Of Memories and Marmalade

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.

His wife could eat no lean.

And between them both, you see,

They licked the platter clean.

The name Jack Sprat was used to describe someone of small stature in the sixteenth century; sprats are small fish. Seemingly, it was an English proverb from the mid-seventeenth century, or before. It appeared in John Clarke’s collection of sayings in 1639:

Jack will eat not fat, and Jull doth love no leane.

Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes cleane.

The saying became well known English nursery rhymes when it appeared in Mother Goose’s Melody around 1765, but children probably recited it much earlier.

Olive: Tilly how do you know the children recited it much earlier. Were you there?

Tilly: Miaow … in truth, historians found a reference to you singing it in the streets with your friends.

I had always believed this nursery rhyme to be about not wasting food – other sources link it to all sorts of political shenanigans, taxation, and even Robin Hood. My, how that man sneaks into nursery rhymes.

Olive: Robin Hood, spoke in nursery rhymes??? Put the wine down Tilly.

Tilly: No, you put the wine down, Olive! The nursery rhyme was linked, amongst other things, to Robin Hood’s steal from the rich to help the poor activities. Duh.

Having spent some time in Europe recently, this rhyme came to mind when I encountered the wanton greed and culpable waste when watching fellow guests in a hotel in Barcelona.

Our deal via Easy Jet was to stay in the Hotel Gothica (nice four-star hotel, friendly staff and very central) and breakfast was included. I love to watch people and it was fascinating to see other breakfasters take far more food than they could possibly eat – stacks of bread for toast, rolls piled high, croissants, pastries, muffins, yoghourts, fruit, cold meats and cheeses, sausages and tortilla …

Olive: Wonder how their blood sugar handled all that food?

Tilly: I have no idea – maybe lots of sighseeing and walking burned it up.

There was no way they could consume the quantities taken and they didn’t wrap anything in napkins for lunch, either – and sure enough, the tables were littered with the debris of untouched and partially eaten food. (It was like watching people eat in films; they never eat or drink more than a mouthful before they dab their mouths with a napkin and leave the table.)

Why do they do this?

Olive: Because they can.

Is it the ‘must get my money’s worth’ philosophy? Or the ‘it doesn’t matter if I take a bite, leave part or all of it because I have paid for it anyway’ school of thought? I wondered if those families were the same in their own homes or encouraged their children to take too much and just leave it. I wondered how they felt when visitors wasted food – meals prepared with care in the pursuit of being good hosts.

Having been brought up to not waste anything – food in particular – whilst not a revelation, it was dispiriting to say the least. My father claimed his garden fork had been in the family for over one hundred years and had only had 94 new handles and 30 new tines … nothing to do with food waste, but he put it to good use in the vegetable patch.

Tilly: The rule in our home was ‘You’ve taken it, so eat it, whether your eyes are bigger than your tummy or not.’

An elderly friend told me that she had been orphaned at the age of four when both her parents died in a car accident. Her grandparents felt unable to take on a lively child and sent her to boarding school, where she was always hungry. I think post-war WWII.  She was taken to the cinema as a treat one Saturday morning, to see a typical child’s comedy – slapstick, silliness and fun. But at the sight of custard pies were flying across the screen, she went beserk, screaming and kicking, beside herself, whilst other children and adults guffawed with laughter.  She could not understand why people were throwing food around when she never had enough to eat.

My Mama taught me ‘waste not, want not’.

I try not to waste but I’ll be damned if I don’t want. –

Amy Leigh Cutter.

On a more cheerful note, I did notice that when the apples on the breakfast buffet were not looking as shiny and inviting as usual, they appeared the next morning as baked apples with cinnamon – a favourite. However, the apples were those horrid, tasteless Golden Delicious so favoured in Europe and, I believe, the USA.

Nowhere tart enough for this tart …

Olive: But they are good. Maybe not for frying, but they are good.

Tilly: No – they lack crunch and are overly sweet, invariably with tough skins. They probably would be okay as fried slices to accompany pork chops.

Bakes apples DEMAND an old-fashioned English cooking apple – sharp, juicy, with flesh which falls to a tempting puree within the skin when baked properly. However, not one to pass up on a challenge, I noted that the little plastic pots of marmalade (horrid but practical) contained real marmalade! With plenty of chunky peel for added bite and texture. None of this peel-free or finely-shredded or over-sweetened muck! Popped into where the core had been, the apple was transformed.

They’d have been even better baked this way, but then, as we tended to break our fast later than the dedicated tourist, they would probably have been piled high and left on tables throughout the restaurant.

“Marmalade in the morning has the same effect on taste buds that a cold shower has on the body.

Jenine Larmouth

Olive: Oh, make apple dumplings… so good….

Tilly: Can’t eat much in the way of bread, pastry, wheat products. I love pasta so tend to ‘save’ what I can eat for a pasta meal! Gluten-free stuff is horrid.

On our return, I was moved to make a breakfast preserve with windfalls from the garden and grapefruit shells. It’s delicious and if anyone is interested in the recipe, leave a note and I’ll post it. It makes a good accompaniment to pork, can be used in a flan with a chewy, sticky meringue on top (I don’t like the dry, white, crumbly things) and makes for a scrummy contrast between sharp and sweet. Blending some chocolate digestives into the pastry mix makes for added deliciousness …

Olive: Grapefruit has shells. Where are you getting your grapefruit from?

Tilly: Well, aren’t we just the contrary child today? You know very well the shells are the empty halves of a grapefruit, orange or lemon.


My folks were English. They were too poor to be British. I still have a bit of British in me. In fact, my blood type is solid marmalade.’

 Author: Bob Hope




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  • Jerry Bell

    I think marmalade is wonderful, although I confess ice had orange more than any other kind. As you apples, for the longest time I preferred that Delicious ones looked down upon. Although for the past score of year’s my tastes have changed to include many more types.
    I must admit that a side dish of apples always enhances any cut of pork. Just as a healthy slice of cheddar enhances a wonderful apple pie.
    As always the two of you make me think of delicious foods. Carry on, ladies

    • Olive

      Thank you for your comment. Fried apples or applesauce served with pork started in Germany… they knew that the acid in the apples cut back on the fat in pork.

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