* This exclusive news story first appeared in The Sunday Post.
Shona Leckie, a former principal teacher of biology from Monifieth, scooped Best in Show for her homemade treacle marmalade at the World Marmalade Awards in Cumbria yesterday - becoming the first Scot to win the top prize in their history.
The farmer’s daughter who grew up in Coulter, Biggar, named it Miss Minto’s Marmalade after her own maiden name. It was made from an old family recipe using Seville oranges with her own addition of Tate & Lyle cane sugar treacle which darkens it and helps to keep the medium-cut peel intact, so intensifying the flavour of the oranges.
It saw off some 3000 entries from 30 countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, the US, the Lebanon, Czech Repuglic and Columbia as well as England. Yuzu, fennel, chocolate and seaweed were some of the more unusual ingredients used alongside the mandatory Seville oranges.
Miss Minto’s Treacle Marmalade will now be produced and sold by Fortnum & Mason in London’s Mayfair and at Dalemain House in Cumbria, where the World Marmalade Awards were founded in 2005 by Jane Haswell-McCosh. A donation from each jar will go to Mrs Leckie’s chosen charity of the Halo Trust, based in Scotland, which helps clear landmines in war-torn countries.
“I’m surprised and delighted at this accolade,” she told the Sunday Post. “It proves we can still do it in Scotland, and that the tradition of marmalade-making in Scottish kitchens is very much alive.”
Her triumph is sure to re-ignite the debate over whether the orange preserve we know today was invented by Janet Keiller in her Dundee kitchen, or in Henry VIII’s England – as claimed by some food historians.
Some claim England was first to make the preserve which started out in the early 15th century as marmelos, a sugary quince paste imported from Portugal said to have been enjoyed by Henry VIII before 17th century cooks made their own “marmelade”, using squished whole citrus fruit. It was cut into slices and eaten mainly after a meal as aid to digestion, as membrillo still is today.
The earliest Scottish recipe for orange marmalade by the Countess of Sutherland dates back to 1683. The celebrated Scottish food writer F Marian McNeill, who was active in the Scottish cultural Renaissance, described orange marmalade as “a Scottish invention”.
For centuries it’s been accepted that Janet Keiller of Dundee was first to make the breakfast marmalade we know today – using a shipload of Seville oranges purchased by her husband at Dundee harbour to make a spreadable orange preserve of shredded peel rather than squished whole fruit pulp. The Keiller family went on to become first to produce it on a commercial scale from 1797.
However, the eminent food historian, Ivan Day, a judge at the Awards, said: “There’s no real evidence that Janet Keiller invented marmalade as we know it - though I’d get my throat cut if I said that in Dundee.
“However, it would appear the family was first to mass-produce marmalade on a large scale, so the marmalade industry, if not marmalade itself, could have been founded in Dundee.
“The only really Scottish thing about marmalade is that the Scots were first to serve it at breakfast in the 18th century.
“In that respect Dundee is very much part of the marmalade gene pool. But I think the Mrs Keiller story is extremely dubious.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Leckie is happy to spread the word that marmalade’s roots still run deep in Dundee.
(Please see "Published Work" for my previous coverage of the World Marmalade Awards and the "myth" about it being invented by Mary Queen of Scots. A quince paste was given to her to cure her seasickness on the boat to Scotland from France, and she liked it so much she had it made again in Scotland. Legend has it that marmalade is a derivation of "Marie est Malade" ....)