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The Flat Cap on ... Jam

Regular visitors to the site will recall The Flat Cap writing a blog on toast. Toast is something that Bert likes with a full English breakfast. What The Flat Cap doesn’t understand is when people put jam on their toast. For him bread is firmly in the savoury food group and jam is sweet. For the same reason you’ll never see The Flat Cap with a jam sandwich in his hand. Marmalade is just orange jam, so he won’t eat marmalade on toast either. Not all of The Flat Cap’s acquaintances agree, so to try to set the record straight The Flat Cap thought he’d find out more about jam and how long it’s been around for.

Jam can trace its origins back to the first century AD where a recipe appears for it the first known cook book "De Re Coquinaria", which as all good Latin scholars know means Of Culinary Matters or The Art of Cooking. Romans loved their jam but the cook book doesn’t say if it should have been eaten on toast or as a dessert. Jam was invented as a way of preserving food and it meant that people with a sweet tooth weren’t dependent on fresh fruit, bars of chocolate or a bag of Haribos to satisfy their craving. Jam is really easy to make. You just heat up some fruit with sugar, allow it to cool and then pop it in a jar and seal it. As jam is a good source of Vitamin C sailors took it away on voyages to ward off scurvy.

Jam was also very popular with royalty. The French king Louis XIV was so keen on jam that he insisted every meal be concluded with jams made from his fruit gardens at Versailles. The jam would be served in ornate silver dishes and they took a lot of washing up. Joan of Arc used to scoff jam before going into battle as she reckoned it gave her courage, or it could have just been that jam helped her sword stick to her hand when she was out on the battlefield. And continuing the French theme Napoleon Bonaparte offered a prize to anyone who could preserve large amounts of food to keep his soldiers in tip top condition. The jammy winner was a chap called Nicholas Appert but The Flat Cap couldn’t find out what the reward was; probably a book token or a gift card for Argos. Another royal jam lover was Mary Queen of Scots who liked nothing more than a big jar of marmalade: apparently to help her overcome her own Vitamin C deficiency, or ward off sea sickness depending on which tale you choose to believe.

Military campaigns often seem to be a good reason for jam making. In World War Two the British government gave the Women’s Institute a grant of £1,400 (equivalent to £900 million pounds in today’s money) just to buy sugar for jam making. As a result jam production went through the roof with 1,631 tons of preserves being churned out. In the period between 1940 and 1945 it is estimated 5,300 tons of fruit were preserved. That’s the equivalent of every home in Great Britain filling its bath twice over with jam.

The Flat Cap decided that rather than sit at home researching jam production he would be better off nipping down to his local Tesco and buying a jar. On the way to the supermarket it also occurred to him that he could buy a jam doughnut to have with a cup of tea later in the afternoon. It was whilst he was doing his shopping that The Flat Cap met Lillian, whom he knows from his local bowling club. Lillian said she was buying the ingredients for a Victoria sponge and said she knew a fair bit about jam herself, including the following interesting facts:

  • The Germans invented the jam doughnut in the late fifteenth century and by the nineteenth century it was commonly referred to as a "Berliner". When US president John F Kennedy said, “Ich bin ein Berliner” he was actually telling the world he was a doughnut

  • In 1972 friends Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler came up with The Jam as a name for their band whilst enjoying a cream tea together. Buckler who played drums never went on tour without a large jar of Robertson’s Golden Shred marmalade

  • Quince is a type of jam, but the word always reminds Lillian of the television series called “Quincey M.E.” where the title role of a Los Angeles medical examiner was played by actor Jack Klugman. Another famous Quincy (spelt without the “e”) was legendary American record producer Quincy Jones

  • The fictional Jam Butty Mines of Knotty Ash were popularised by Liverpool comedian Sir Ken Dodd. They were worked by a mythical race called The Diddy Men. Another popular myth was that Sir Ken fiddled his taxes but he was acquitted of that charge

  • “Jam jar” is cockney rhyming slang for a car. It’s the sort of language Del Boy might use in the sitcom Only Fools and Horses

  • If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, it simply means that there are a lot of vehicles on the road. It doesn’t mean a lorry loaded with jam has tipped up and spilt its contents over the highway

  • Each year more than 700 million litres of jam are used to fill doughnuts worldwide

  • The word “marmalade” probably derives from the Portuguese word for quince, “marmelo”

  • When looking to buy a quality jam the key is to check the fruit content; more than 50% is a good start

  • The most popular U.K. children’s sweet biscuits in 2009 were “Jammie Dodgers” although 40% of them were eaten by adults

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