Improper Marmalade’s Marvellous Makeover: Interview With Great Taste Award Winner, Victoria Cranfield
Isn’t it wonderful when promising upbeat packaging lives up to the truly delectable product inside? Proper Marmalade, which has just had its savoury marmalade awarded three stars at the latest Great Taste Awards, is an excellent example of this. It’s a creative range of marmalade which includes a chocolate splattered version; a luscious lemon and horseradish mix; and a mighty melange of blood orange and espresso.
‘Branding’ is a word which often evokes suspicions; it can be seen as a tool of manipulative magic aimed at confounding the unsuspecting consumer. The truth is that, in an overcrowded market such as the food industry, good branding can help specialist artisan products achieve the success they deserve in spite of limited financial resources and this is as much to the benefit of the consumer as to the producer.
I first heard about Victoria Cranfield’s Improper Marmalade as a result of skimming through a feature on food in Devon in Food and Travel Magazine. I was reading about how, originally a lawyer, Victoria had moved to the country and now made jams and chutneys in her garden shed. It sounded interesting but when I looked up the company on the internet the impression was a bit fusty…until…following a link I found myself in the magical, mystical world of Improper.
“It was really thanks to my youngest daughter’s persistence” Victoria tells me when I contacted her to find out how the idea for Improper Marmalade was first conceived. “She kept telling me my branding looked old fashioned and finally I capitulated and suggested she just get on with developing a new design. I have to admit I was a bit dubious as to whether it would make much difference”. Certainly the last thing she expected was that it would lead to a string of awards and a turnover of four times the original jam business.
This all happened very quickly, in just over a year. “At the outset I started to think about names and the idea of ‘Proper Marmalade’ came to me – I’ve always talked about ‘proper marmalade’ as a marmalade which hasn’t had this or that added to it” explains Victoria (all her preserves are completely natural). Traditional marmalade already represented the lion’s share of Cranfield’s Food so it made sense to hive it off into a separate brand – ‘Proper Marmalade’ – and because it was exactly the same product as the original marmalade she was able to advertise it under the new branding along with all the awards it had already won.
“And I started thinking more creatively, about improper marmalade. It amused me so much to imagine the different, unconventional flavour combinations I could come up with”.
Then Victoria did something which she describes as “probably not very sensible”. She entered her savoury marmalade, without having first perfected it, into The Great Taste Awards.
“A risky strategy like that certainly concentrates the mind”, she states with feeling “I think I’m a person who works better with deadlines. No one could have been more surprised than I was when it won three gold stars last week”.
Victoria explains that she was really pushing her luck with this entry because by entering it into the savoury category she was competing against all the chutneys and red onion confections, products which had had time to develop and become established.
“I wanted my marmalade to have as near to a chutney taste as possible but without using vinegar. So it contains mostly citrus – it’s the tamarind which gives it the chutney flavour – but there is also mango and ginger” she says. Her savoury marmalade goes surprisingly well with sausages or duck.
The Improper lemon and horseradish combination has also recently won a Gold Award – Victoria recommends putting this on mini blinis with a soft brie (or Waterloo would be even better). And she reassures me that the Improper Hot Orange “isn’t overpoweringly hot… it’s just that, by the end of the piece of toast you feel warm”. That’s one I can’t wait to try.
Where does she get her ideas I ask. Victoria explains that the idea for the Blood Orange and Espresso Improper came from a stint at Barnstaple market. “Our stall was opposite a Cornish coffee roaster” she recalls. “They were going great guns with their Nicaraguan Fairtrade strong espresso. And I’d just finished reading a travel book on Sicily. Putting the two trains of thought together it occurred to me that, although the Sicilian blood oranges would produce a sweeter than usual marmalade, the bitter back note of the coffee would give the balance I needed.” She explains that she achieves a similar balance in another Improper (also a gold award winner) by substituting the bitterness of the coffee with the spiciness of black pepper.
“And I’ve got half a dozen other flavours running around in my head” Victoria tells me, explaining that she needs to mentally internalise and perfect the flavour combinations first before she starts working on them in the kitchen “they have to be right in the brain before they ever get to the jar”.
The latest challenge is an off-the-wall mussel-sauce-tasting marmalade, “it’s got lemon undernotes and herbs of course” she muses, “but how to achieve the creamy taste?” I can tell she already has an idea, but when I press she’s not telling.
The concept of Improper Marmalade was, says Victoria, “a real finger in the air… but it’s turned out to have eclipsed everything else.” It’s certainly an example of inspired branding which doesn’t just excite the consumer but also the creative process of the producer.
When it comes to a recipe using traditional marmalade Victoria is unequivocal. “It’s got to be Brioche and Butter pudding” she says. “It’s so quick and simple, but the marmalade gives it an extra edge. People always ask for more.” For another quick and easy marmalade pudding, go to whiskied marmalade brioche.
Victoria Cranfield’s proper brioche and butter pudding:
- 500g fresh, ready made custard
- 50g chopped dried apricots
- 25g raisins
- 2 tbsp brandy
- Butter to spread and to grease
- 4 medium slices of brioche
- 2 tbsp marmalade
- 1 tsp demerara sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
- Put the apricots and raisins in a small bowl and soak in the brandy.
- Lightly grease an ovenproof dish.
- Butter the brioche on one side only.
- Over that spread the marmalade.
- Cut each slice of brioche diagonally into four.
- Lay half of them marmalade side up in the dish.
- Scatter over a third of the soaked dried fruit.
- Pour over half the custard.
- Lay over that the rest of the brioche, marmalade side up.
- Scatter over another third of the dried fruit, and any remaining brandy in the bowl.
- Pour over the rest of the custard.
- Bake for 20 minutes, take out, scatter over the rest of the dried fruit (you should have about a tablespoon of each).
- Return to the oven and bake another 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle over the demerara sugar.
- Serve warm.