The Mish-Mash Dictionary of Marmite
– an anecdotal A to Z of tar-in-a-jar
By Maggie Hall
Price: UK – £10.00
Published by Revel Barker Publishing, October 2009
What’s it all about
The Burton Mail
The Washington Post
designed by Rex Aldred
designed by Paula Barker
Available in the UK from: amazon
in the US from Barnes & Noble and amazon
in Canada from amazon and McNally Robinson
Or with free delivery, worldwide, from the Book Depository
By Revel Barker
When the paper she was working on folded – without warning, as they all do – Maggie Hall secured an interview with Bill Freeman, northern news editor of the Daily Mirror, with what must be the shortest job application on record:
Dear Mr Freeman,
Help! Help! Help!
Maggie Hall (Yorkshire Evening News)
She got the job.
She and I had met before that when, as the youngest reporters on our competing newspapers, we’d gone to cover a rock concert in a former tram shed in Leeds. This was so long ago that The Beatles weren’t top of the bill – they were supporting Acker Bilk.
We have remained mates since, even surviving the night when (for the first edition, at least) she got top by-line billing with a single-par rewrite of PA introducing my copy explaining how I’d persuaded Jeffrey Archer to resign as an MP. Yes; some things still rankle a bit, but the friendship was strong enough for me to overcome it. Sort of.
Having made it to London, and tiring of duplicating PA, she joined the news desk and then became Our Man in New York.
That’s where she met the ebullient Gary Humfelt, a computer engineer. Well, it’s not quite. Nothing’s ever that straightforward with Maggie. They met in China, where he was helping set up their airport technology and she was on the first organised tourist trip into the previously closed republic.
Some of her story – including how she covered a Manchester United match and forgot to report the score – is told in Liz Hodgkinson’s excellent book, Ladies of The Street. But it doesn’t mention her love affair with Marmite.
Wherever she’s been, from home in Cleckheaton (West Yorkshire) to the Dewsbury Reporter, the Lynn News and Advertiser (Kings Lynn) to the YENews, the Mirror, Manchester, London and New York and eventually Washington DC where she now lives and writes, the black stuff Gary christened Tar-in-a-jar has gone with her.
And when her new husband slipped and wrecked his knee and Maggie found herself in the unlikely role of nursemaid, unable to string for the News of the World and People magazine, she decided to write a book about it.
It all involved intensive research and interviewing. No problem there. All the information she unearthed had the makings of a fun book. And one of her oldest chums had meanwhile become a publisher. End of story.
What she’s created is the perfect bog-side book (the Americans would call it a bathroom book) for dipping into at random, packed with information you didn’t know – and didn’t even want to know – about Marmite.
It is, in a word, a fun book. Remember? We used to do fun, when we were reporters.
It comes out next week and is an ideal Christmas present for those strange people (and we know there are some, out there) who don’t want books about newspapers.
Maggie and Gary, incidentally, keep up the fun. Although she’s lived in the US more than 30 years, every summer finds them back in the UK at their second home in Whitby, North Yorks, hosting an Independence Day party on July 4. You can spot their place on the harbour – the Stars And Stripes flies above it.
Many old hands turn up – Sid Young, Austin Wormleighton, Graham Snowden, Heather Miller among them – for the chicken wings and baked ham and find themselves singing My Country ’Tis Of Thee. Well, at least they know the tune.
It’s the only day when Marmite doesn’t figure anywhere on the menu in the Hall-Humfelt household. Well, it isn’t an American staple… yet.
Maggie will be back in the UK later this month (October/November) for an extensive tour promoting the book.
By Maggie Hall
The mere mention of Marmite provokes passionate – and sharply divided – reaction. Can there be anyone in Britain who has never heard of it? Few can be in the position of never having tasted it.
There is no half-hearted response. As the legendary advertising campaign tells us: you either love it, or hate it. You’d be hard pressed to be in the company of anyone who doesn’t have a feeling to express, a memory evoked or an anecdote to tell.
The thought of it, the smell of it, the taste of it, strike physical and mental chords that delve deep back into childhood. But what do most of us know about the black goo? The answer is basically zero.
