Jonathan Hamel Cooke, from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, is this year’s official Best in Show winner of the Marmalade Awards, beating thousands of entries from all over the world. We caught up with him to see how he did it..

How do you feel having won the Marmalade Awards 2020?
Having won various classes over the years, I thought my Marmalade was good, but possibly lacking in originality. I am therefore so delighted to have achieved Double Gold with the classic Dark and Chunky Marmalade, a particular favourite of mine.

Why did you make this Marmalade the way you did?
Every year I try to improve my method and this year:-
I adopted the three day method to improve setting and spread the load as I make it in the evenings and at weekends after work as a gardener.
I have made all my recipes with bottled mineral water to avoid the chemicals associated with tap water.
I like a sharp reduced sugar Marmalade with that old fashioned bitter taste. Use of lemons in the pressure cooker was making the Marmalade too acid and breaking the set. This year I have omitted lemons as the Seville Orange abounds with pips for pectin and is very acidic in its own right.

Why do you enter every year?
I first entered in 2007 and won a Bronze, but it was after winning the ‘Any Citrus’ class in 2008 with Blood Orange Marmalade that I was hooked. The prize was dinner at Sharrowbay, complete with Blood Orange dessert!
Technical improvement was enabled every year by addressing the constructive comments from the W.I. Judges on the score cards. The ever elusive top prize had to be pursued!
As a gardener seasonality of crops is so important, so I use the Seville orange to make Marmalade in January for my breakfast and to give to friends. The Marmalade is then celebrated in the best way possible at The World’s Original Marmalade Festival, fun to take part in and a weekend I enjoy to the full in the beautiful surroundings of Dalemain in Cumbria.

Have you won awards for your marmalade before?
Yes, since I began entering the competition in 2007 I have won 53 Golds and 10 Double Golds – so it was wonderful to finally get that top spot! The more I think about it, the more pleased I am that I finally took the title with my Dark & Chunky marmalade. It won the Dark & Chunky category in 2010 and 2016, and in 2011 it won the Man Made category, proving it could triumph over varied competition. Throughout, it has been a particular favourite of mine.

Where do you like to make marmalade?
I always make the marmalade in our kitchen at home.

What is your philosophy on marmalade making?
For years I could not buy a decent pot of marmalade, remembering the marmalade I made as a child with my mother. On moving to Buckinghamshire I enjoyed the marmalade of a friend and neighbour who gave me her recipe and I thought the only way forward is to make my own. So in 2007 I made my first batch and in January of that year spotted the invitation in Country Life for Marmalade makers to enter The World’s Original Marmalade Festival at Dalemain in Cumbria when it opened its doors to the world. Over the years I have honed my different recipes to my liking, a reduced sugar Marmalade using the whole fruit with Chunky shreds and that old fashioned bitter taste.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for budding marmalade makers?
I always go to the Q&A sessions at the Marmalade Festival and pick up a gem every time, such as Pam Corbin’s 3 day method, or the advice not to mess around with low alcohol gins, but use the best Tanquerays Gin No.10. Throughout the summer, being confined by the restrictions enforced to get the better of this virus, one could make Jane Hasell-McCosh’s ‘Anytime Marmalade’ which uses Sweet Oranges instead of Sevilles. One could then practice and be ready for the Seville Orange season in January 2021. This recipe was published in ‘Landscape Magazine’ March/April 2013 in an article about Jane Hasell-McCosh and the Marmalade Festival.

What are your top ten pieces of marmalade making equipment?
In the years that I have been taking part, my marmalade has without doubt improved with the constructive comments of the WI and presents of key pieces of equipment from supportive friends. The use of a pressure cooker was a method gleaned from an article about Jane Hasell-McCosh and has helped overcome the problem of overcooked/undercooked peel. An old style flannelette jelly bag on a hoop filters away cloudiness to give a brighter, clearer finish, and a large Kilner spatula ensures the dissolving of the sugar at the onset of cooking. My top, must-have pieces of equipment are:

1. Prestige Quick and Easy Pressure Cooker
2. 8 litre aluminium Maslin Jam Pan
3.  Kilner 40cm silicone spatula – with a long beech wood handle
4.  CDN Digital Candy Thermometer
5.  Wide (1 3/4″) neck funnel for filling jars
6.  Rogers and Wallace Hooped Jelly Bag cotton flannelette (sadly no longer made!)
7.  Zeal Silicon Ladle
8.  Nylon Sieve
9.  Sharp Scissors (used only for Marmalade, with a large opening on both handles.)
10. Classic 1lb and 1/2lb jars, new lids and labels (crucial for presentation!)

There is a good chapter on Finishing Preservation Work for Show in The W.I. Booklet on Preservation 1964, which is the last word in presentation. The whole booklet is brilliant, and the W.I. should reprint it!