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When I was a child my favourite snack was cheese on toast with Marmite spread on top of it. I would also spread Marmite on pancakes, potato waffles and spoon it into jacket potatoes. My parents thought this was very odd and frequently said so. Eccentric food preferences were not tolerated so well in the 1970s and I'm sure my mum and dad hoped I would grow out of my obsession. I never did.
My love of Marmite has just increased as the years have gone by. It's something I need to have in the house at all times. (I have even been known to take a jar on holiday with me, just in case I can't locate any on my travels.) So when I spotted a book that was aimed at serious Marmite fans, I just had to have it. I couldn't wait to dive in and find new ways to enjoy this tasty product.
This book presents a good range of Marmite-inspired recipes, although not all the suggestions are particularly imaginative. In several cases Marmite's only appearance in the recipe involves spreading it onto bread or toast, in the course of making a rather fancy sandwich, which may well be quite appetising, but it's not exactly ground breaking. Most Marmite fans will have been doing that for years anyway. We are quite capable of smearing a bit of Marmite onto bread and topping it with something else, so we might well have come up with recipes like Manhattan Bagel or Chicken Club Sandwich without a book to point us in the right direction.
That said, the book has introduced me to some combinations that I just wouldn't have come up with on my own. Whilst I discovered the delightful blend of cheese and Marmite a long time ago, I would never have thought of the Marmite/watercress combination, for example. Having tried it, I can now appreciate the delicious blend of saltiness and pepperiness that the author raves about. Likewise, although I love Indian food almost as much as I love Marmite, until I discovered this book it had not occurred to me to combine the two - and certainly not for breakfast. Having tasted the 'Naandwich', a warm naan bread spread with Marmite and filled with chilli scrambled eggs, I can honestly say this unlikely combination works and it is particularly good when you're under the weather or hung over and need something hot and spicy to give you a lift.
The book does offer a bit more than variations on Marmite sandwiches. With a range that includes stir-fries, pasta and salads, there is plenty to explore. The recipes are set out clearly with numbered, step-by-step instructions, but the lack of illustrations is a big disappointment for me. I much prefer cookery books with photographs of the completed dishes. They would be particularly useful in a book featuring recipes which sometimes sound a little weird, even to a Marmite enthusiast. Another criticism I would make is that the recipes are set out in a rather random way, instead of being grouped by theme - starters, main courses, light bites, etc.
There is a good balance between simple comfort food and more sophisticated options. So if you want to host a dinner party for friends who share your passion for Marmite, you might consider serving up Croustades of Seared Salmon and Tarragon Mayonnaise or Pasta Primavera. I find it rather interesting to browse the recipe titles and try to guess exactly how Marmite is going to be incorporated into the recipe.
Even with my fondness for Marmite, there were one or two recipes that just did not appeal to me. Deep Fried Eggs with Tomato Sauce was one such offering. I have never heard of deep frying an egg before and just reading about it made me feel queasy. Banana and Bacon French Toast did not inspire me much either, reminding me of the sort of calorific indulgence Elvis Presley would've favoured and although I like garlic bread, the addition of Marmite to the traditional French stick just seemed a step too far.
It goes without saying that it isn't the healthiest recipe book you'll ever come across with many recipes calling for rich cheeses, white bread, butter, eggs and creamy sauces. It's not a good choice if you are trying to lose weight. Just reading the book is likely to make your cholesterol levels rocket and let's not even think about all that salt. However, at times we do need 'nursery' food, comforting fare that reminds us of our childhood. To be fair, some recipes do provide a few unusual ways to contribute to your five a day. Why just have Marmite on your muffin when you can also add some wilted baby spinach or rocket leaves, for example?
Recipes are just one part of the book, however. In addition, it features a selection of Marmite quotes from both celebrities and ordinary members of the public. As expected, some love it and some hate it. One woman says, "Football apart, it's the only thing that will get my husband out of bed." A man comments less favourably, "I use it for fish bait, but there's no place for it outside my tackle box." I can't help but think it might be more interesting if we had some opinions midway between the two extremes. In my experience, a lot of people neither love nor hate Marmite, but simply think it's okay. Why can't we hear what they have to say, for a change? It might actually be quite enlightening.
The book also contains a lot of quirky Marmite facts. For instance, you can learn about the Missouri Marmite Museum, set up in 1973 by a devoted fan. You can discover what academic research has found to be the most pleasurable way to eat Marmite (Yes, people actually do get paid for researching such pointless things!) and learn what happened when Elton John craved Marmite while on tour in the Soviet Union in 1979. There is a good selection of archive pictures, showing the different advertising campaigns for Marmite over the years, including a very welcome sighting of Zippy from Rainbow (an old favourite of mine) who featured in the 2002 centenary advert.
The whole tone of this book is rather wacky, which seems apt as Marmite obsessives are often quite eccentric types, in my experience. The 'Potted' history tells you what else was going on in the world at the time of key developments in the Marmite world and it does not focus on the obvious historical events. For example, in 1866 at the same time as German chemist, Justin Liebig was discovering how you could turn brewers' yeast into a tasty spread, a man called Andrew Rankin was patenting his design for the urinal. (No, don't worry. The two events were not in any way linked.)
I would recommend this book for Marmite enthusiasts. It's an attractive, hard backed book with a glossy exterior. The black, yellow, red and green colour scheme reflects the traditional colours of the iconic Marmite jar and label and gives it a cheery feel. For fans it's a great celebration of the product, with a tongue-in-cheek style that is not to be taken too seriously, particularly the section on alternative uses for Marmite, which is really very silly!
However, it isn't likely to convert Marmite haters. In fact, if you are already anti-Marmite, you are even less likely to want to sample it when faced with recipes for Quails' Eggs and Bockwurst Salad with Marmite Dressing or Prawn and Marmite Sesame Toasts. But for me this book feels like a vindication. All those years when my parents thought I was a weirdo, I was perhaps just ahead of the game. I knew that Marmite was under-used and at last the world has cottoned on!
The Marmite Cookbook is available new from Amazon sellers from £3.18 with used copies for as little as £0.01. I notice that Paul Hartley has written other books in the series including The Colman's Mustard Cookbook, The Lyle's Golden Syrup Cookbook and The Heinz Tomato Ketchup Cookbook, so if Marmite isn't your thing you may want to celebrate other store cupboard classics and appreciate his eccentric take on these products.