Hearth & Larder goes to Dalemain!

On a whim, I decided to enter my marmalade in the World's Original Marmalade Awards held by Dalemain Mansion in Cumbria, UK. The thought of even getting a pat on the head for my efforts would be thrilling. It's a longshot but what the hell.

This competition is in its 13th year and receives thousands of entries from all over the globe. Winners get a coveted gold, silver or bronze award and promoted on Dalemain's website as well as giving their product a fantastic marketing advantage. I mean, who doesn't want to have award-winning jam?

The Double Gold winners are offered the opportunity to have their marmalade sold at the prestigious Fortnum & Mason department store in London for one year. That's a big deal!

So, mid-January I took a chance and sent off a package with three entries for the Artisans & Small Producers Award.


The latter entry was just an afterthought. It's probably too unusual but I tend to underestimate how adventurous people's palates are. I received a message about ten days later that they had received the package. Great! That's the end of that.

So, back to normal day-to-day life, work is relentless as usual, and time marches on. My birthday was coming up in late February so I booked a short trip for us up in Mendocino, visiting a friend there, and basking in all the beauty that part of the world has to offer; sweeping coastal views, quaint Victorian B&B's, and driftwood the size of telephone poles.

The day before we left, as part of my morning ritual, I checked my email with my cup of Peet's in hand. I notice something from Dalemain. A newsletter perhaps? As my eyes scan the message I see this...

As I read I'm still wondering...wait, is this addressed to me? And then I see them referring to one of the flavors I entered in the competition.

(Spit take)

Holy crap I actually won?? Wow...incredible. I really had no expectations of winning anything let alone a GOLD! Needless to say, I was absolutely stunned and amazed. And giddy as a schoolgirl!!

So, then the question remained; should I go? After sharing this news with my boyfriend, Stephen, he encouraged me to attend. "It's a business write-off anyway", he said. "Just go!" (I like the way he thinks). Right. I will. I will!

With only three weeks to plan I quickly got a flight to London. What I didn't realize was the journey ahead of me. It's not in London or even on the outskirts. It's all the way up in North England almost near the border of Scotland in the beautiful Lakes District of Cumbria. And with only a few days I can take off work...this is going to be a whirlwind trip. Six in total including travel days.

I found a lovely Air BnB only a mile away from Dalemain Mansion. The landlady of 'Corner House' in Stainton couldn't be nicer. She even offered to pick me up at the train station which is a blessing since I'm likely to be jetlagged and weary after a 10-hour flight and a 5-hour train ride.

What's up in Penrith, Cumbria besides Dalemain Mansion's Marmalade Awards and festival? The Lakes District, that's what. If only I had more time I'd love to explore this area as it's one of the most beautiful places in England. Famous for its forests, mountains and of course, lakes!

The coordinator of the event, Florence, kindly offered that I could bring two dozen jars to sell at the festival. They raise money for local charities which have been very successful. Of course, I obliged. Then I realized the flavor that had won me the gold was sold out. Thankfully I had one jar left of the original batch for reference and my notes, albeit a bit loose. Two weeks before the festival I made a batch but something wasn't quite right. It lacked a certain flavor...but what? In the culinary world, the Kaffir Lime is known for the leaves which impart a very distinct aroma and flavor. It's used extensively in Thai cooking in their soups and curry pastes. If that ingredient was missing you'd know it!

I had the leaves but what I didn't have which I forgot was the actual limes. Vicki, my citrus supplier from Bernard Ranches, gave me three tiny fruits last time. I neglected to note that I used the juice and the rind in addition to the leaves. They were sort of thrown in the marmalade since I had them but didn't think much of it at the time. Well, now I REALLY needed to scramble as finding Kaffir Limes is about as hard as a needle in a haystack. Not something Vons has in stock. Ever. Quickly I called Vicki and she said she couldn't see any fruit on her trees so I thought I was out of luck. "Well, pick some leaves for me anyway and I'll see you next week."

Yikes! Now I'm really down to the wire as she's not in the area for another week. I texted her the Friday before to remind her about the leaves as she requested and low and behold...

What a relief! Now I know it will turn out perfect. Long story short it did and even better than the original. Now I just have to squeeze 18 jars in my suitcase and schlep it all the way over to Jolly Old England!

Next, I had to prepare for this journey. The most important thing was clothing. It's been so warm here in California this winter. Needless to say, I have no need for cold weather gear. In Cumbria on the other hand, they've had snow, and of course rain, so I know I needed to go shopping.

The rule of thumb for travel is LAYER. I do have sweaters, scarves, gloves and a knit cap but I still need outerwear. So, one pair of waterproof-fleece-lined boots, one pair of thermal underwear, 3 pairs of wool socks, and one raincoat later, I'm all set.

Oh, and then there's a suitcase, travel adapter, travel hair dryer, neck pillow...jeez, I'm spending some money on this trip! (Inner voice "It's ok, it's a write-off, go ahead"). Oh right. Ok, so I got a new "spinner" suitcase which should make hauling this 40lb suitcase around a bit easier. At least it's only on the first leg of the trip. I'll be traveling light coming home. Right. Onward to England!