In fact even most fans would be hard-pressed to answer ‘yes’, if asked: do you like yeast extract on your toast?
I probably ought to have made it clear, before you forked out your cash – although you may have done that already – that this is not a real ‘dictionary’. It is, as the title says, a ‘mish-mash’. The Oxford Dictionary (now, there’s a real one) defines ‘mish-mash’ as ‘a confused collection’ or ‘hodgepodge’. Others say it means ‘curious mixture’.
This offering lives up to all three interpretations. One reason for that is that this is an unauthorised version – it comes to you without the blessing of Unilever, owners of Marmite.
The giant food, laundry soap and personal products conglomerate could not give this project its seal of approval – never mind its support, cooperation, or access to the Marmite archives. The barrier was the contracts it had to produce other books on the iconic product whose fame has – quite literally – spread around the world.
But that is my own fault. In 1997 I had the idea to write a book about Marmite but I was thwarted on two fronts. Firstly, interest from the publishing industry was nil. One leading publisher turned down my proposal because there was no sex in it (although there is a bit, ever such a little bit, now). Secondly the then owners of Marmite, CPC, while happy to give me access to records, were not prepared to back the book financially.
So I retreated and returned to journalism, to enjoy generating big headlines, exciting assignments, annoying people who can’t stand tabloid reporters. I also withdrew from Marmite and anything and everything allied to it.
But every sight of a jar sent me into a fit of self-pity about not following through on my ‘literary project’. Finally, fed up with friends asking ‘what happened to your Marmite idea?’ I took the plunge. Only to discover that my original idea was all the rage – and I was on the outside, now barely able to get so much as a glimpse into the official Marmite world.
However as a result, and left to my own devices, I uncovered the most amazing, zany, interesting, erudite, amusing, stupid gems of information – all linked by one noun, proper and common: MARMITE.
Black magic personified!
A book on Marmite, you’ll
either love it or you’ll hate it
LOVE it or hate it, Marmite enjoys a higher profile than ever before, largely thanks to the inspired advertising campaign which highlights the way its manufacturer claims it polarises opinion. The yeast-based spread, made in Burton from leftovers from the brewing industry, is the subject of a new, unofficial book by a former Fleet Street journalist.
By Tim Fletcher (The Burton Mail)
Maggie Hall’s research into the story of Marmite led her inexorably towards the home of the sticky brown stuff.
But the 68-year-old author’s visit to Burton; ‘Mecca’ for lovers of the yeast-based spread; left her feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
“I came in on the train and I was expecting signs welcoming me to the home of Marmite, but there was nothing except a sign about the National Forest,”
she says. “I struggled to find anyone who could tell me where the factory was.
“When I did get there, I had been expecting signs about tours of the factory, but again nothing. I explained to the chap on the gate that I was on a bit of a pilgrimage and said that they must get people like me turning up all the time. He said to me: ‘No love, you’re the first’.”
Maggie, born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, trained as a journalist and worked her way up through various regional rags to Fleet Street before earning a posting to the Daily Mirror’s New York bureau.
The idea of writing a book about Marmite gestated for several years before finally coming to fruition after she and her American husband retired.
“The idea came to me when I heard they were selling silver lids for Marmite jars and people were spending £60 on them,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘What’s wrong with people?’ It was something I didn’t understand and I wanted to investigate.
“I did a bit of research but it never came to anything.
There was one publisher interested for a while. He said to me: ‘I like the idea, but is there any sex in it’?”
Reprising the project in January this year, Maggie commenced several months of research to enable her to produce an authoritative tome on the popular condiment.
“My phone bill was through the roof, I spoke to a lot of people and used the internet,” she says. “I was totally and utterly surprised and gobsmacked by some of the stuff that came up.”
The fruit of her labour has just been published. Entitled The Mish Mash Dictionary of Marmite An Anecdotal A-Z of ‘Tar In a Jar’, it is, as the name suggests, a pot pourri of weird and wonderful tales about Marmite’s history, its influence on some of the key events of our times and the antics of some of the lovers (and haters) of the spread.
“The one time I physically let out a ‘No!’ was when I heard about the woman who had done her university dissertation on Marmite and the role it played in society,” she says.
