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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Marmite Chronicles

Having been told by Dr Hazel earlier this week that there is "pressure" around my kidneys; that said pressure needs to be relieved by the consumption of vast quantities of water; and that the relief of said pressure might lead to a corresponding reduction in back pain, I am currently incapable of sitting in one uninterrupted place for long enough to construct a coherent blog entry.

So it's fortunate, really, that I received the following email from the ever-witty Lady yesterday. Not only that but, having given up on her own blog, she's given me permission to reproduce her words here for public consumption. Which means I get to look as though I'm blogging when I'm actually just rushing to the loo every five minutes. Good, huh?

Dear Lady Bracknell,

I was poking around in my tornado of a room when I discovered a small packet of marmite. Instantly, I was sticken with the horrible knowledge that I had never responded to Boogaloo Dude's...um....well, 'kind gift' isn't the proper phrase. Why would you inflict this stuff on a foriegner? Really, what has America ever done to him?

So, in the interests of repairing international relations (though, at this point, I'm not sure if I actually *want* to repair them), here is an American's experience of marmite:

In the beginning....

As you will recall, all this began with your blog post of May 30, 2007, in which you used the phrase 'half inched'. Dude wagered a peck of marmite that no Colonial would know what this phrase meant. I immediatly responded that it was a fragment of Cockney rhyming slang; 'half inched' rhymes with 'pinched', which is another word for 'stole'.

I grew up on a healthy combination of British children's books and crime stories. Fear my esoteric and outdated knowlege!

Much to my shock, Dude requested my address via your email.

The Receiving

At the time, I lived in what could kindly be called a student ghetto. Realistically, it was a nasty little rat-warren of once-nice homes that had been infested with college students. Any package left on a porch was stolen, as was junk mail. So I gave my parents' address. A while later, I received a baffled call from my mother to tell me that England had sent me something.

I thought this was very nice of the entire country. Thankyou, England.

Further investigation revealed that it was a large padded envelope. Inside was a very nice note from Dude, complete with a picture of him. I put this in a safe place, and then I lost the safe place. I suspect it is cozied up to other important documents, like my social security card.

There was also a small bag of individual marmite packets. I and my mother admired them for a while. They were heart shaped, possibly in an attempt to suggest this was something I would love, and we are very vulnerable to twee things like that. The only way we would have liked the little packets more was if there were pictures of kittens in a boot on them.

Dude's note mentioned that his daughters liked marmite on toast and peanutbutter. Under the theory that small children wouldn't eat something disgusting, I decided to try it this way first. Foolish me. I forgot that small children were once babies, and babies eat things like strained squash and bugs.

Toast was toasted. Peanutbutter was spread. The marmite was opened.

"It looks like a badly refined petroleum byproduct." I observed kindly.

"You're actually going to eat that?" asked my mother.

In answer, I picked up a knife and spread a thin layer of marmite on the peanutbutter. I stared at it. It stared at me. I savoured the novel experience of holding a snack that my mother hadn't stolen a bite from, for the first time in 25 years. This was just another warning I ignored. My mother will eat food that no one else considers edible, up to and including hot dogs so badly burnt that they explode into black tinsel when bitten.

What was I talking about?

Right. Marmite. I took a bite. I chewed and I swallowed. Then I took another bite, because I literally could not believe what I was eating. Chewed, swallowed. I opened my mouth for another, and my jaws would not close on the toast. This proves that the body is smarter than the mind.

"How's it taste?" asked Mom. Clearly, she'd missed the quiver of horror that was running through me.

"Its.....have some, Mom." Once, she served me asparagus. She deserved this.

But she must have seen something in my face. Possibly the rictus of disgust.

"No, thanks."

"Really, Mom. Have some."

By now, the full impact of the flavor had made its way through my shuddering nerves to my brain. The conversation halted in favor of watching me run like heck to brush my teeth.

The marmited toast fell to the floor, where the cat promptly avoided it. This was a cat who delighted in licking the wings off of beetles. Draw your own conclusions.

Try, try again....

A nice British fellow (he never sent me foul things by mail) that I know from the internet told me that the best way to try marmite was to make some toast with real butter on it, then spread a gauzily thin layer of marmite on it.

I like butter. I mean...I really like butter. I get this from my Mom, who used to eat sticks of butter as a kid. This is what being the only girl, and a blonde to boot, will get you. I never got to eat just butter. I had a sister, and she was blonder. She's still blonder, the rat.

Toast was made. Butter was spread. Marmite was spread in a layer that existed only on the atomic scale.

A bite, and I fled to the bathroom to scour at my teeth again. The taste, it stuck to the enamel...

....and try again...

Perhaps pure marmite was too much for my inexperienced palate. I enjoy many strong flavors that are too strong on their own - onion, garlic, tabasco. Maybe it needed to be diluted into a larger dish. I poked at a nice lady from the north of England until she gave me a recipe for marmite sandwiches. Roughly:

Take a piece of toast. Slice a cucumber, put it on the toast. Put a dollop of cottage cheese on the toast. Take another piece of toast. Spread Philadelphia cream cheese on the toast. Meditate on the oddness of combining a low-fat, healthy food with cream cheese. Now ruin the sandwich by putting marmite on it.

