We here at this blog love a good trope almost as much as we love not being sick—but we’re only going to get one of those today, and it’s not the second one.
From an old letter column (December 1973) of the London Times (where else) who published a keen controversy the end of which, as of its writing, had still not jelled.
It seems that Sir Dingle Foot wrote an article praising, extolling, and glorifying the English breakfast. Alas, Sir Dingle Foot made a most serious error of omission. He went on and on without so much as a mention of English marmalade. One Reverend Edmund Haviland of Tonbridge caught him out at once and fired off a letter to The Times saying how could Sir Dingle Foot, or anyone, talk about the marvels of the English breakfast without a mention of English marmalade. With the letter from Reverend Haviland a really sticky situation developed, and the fact that it was Sir Dingle Foot who got himself in a jam has since been totally forgotten.
Reverend Haviland was immediately challenged by Peter Macdonald of Edinburgh who wrote: "Marmalade, like many other inventions which other nations have sought to appropriate, is of Scottish origin, since it took a canny Scot to see value in the peel that others threw away."
This caused Colin S. Dence of King's Lynn, Norfolk, to rise to the defence of dear old England: "...by what right does Peter Macdonald claim English marmalade to be Scottish? These are vital matters of national prestige and I put forward as my authority a certain Gervais Markham (1568-1637) who published a recipe for Marmalade of Oranges in, please note, his English Huswife. Scottish indeed!" Then John Orr of Marden, Kent, added pectin to the plot with this explanation: "... I have heard that it was derived from a confection prepared by the chef for Mary Queen of Scots when she was married to the Dauphin of France and was indisposed. The word marmalade is a corruption of the phrase Marie est malade."
Lady Antonia Fraser found Mr. Orr's legend appealing, but she felt the Oxford English Dictionary must surely be right in saying that marmalade is a derivation from the Portuguese marmelo in 1480. Mrs. Joan Richards went on to explain that the Portuguese claim came about because of a language problem during the Peninsular Wars when the Duke of Wellington wanted some Portuguese quince preserve (marmalada) but instead got Portuguese orange jam "which was henceforth known in England as marmalade."
This incited G.E. Trease of Devon to inform readers that "The Duke of Wellington was by no means the first Englishman to use marmalade. It is mentioned as 'marmaled' in the English translation of Renodaeus' Dispensatory, published in 1657 by the London apothecary Richard Tomlinson. An earlier reference is in the inventory of Thomas Baskerville, apothecary of Exeter, who died in 1596. This lists 'marmalade 11Ibs, 10 shillings.'"
It is, as the London Sunday Times summed up, "A marmalade cat fight."