“The other one that I was quite excited about was when I got to interview (Yorkshire-born NASA astronaut) Dr Nicholas Patrick. When he went on the space shuttle in 2006 he was allowed to take one comfort food and he chose Marmite. He had to have it in a squeezy tube though because you’re not allowed to take knives into space.”
Other nuggets uncovered by Maggie in the course of her research include Marmite’s alleged health-giving properties (it has been hailed as a cure for everything from eczema to premenstrual syndrome) and the vital succour it provided to our brave troops.
“During the two world wars it was absolutely enormously important to get Marmite to the prisoners of war and there are some very emotive tales from that time,” says Maggie.
“There’s a story about how the Japanese prison guards in the camps used to go through the prisoners’ packages looking for all the goodies and when they got to the Marmite the PoWs would take a bit and dab it on their boots, pretending it was boot polish so they’d be allowed to keep it.”
In the modern era, Marmite’s profile is probably higher than it has ever been, largely due to the ‘Love/ hate’ advertising campaign which has worked its way into the popular lexicon.
“They are the first words out of anyone’s mouth whenever you mention Marmite to them; they say ‘yeah, you either love it or hate it’,” says Maggie.
“People say it as if it’s original thought.
“It’s totally iconic now and the slogan is the envy of other companies it’s a really good piece of reverse marketing.”
Despite the many hours of research she has put into researching the book, Maggie remains unable to explain why a bitter, sticky brown spread inspires such passions, and perhaps surprisingly isn’t suffering the effects of Marmite overkill.
“I’ve had my head in a Marmite jar for six months and I still don’t have a clue why people get so passionate about it; I can’t explain it,” says Maggie.
“It hasn’t put me off Marmite, though. I’d be scribbling away writing something up for the book and I’d just have to go and have some Marmite. I’ve probably eaten more of the stuff in the past six months than in the rest of my life put together.”
Word is spreading on Marmite
Writer Maggie Hall is proud of her first book . . . even though half of all readers will probably hate it.
That’s because she’s penned a dictionary devoted entirely to Marmite - the black goo we all either love or loathe.
The former Fleet Street journalist, of Whitby, North Yorkshire, uncovered all manner of ridiculous facts about the “tar in a jar” while writing the book.
It only came about when her husband suffered a fall, making Maggie his carer for several weeks and also giving her time to write.
Maggie, 68, said: “I love Marmite . . . I’m not obsessed with it, although people will think I am now.
“The idea for the book has actually been in my mind for about 12 years, when I saw that one of the very first silver lids for a Marmite jar sold for £65.
“Then, when I started looking into it I learned all sorts.
“For instance, I had no idea it came from the waste yeast of the brewing industry.
“Another fact which still shocks me now is that it’s made in the same factory as Bovril.
“But when I sent my first synopsis of the book to publishers it was rejected, because there was no sex in it, so I retreated back into journalism.”
The freelance writer and her husband Gary, who split their time between homes in Whitby and Washington DC in the US, usually like to go travelling in winter, but Gary was left immobile when he damaged his knee in an accident last year.
Maggie said: “All plans for travelling went off the agenda and I couldn’t leave him for a minute.
“I’ve always had a feeling I had to get this book out – it haunted me a little bit that someone else might get there first – and so it was through my husband’s injury that I finally got the chance.”
The resulting book, The Mish-Mash Dictionary of Marmite: An Anecdotal A-Z of Tar in a Jar, contains a mix of bizarre, fascinating, zany and amusing gems of information on the yeast treat, which was first created in the 1900s.
It tells of the student who got a good history degree based on her dissertation about the black magic, the astronaut who took it on a shuttle flight and even how it saved many PoWs from beri beri disease.
Maggie was in Newcastle last Friday to sign copies of the quirky gift book in Blackwells bookshop, where she handed out Marmite-infused goodies, including cake and black pudding drizzled in Marmite marmalade.
She said: “The spread at the signing highlighted how Marmite is no longer confined to its humble place on the breakfast table, but flying high in the culinary world.
“I think Marmite lovers will love the book, but even those who have no interest in Marmite, know nothing about it, will find something to grab them.”
