Sunday, 19 February 2017

Literary Marmalade -- Lucy Coats

Before the magic happens
It must be said that, so far, the question of marmalade has not greatly exercised the literary mind, other than the honourable and obvious exception of Paddington Bear, who is the arch example of profligate marmalade eating. D.H. Lawrence maintains that: 'It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred orange and scrub the floor.' How right he is about the one, though not necessarily the other. And of course, in other children's literature there is A.A. Milne who asks in The King's Breakfast, 'Would you like to try a little Marmalade instead?' (The King rather grumpily doesn't -- he just wants a little butter on his toast.)  Other than that, marmalade is of rather more interest to lexicographers, who squabble over whether the word has its roots in a Portuguese mess of fruit (mermelo is the word for a quince), or whether it was a queen's cure for seasickness (a corruption of Marie est malade). Personally I prefer the romance of the latter, however questionable. I like to think of the pale, listless queen lying about in the state cabin of her armed and dangerous dromond or carrack, being coaked into eating morsels of dry toast and orange jam by her worried ladies-in-waiting. It makes a much better story for a writer's mind. 

My 2017 batch of marmalade
The rôle of marmalade in my own life is inextricably bound up with the rhythms of the seasons. The beginning of any given year is brightened immeasurably but the sight of the first misshapen, mottled green-and-orange fruits which, if eaten raw, would pucker the mouth into immediate disapproving maiden aunt shapes. But combine them with water, sugar and heat, and an almost magical alchemy occurs. That opaque, sour ugliness turns to pots of clear, sparkling beauty which bring to your kitchen a blaze of the sunshine which ripened the original fruit. There is also something about the ritual of scraping and shredding and sieving and boiling which is deeply comforting to the soul -- and the glorious smell permeates the house for days. It's a different kind of creativity to that which is needed for making a book -- but for me, this alchemical act of creation is satisfying in a way I can't quite explain. Perhaps it's the making of something beautiful and delicious out of a combination of simple ingredients which gives a similar pleasure to my brain that taking a few ordinary ideas and turning them into a book that will delight readers does. Who knows?

What are your favourite foods that show up in books? I'd love to know.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy blogs at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (No. 1 UK Literature Blog) 

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