. I hate waste and we have so much fruit and vegetables in the garden that I have to turn it all into something.”

Imelda names her entries after children’s books. “My first marmalade was ‘Bag End’, as in The Hobbit. I followed this up with ‘Riverbank’ marmalade, ‘Pooh Corner’ marmalade then ‘Swallowdale’ marmalade, just because ‘Swallows and Amazons’ marmalade didn’t fit well on the label,” she laughed.

Imelda Adams with her entry form

Those creative labels might be peeled off for the judging. Each jar will be identified solely by a number, so the judges are not influenced if they know the marmalade maker. And this year the judging will take place before the event, instead of on the day. “Our big change is that we are asking people to bring their marmalade by the 12th at the latest, using the box office,” said Rosie. “Then on Friday, David from Fleur de Lys and Matt from La Fosse in Cranbourne will come and do professional judging. By Saturday morning, all the marmalades will be judged and will be out for everybody to sample without having to wait for them to come down.”

At the end of the morning, marmalades will be sold off. “Obviously, if there is marmalade missing from each jar, then the price will be reduced accordingly. If you have had a favourite then you will be able to buy that jar, unless the entrant has specifically said that they don’t want it to be sold,” said Rosie.

Breakfast, obviously with marmalade, will be served at the Arts Centre from 9am on Saturday. “It would help us if you booked so I know how much bread to order,” said Rosie. “If you don’t book because you’re not sure of the weather or whatever, just turn up. The breakfast will be upstairs, and all the samples will be displayed downstairs so you can bring your dish down, choose your marmalades and take them upstairs to enjoy.” You can book using the contact details on the Arts Centre website.

As the judges will choose the winners on Friday, there won’t be the long wait for the verdict this time and the event will be over by lunchtime. “They’ll certainly finish by 12. Maybe even before then. We will give out the prizes, and we do have some good ones this year, and then people will disperse. If they want to come in for a late breakfast at 11 o’clock, that is perfectly permissible” said Rosie.

Shaftesbury Arts Centre

This event was originally launched to raise money for Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s ‘Raise the Roof’ appeal, which needs to generate £1 million. In 2019, entrants paid £2 to submit their marmalade. This year it’s free and Rosie says the event is not a fundraiser. “We do need to be more sociably aware and to have people just come to the Arts Centre because it is a place to be enjoyed,” she said. “I tried quite hard to make the foyer look attractive last year and we made around £500, which was great. It would be nice if we made some, but I think it’s more important to have a social event and that people see that the Arts Centre as a living place.”

It can be a challenge keeping events fresh and maintaining public interest year on year. Rosie isn’t sure whether there will be a Marmafest in 2021. “It will be nice if we can expand it into something much bigger. There are also some other categories we could use, such as the ‘best marmalade pudding’, the ‘best cake’ or we could have marmalade pickles and chutneys. Let’s just see how the second one goes. Maybe we will give it a break for a year.”

Entries need to be at Shaftesbury Arts Centre by lunchtime on Thursday, 12th March. The breakfast starts at 9am on Saturday 14th March. The winners will be announced later that day.