I usually don't care much for traveling. I get anxious. But I prepared well for this trip. I hired a car to take me to LAX figuring we'd be collecting other passengers. Nope just me! Got to the airport early and surprisingly it was very light traffic wise. I checked in and got through security in about 15 minutes. Must have missed the rush.

Once boarded it was a 10 1/2 hour flight to London. Not having really slept much I was pretty out of it by the time we landed. But I had to keep moving and take on the second half of the marathon up to the Lakes District - a five-hour train journey. This involved getting on the Heathrow Express train which connects people with the London Underground. If you've ever been to London you've likely used the Underground system and know how incredibly complex it is. Escalators, stairs, tunnels, more escalators, and bustling commuters going every which way. I had to navigate through all of this jetlagged and weary with a 40lb suitcase full of marmalade.

After a series of transfers, I finally made my way to London Euston train station where I'd pick up the overground train, as it's referred to. This train station is pretty big and hosts several platforms. People stand front of the big schedule display waiting to hear what platform to scurry off to. When it was my turn I joined the throng and headed for platform seven. Mind you I had to do all this in time to catch the last train so I'd get up to my destination before nightfall. This leg of the journey was where I could finally put my head down. Ah...but fate had other plans. I guess this happens a lot on the commuter trains but the signals were out in one area and they had to divert the train around it. This put us back an hour so by the time I got up to Penrith it was 8 o'clock!

The lady from the Air BnB, Liz, was there to pick me up and what a welcomed sight she was. Once we got to her place, an 18th century two story house, I dragged my luggage up the stairs and put on my slippers. She called up "I'll make us some tea!" I'm thinking yes, I'd love a hot mug, that sounds perfect. I come downstairs to find a full tea service with oat cakes waiting for me by a cozy fire. I almost cried it was so wonderful! I was beyond exhausted and at the delirious stage of jetlag. She said she had a city council meeting to go to down at the pub (it's a small village and the most convenient place to meet) and asked if I'd care to join her. "They have great food!" she said. At that point, I was up to it, or so I thought. But all at once it hit me and I soon realized I wasn't going anywhere but to bed. She kindly set out some nibbles for me and said "make yourself and home" and went on her way. I did and put a little plate together and another cup of tea. THIS was just what the doctor ordered. Happy to be done with that grueling journey and now looking forward to Friday's event - the awards ceremony!

In the morning Liz said she was thinking about going for a nature walk and invited me to join her. It would give me a chance to see some of the beautiful countryside. So we headed out to a park called Aira Force which is known for its waterfall.

This was absolutely beautiful. Everything is covered in green, lush moss and striking lichen including the old stone bridges. The park and surrounding area is home to the rare Red Squirrel. They are protected as they are part of England's native fauna. Never have I seen squirrel crossing road signs! Love it.

Afterward, we went to Rheged Center which is a quirky roadside attraction. It's the largest grass covered structure that once was a quarry. It houses restaurants, shops, a 3D cinema, spa, kids play area...you name it, they've got it. Including a service station which is what the family who owns the company originally operated. I treated Liz to tea and scones and did a little shopping. Picked up some lovely Harris Tweed (off cuts) for future craft projects. It was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Now to get ready for the purpose of the trip - the awards ceremony!
Dalemain on opening night - photo credit Hermoine McCosh

Dalemain Mansion is a grand, stately home in North England. One of the grandest! It's home to Robert and Jane Hasell-McCosh, the founders of the marmalade awards. This is where the awards ceremony is held.

The awards are now in their 13th year and entrants are in the thousands. Having won a gold award is quite an achievement and I'm still amazed but very proud, too. Let's go inside and see the house!

The house was absolutely filled with people and jars of marmalade. Tables were set up in three large staterooms with all of the entrant's marmalade in all their golden orange glory. Canapes and drinks were being served while guests chatted and swapped business cards. I connected with the Canadian gold winner. Funny how we North Americans honed in on one another. Must be the West Coast blood! Finally, everyone gathered in the main room while the speaker, Dan Lepard, began the ceremony. Japanese dignitaries were there to present the awards as well as the Indian Ambassador Deputy High Commissioner. Pretty fancy schmancy!

photo credit Hermoine McCosh

The whole experience was great. Meeting other small producers and talking shop was something I've never done before. And being in this environment, the posh and glam of it all somehow gave marmalade an air of sophistication and importance. I mean, why do all this? A marmalade competition? And why would anyone fly all the way over to England for it? My guess is that marmalade makers are a special breed. We go to great lengths to produce the finest marmalade we can, learn all about citrus, discuss pectin vs no pectin, fine cut or chunky, experiment, test...improvise!! Let's face it, we're geeks.

The other advantage, and probably the most obvious, is the prestige of making award-winning marmalade. It certainly will give my products a lift in the marketplace. It also gives me the incentive to win again and again! And to win you need to create something really special. I'm very happy I stumbled upon The Original Marmalade Awards site. Next year it is going to be held in Japan. Better start saving for that trip! And if you would like to try this marmalade click here!


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