In January of 2018, The Guardian published a simple, classic recipe for orange marmalade. Since mid-January of this year, for reasons that have not been revealed, the Guardian newsroom has seen an uptick of letters to the editor from elderly people proclaiming their love for for the bittersweet fruit spread. Why is this happening? Does it really matter? Earnest letters to the editor written by elderly folk are always a treasure.
On January 13, 78-year-old Mr. Terry Swann of Sheffield wrote in to inform the paper that his 77-year-old wife had just made 18 pounds of marmalade. Not to be outdone, Mr. David Hitchin, 84, of Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, wrote to The Guardian on the 15th to congratulate the Swanns on their achievement, and to let them know that he, too, had just made 18 pounds of marmalade, and he did it completely on his own. While I initially found these quantities impressive, on January 17 the public was informed that neither the Swanns nor Mr. Hitchen have anything on the husband of Ms. Jaqueline Ferrier of Tiverton, Devon, who made 41 pounds of marmalade at the ripe old age of 88. Meanwhile I, a woman in my thirties, could not bring myself to make dinner for my family last night because, well, I just didn’t want to do it.
The marmalade letters teach us valuable lessons about vitality at any age, and the importance of living life to the fullest. Birmingham’s Val Harrison, who will be 74 in August, writes that she and her 88-year-old husband are so busy that they simply do not have the time to make marmalade and that the editor should know that they have recently booked a cruise setting sail in 2022 as they have no plans on dying anytime soon. Jane Hasell-McCosh, founder of the International Marmalade Awards, wrote in to remind the paper’s readers that nobody is “too old to make marmalade,” and says the most crowded field in the annual competition is the “Octogenarians and over” category.
The collection of letters was not without drama. Deb Masters, 77, was making marmalade alone in her house when she accidentally sliced into her finger—a mere inconvenience for some, but for an elderly woman on blood thinners, a potential disaster (by disaster, we are obviously referring to the 15 pounds of marmalade she had made being ruined). And then, there was the ominous letter from Hazel Harrison of Norwich, which read: “My dear husband, who at 80-plus makes delicious marmalade, has just labelled this year’s batch ‘The Last Hurrah.’ Oh dear.” Oh dear indeed, Mrs. Harrison. Oh dear indeed.