Guess how much I liked it. Go on. Guess.

....and again...

Another poke at the web yielded a recipe that basically went like this: get a jalepeno pepper. Slice in half, remove seeds. Smear with marmite then sour cream. Eat.

Jalepeno pepper would surely overwhelm the taste of almost anything, right?

Wrong. So wrong. So very, tragically, horribly wrong...

....and again....

So, veggies didn't do it. Okay. The majority of a world power of a country couldn't be completely insane, right? (See how I'm avoiding a joke about American politics here? I feel proud.)

I had a flicker of hope when I found a dish called petite marmite, but it turned out that this didn't contain any actual marmite. After some thought, I realized that eating a marmite dish that didn't actually contain marmite was probably not going to fulfill my determination to like this most disgusting of foodstuffs.

Then I was given a recipe for marmite-glazed seared beef. Sounds tasty, right? It had all sorts of Asian spices and such in it. Years of eating food prepared in the back of trucks has left me with the impression that enough ginger and soy sauce can make anything palatable.

So I made the seared and marmited beef. I had to make it at my parents' house, because my roommates had a little talk with me. One was holding a heavy book, the other a loaded cat.

So. I bought a small amount of beef and made the stuff. My mother wandered into the kitchen to see what the smell was and peered at the plate I was holding morosely.

"Jess" she asked, "Are you sure the English like you?"


All the recipes above were made from..I dunno. Four packets of marmite? There were trace amounts in each of the dishes, and that was still too much.

We have a nice British guy in the department. I gave him the three remaining marmite packets. He was very happy to get them. I was impressed he could be that drunk and still walking upright. That's grad students for you.

The English? You're all crazy.

I'll have my revenge, though. I have a friend who tells me he knows where he can get some non-aerosolized cheese-like food suitable for international shipping....


The Editor (who suspects this might run and run...)


Anonymous Sara said...

That is brilliant. Thank you.

3:10 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Oh, don't thank me, thank Jess.

And, while you're about it, drop by her own blog and leave forceful comments insisting that wit such as hers should not be lost from the blogosphere just because she thinks she can't think of anything to write about... ;-)

3:20 pm  
Blogger Jess said...

It all goes to show, I suspect, that people called Jess are the funniest people in the world-- and JessLady is far, far funnier than I am. I bow before her wit delighted and sated: she's clearly some kind of Uber-Jess. What do you mean, she's no longer blogging?! It's writers like that who make hanging round Blogland worthwhile.

My husband-- whom, as I've mentioned, hails from the Cathedral City of Peterborough-- will not touch Marmite. I take this as A Sign, and heed it.

4:02 pm  
Blogger Lady said...

Hee, thanks! Any blog written by me will inevitably end up in a tizzy of self-centered obsession, though. Does anyone need to hear about my quest for an acid green leather purse to go with the absinthe green purse and the apple green purse, thus completing a small portion of the color wheel and allowing me to move on to the shades of pink? I think not.

OtherJess, I think this proves that your husband has a modicum of taste. I suspect he is able to hold forth on a variety of topics not available to marmite-eating-Brits: the subtle flavors of wine, the delicate bouquet of fresh-baked bread, the subtle aroma of warm limburger...there are advantages to still having most of your taste buds. There are foods beyond curry, folks.

And once again, I offer my apologies to Dude, who is truly the dudest of dudes. The closest thing I can offer to an excuse is that I wanted to write him and say "yes! I have tried your horrible beer-muck, and I liked it! Thankyou for introducing me to the single best explanation for the American perception of British cuisine!"

4:49 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Does anyone need to hear about my quest for an acid green leather purse to go with the absinthe green purse and the apple green purse, thus completing a small portion of the color wheel and allowing me to move on to the shades of pink?

Speaking as someone 99.9% of whose recent postings have concerned jewellery purchases: in a word, "Yes".

4:53 pm  
Blogger Lady said...

Bah, fine. A purse rant it is. I don't have any photos, though, which is a darned pity. I have nice purses.

5:19 pm  
Blogger Jess said...

There are foods beyond curry, folks.

There are? God, I'd love a curry. Mmmm.

5:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does Marmiteboy have to say about all this? I think we should be treated to a sermon on the virtues of said brown stuff.
Which incidentally, I can tolerate in small doses!
Angie xx

6:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written and very funny! Thanks for posting it.

When I wuz a dustbin lid, me mam gave us daily a big spoon of malt and cod liver oil extract. This was thick, very thick greasy stuff. Yuk.

Marmite along with its evil brother Patum Peperium is forbidden entry into my lowly housing assoc. hovel.

B. Ovril

7:50 pm  
Blogger marmiteboy said...

You don't like Marmite. I say I have to call foul. It is the most yummy thing this country has ever produced surely.

