Marvellous marmalade making - with Bumblees

Updated: Jun 14, 2018



What are you having on your morning toast? Honey? Marmite? Strawberry Jam? Well, we’re having marmalade. Paddington would be proud… and it’s not just any marmalade either. It’s handmade by the Queen of Preserves – Francine Lee from Bumblee's :). Fran creates the most gorgeous artisan marmalades, jams, vinegars and chutneys right here in beautiful Somerset and now we’ve tried them, basically there’s no going back!  





We spotted some of Fran’s preserves in the Hauser & Wirth shop and we first met her at Toby’s Garden Festival at Forde Abbey last year, when we tried some of Bumblee's Gin and Tonic Marmalade. COR!!!





… over the scent of organic oranges that filled our kitchen with their bittersweet aroma and over the wonderful jars of deep orange nectar that Fran and I made together. And, we had a good old laugh as we did it too! ;) Bumblee's produce is definitely made with love AND laughter!


From that very first taste, we were pretty much in marmalade heaven (Yes. That IS a real place) and I knew I needed to get Fran to come over and make some marmalade with us, so I could find out more about her brilliant business - and her secret recipes! ;) 

A couple of weeks ago we did it. We had a Marmalade Day! We sliced, we squeezed, we boiled, we poured and I got the chance to chat with the lovely lady herself, over the bubbling pots and pans…



… over the scent of organic oranges that filled our kitchen with their bittersweet aroma and over the wonderful jars of deep orange nectar that Fran and I made together. And, we had a good old laugh as we did it too! ;) Bumblee's produce is definitely made with love AND laughter!



Fran runs Bumblee's out of her own Somerset country kitchen, using family recipes handed down through the generations, as well as adding her own delicious contemporary twists to them:

“I’ve always loved combining different flavours and coming up with unique combinations”, Fran tells me, as we unpack the ingredients she’s brought with her for our Marmalade Making Day.


I’m sure my husband thinks I’m a bit weird when I’m trying out new flavour combinations round the kitchen table, but I just love discovering recipes that really stimulate the tastebuds and trying jams out with things you wouldn’t expect. I love using preserves in cooking for instance - Gooseberry and Elderflower jams are great with mackerel, marmalades in puddings work a like a treat and there’s always something new to discover.”

Well, we love the sound of all that and put it this way… if Strawberry and Champagne, Raspberry and Prosecco and Somerset Apple and Cider jams sound right up your street, then look no further! (And don’t get me started on Bumblee's Mojito Marmalade! Wow!). 




Anyway, many moons ago (way before Fran invented her new flavours), her mum had a smallholding full of fruit, veg and flowers and as Fran tells me:


January was always marmalading time in our house growing up, and to this day, every one of my preserves is produced the traditional way - the way we used to make it at home, in small batches in a maslin pan. This way, I know that every finished jar will be full of flavour as well as love”.

That’s one of the things that really stands out for me as we chat - the passion Fran has for creating the very best flavours with the highest quality ingredients, plus her commitment to the ethos of supporting local food. When she started out, Fran cooked small batches of preserves for local charities and decided to expand her love of making by selling a range at Taunton Farmers Market – something she still does today.





She's supported and sold her produce at many Somerset events, from the Clevedon Sunday Market to Wells Food Festival, where she started stacking up the 2017 awards (as well as winning a Great Taste 2 Star award for her Orange & Ginger Marmalade, one for her raspberry vinegar and a Taste of the West Gold for her Wild Blackberry & Apple Jam). 




It's fair to say that Fran's face lights up the most though, when she talks about local producers and makers supporting each other - and about communities buying local.

The vegetables used in Fran’s chutneys are from the local farm a stones throw away from her home, so you can’t get much more local than that... and Bumblee's jams are made with fruit lovingly grown in her own garden:



We grow raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, apples, and plums throughout the year, although for marmalade, we get our oranges a little further afield… from Ave Maria Farm in Mairena del Alcor, near Seville. They’re simply the very best organic oranges you can get and with their thick, flavoursome skin and high pectin content, they’re perfect for marmalade”.




