One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.
How do I love thee, Scotland? Let me count the ways.
One, two, three: three kinds of marmalade. Ha, ha, ha.
Our hotel offers a ‘complete Scottish breakfast’, albeit with instant (Oh, the horror!) oatmeal. Buffet style means that the toast is cold: I’m thinking they sell more sweet buns and croissants. But it is the selection of marmalades that catches my attention and not just because the nasty little packets are lined up in neat rows on a tray rather than jumbled into a bowl or stacked in a purpose-designed wire basket. You know the packets I mean: assuming you can get into the damn things, they generate more packaging waste than jam.
Suddenly, I am in flashback mode. The time: 1991. The place: the pathetically underused Mirabelle Airport Hotel. I am watching in disbelief as a then 65-year-old colleague shamelessly charms our extremely underworked and, therefore, seriously grumpy waitress. Fighting with one of those devilish packets — likely for butter, he not being one for sweets — he finally capitulates and hands it to her without a word, but with much batting of eyelashes. And this dour woman — who has had not one friendly or even civil word for us all week — takes it, opens it, and hands it back without a word, but with a shy grin. How dangerous he must have been in his prime!
But that’s another story: back to the marmalade.
In this country defined by its frugality, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of marmalade choices. It is an exercise in sheer exuberance as well as permutations: orange, lemon, mixed citrus; all with or without peel. Ha, ha, ha.
Returning to my seat, clutching my selections, I stop by a table filled with my American co-travellers.
Look, three kinds of marmalade!
They seem unimpressed.
Travelling for business and for pleasure in the US of A has introduced me to the wonders of what competition can do for the nominally free breakfast even at unremarkable hotels — not just the entirely expected spread of fruit, juices, cold cereals, and sticky buns and muffins, but also chafing dishes full of sausages and pseudo-eggs, crockpots full of cooked oatmeal, and equipment for making your very own waffle and for toasting your very own bread, English muffin or bagel. The condiment jars are filled to overflowing with single-serving packets of syrup, peanut butter, cream cheese, and assorted jams and jellies. Yet in this land defined by its plenty, there is often nary a hint of marmalade. Strawberry jam? Certainly. Grape jelly? Natch. Marmalade? Not so much.
As I dig happily and stickily into my cold toast and marmalades, I reflect that the Americans are more likely lamenting the completely inexplicable lack of Tabasco® on the table. But that’s another story. Me, I’m just savouring the moment.
Ha, ha, ha.
Note: Completely serendipitously, the New York Times has a spread on marmalade in today’s (Sunday, 14 October 2012) edition, written by Elizabeth Field, who wrote her Master’s in Gastronomy thesis on…(wait for it!)… marmalade!