Howvever (and I'm not sure if I have told this story here) your experience reminds me of Akiko a Myspace friend from Japan who once bought some Marmite whne she was in the Uk. She eat some and was destressed to find that it wasn't chocolate spread. Now that is a mistake to make.

9:39 pm  
Blogger fluttertongue said...

On a similar topic - Brits know that the Marmite selling point is 'you either love it or you hate it'. However, I have established that there are a significant number of people indifferent to the taste of marmite. Perhaps I should start up a discussion group.

And JessLady, may I suggest that to ease yourself into marmite you start off with a twiglet or two? These are a less extreme level of marmitey flavour and really rather moreish.

Finally, I have it on good authority that marmite does similar things to cats as catnip. But a fingerfull by their mouth and they will instantly fall in love with you. This may only work on British cats however.

5:29 pm  
Anonymous Boogaloo Dude said...

Coming, as she does, from a culture which:-
* consumes 500 million Hostess Twinkies a year;
* believes that cheese can be dispensed via an aerosol;
* thinks Hershey actually make real chocolate; and
* considers the “s’more” to be the height of culinary finesse
I can’t say I am greatly surprised that Marmite was not to Lady’s liking (even if I am a tad disappointed).

And having sampled (I hesitate to say “tasted” because I’m not sure it had any) some of the chilled, pasteurised, filtered, sanitised beverages which, somewhat surprisingly, pass for great American beer, I have come to the conclusion that the colonial palette simply lacks the ability to appreciate complex or subtle flavors (sic). Hence, American cuisine consists principally of the following single taste sensations; Hot (as in Tex-Mex); Salty (as in pretzels); Sweet (as in most favoured “delicacies”); or None as in McDonalds, Bud, Oreos, and all candy except that which is ruined by the ubiquitous cinnamon.

Nevertheless, I admire the persistence with which Lady continued to experiment, long after her initial reaction could have been taken as indicative if not definitive proof that she was not going to acquire the taste.

And so Madam, as a crazy Englishman, on behalf of the nation which brought you Stilton, Victory V’s, Mulligatawny, Stout, Marmite (hurrah!), rough cider, strong tea with evaporated milk and Earl Grey (hot), I salute you!

Dude x

11:32 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Do I detect just the faintest hint of bitterness...?

12:10 pm  
Blogger Lady said...

I'm sorry, Dude. I really, really tried. I even tried to rev myself up for the idea of eating the stuff, but it just didn't work.

In defense of my culinary adventures:

* I do not eat aerosol cheese. Cheese should never be able to be described as 'extruded'

* I don't eat American Cheese, either. The stuff is foul.

* Twinkies are gross. I'll admit to eating Hohos, which are a chocolate version of twinkies, but only when I'm feeling wistful for childhood treats.

* I've tried quite a few chocolates (trust me on this), and I have to admit that there are a great many that are better than Hershey's - but Hershey's is what I grew up with, so that's what I judge other foods against. I suspect everyone has one food or another that they ate through their childhood and now use as their standard, however crummy that childhood food may have been. Packaged bread, for example. Pfui.

* S'mores are pretty great. If we're going to discuss girlscout cooking though, banana boats are even better. You pull back a long strip of banana peel, then you shove chocolate chips, toffee chips and mini marshmallows in there. If you're adult, you can also add a splash of rum. Then you place the peel over the now lumpy fruit, wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil, and bake close to the fire. Delish.

But as culinary delights go, I'm pretty enthusiastic about salmon tartar.

* American beer. Oh, lordy. So gross. I don't drink it. If you can see the light through it, it isn't real beer - unless we're talking about wheat beer, which is in a class of it's own. And I'll admit to enjoying the odd auburn now and then. There's a microbrew here called Arrogant B*****d that I love.

I'm saving up for my own brewing equipment, as it happens. If all goes well, I'll be greeting springtime with a mug of my own.

Although....given that a large part of my diet is made in the back of a food truck, perhaps I shouldn't be so hasty to defend myself. Though pineapple curry is a fairly amazing taste.

3:38 am  
Blogger Marcelle Proust said...

I can't believe nobody explained why American beer is like making love in a canoe.

12:51 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Um, no: they didn't...

7:30 pm  
Blogger Lady said...

"American beer is like making love in a canoe....it's f***ing close to water"

..more like piss, if you ask me. Nasty, foul, yellow, and no one with any sense drinks it. Again...if you can read through it, it isn't beer.

8:00 pm  
Anonymous the_sybil said...

I have a theory.

It is my experience that people are either fans of peanut butter, or or fans of marmite, but not both. Rarely do you find anyone who is enthusiastic to the same degree about both foods. I have come to the conclusion that the ability to enjoy these flavours is mutually exclusive. Americans of course are fed peanut butter from the cradle up - is there any wonder they cannot tolerate marmite?

What worries me is that despite haivng grown up as a diehard marmite fan, after four years living in the US the jar of marmite in my cupboard languishes rarely touched, but I have discovered an increasing tendency to dip into the peanut butter jar. I have even been known to eat (and enjoy) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches...

10:46 pm  

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