Well, as I’m cutting each one open, taking in the scent and squeezing every last drop of juicy goodness out, I have to admit I’ve never seen oranges quite like these... and as Fran says, when it comes to marmalade that’s her secret:


“It’s about using the very best produce and taking your time over the making. Everyone makes marmalade differently, but I like to keep a bit of fibre in mine and make sure it’s packed full of flavour.”


And Fran’s definitely the expert! I struggle a bit stripping the oranges back to the skins, although a couple of successful moments make it all worthwhile…




 …and while slicing the oranges to go into our batch of Paddington’s favourite food. (I’m not the most precise slicer either, so I go for chunky pieces ;)) I ask Fran where the name ‘Bumblee's’ comes from:


“It’s a nickname I had as a child," she tells me with a grin… “Bumbley, as I used to bumble around the garden nattering to myself. My Surname is Lee, so I combined the two…  and yeah, I still bumble about the garden talking to myself. “





Well, with all the slicing and dicing done, our fruit and water is ready in the maslin pan... the pith and pips tied up loosely in a little muslin bag attached to the pan handle, so it’s suspended in the water. We then gently simmer the liquid, creating that beautiful, unmistakable scent! The number of hours it needs to be left depends on the thickness of the peel and once it’s ready, we taste it, warm it, add the sugar…




… and bring it to the boil!

Once it’s beyond normal boiling temperature, things start to really hot up! We go into full on ‘rolling boil’ mode at 104.5 degrees, baby! It’s definitely my favourite part of the whole thing, as the noise the marmalade makes turns from a fizz to a slap! YEAH! 





We try the flake test and a saucer test to make sure it’s truly ready... 




... and it’s off into the jars to cool, as I ask Fran about her future hopes for Bumblee's:

“There’s lots more I’d love to do” she tells me, with a twinkle in her eye.

I’d definitely love to stock my ranges in more local delis and shops in different parts of Somerset and as I love experimenting with flavours, it'd be great to do more limited editions… maybe one a month, as people really look forward to those”.

Well, we've made our very own Somerset cool limited editions with Fran, as when the marmalade is poured, we add a sneaky bit of brandy to some of the jars - and a drop of gin to some of the others! Oh yes!


As the cooling continues, Fran’s bought along a selection of Bumblee's marmalades so we have a taste test on some fresh crusty bread... and in the middle of all my ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhring’ and my “this is the best marmalade I’ve ever tasted” gushing, I ask Fran about her favourite flavour of the jam or marmalade she makes. 


“My favourite has to be Wild Blackberry & Apple jam. It reminds me of gorgeous crumbles and warm croissants, but taking the dogs and foraging for blackberries isn’t as romantic as it sounds - in the cold, getting continually scratched by brambles!”





And talking of dogs, our two hounds take a massive shine to Fran... and it’s not just because she brought lovely treats with her from her two doggies either! ;) 




It's because Fran’s a real animal person (as are all the best people ;)) and an all-round fantastic soul.



We’ll definitely have a Marmalade Day every year in our house from now on and we couldn’t think of anyone better to spend it with than Fran.





If you want to try Fran’s award-winning handmade preserves, you can buy them online at the Bumblee's website, in a selection of delis and stores across Somerset (check out stockists here), at the Hauser & Wirth gallery shop, or pop along to see Fran at the Taunton Farmers Market. You'll also find Fran at other pop-up events and markets, so keep in touch with Bumblee's on Twitter and Instagram for all the details.



P.S. If we’re having a marmalade sandwich under our hat in case of emergencies, it will definitely have Bumblee's marmalade in it! Blood Red Orange or Seville for us please! :) 


#marmalade #jam #madeinsomerset #somerset #makers #somersetcool #bumblees #bumbleespreserves #shop

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