Maggie will be signing copies of her book in Whitby Book Shop next Saturday from 5.30pm.
Best digested in book form
By John Kelly, Washington Post
I arrived late to the book party launching Maggie Hall's new paperback about Marmite, an English condiment that is perhaps the foulest compound legally sold for human consumption. Late, but not late enough: There was still plenty of Marmite left.
Like Marmite, Maggie is English. Unlike Marmite, I like Maggie. A former reporter for Britain's Daily Mirror tabloid newspaper – ‘horror, sex, scandal,’ is what she says she wrote about – she's 68 and lives with her American husband, Gary Humfelt, on Capitol Hill. Her book is titled ‘The Mish-Mash Dictionary of Marmite: An Anecdotal A-Z of 'Tar-in-a-Jar.' ‘
How to describe Marmite, a foodstuff that, like warm beer and rainy summers, informs the English national identity? Imagine putting hundreds of anchovies in a blender, adding salt and axle grease, pureeing, pouring the contents on an asphalt roofing shingle, baking under a hot sun for several weeks, then scraping off a black, gooey precipitate and eating it. That is Marmite.
That's how it tastes, anyway. What it is is yeast extract. You might wonder why someone first thought to extract something edible from yeast. I know I did. Apparently when you brew beer, there's all this sludge left over. Using science, you can make Marmite out of it. Also Vegemite, which is the Australian version of Marmite name-checked by the band Men at Work.
This is all in Maggie's little book, its entries arranged alphabetically. Under ‘vitamins,’ you learn that Marmite is packed with thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid; under ‘fishing,’ that some anglers think it attracts catfish and carp; under ‘museum,’ that a Missouri man has a shrine to Marmite in his basement, and under ‘outer space,’ that Yorkshire-born NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick brought Marmite with him as his ‘comfort food’ on a 2006 space shuttle mission. (It would also have been handy for patching damaged thermal tiles.)
Marmite's manufacturer, Unilever, admits it's an acquired taste. The admirably honest slogan: ‘You either love it or hate it.’ Maggie loves it. ‘I've liked anchovies from the age of 18 months,’ she said, ‘so what can you say?’
Maggie's book party was at American Legion Hall Post 8 on the Hill. There were the tiny yellow-lidded jars of Marmite that you can sometimes find in American supermarkets as well as big jars weighing a pound that Maggie brought back after her last trip home to England. (What can you say about a national security apparatus that stops Cat Stevens at the border but allows jeroboams of Marmite in?)
A Marmite-inspired smorgasbord had been laid out. There was Marmite egg salad, Marmite-infused sausages, Marmite and marmalade sponge cake. You could get a bloody mary seasoned with Marmite.
There was also pumpkin bread. ‘That's the only good thing in here,’ counseled Gary. ‘There's no Marmite in it.’
The traditional way to consume Marmite is to butter a piece of toast and then spread a thin layer of the dark goo on it. A very thin layer. One-micron thick, ideally.
That's what I tried to do anyway. My toast carefully Marmited, I took a bite and immediately felt as if I'd been hit in the face by an ocean wave, a wave befouled by oil from a sinking tanker, oil that had caused a die-off of marine birds and invertebrates, creatures whose decomposing bodies were adding to the general funkiness of the wave that had found its way inside my mouth.
Maggie's $15 book is available at Marvelous Market on the Hill. So too, unfortunately, is Marmite.
It’s also available at a discount and with free UK postage from amazon-uk, click here, or with free delivery world-wide from the Book Depository in the UK.
By R Oldroyd (amazon)
If you know someone who loves, or loathes, Marmite then this book is the perfect present. Or, if you just love books full of interesting and funny facts buy it for yourself. To say it is crammed with information would be an understatement! There is just so much in here, from the factual (wait til you see how it originated), to the farcical (there's some crazy people out there), - and everything in between. You can pick this book up and start anywhere from A to Z to find out something you didn't know. The wealth of info shows just how much Marmite is part of the British psyche and this book does great justice to this loved (or hated) iconic product. I loved it, particularly as it's the sort of book you can dip into again and again, and I have a new respect for that jar in my kitchen cupboard!
By Seamus Waldron (Ihatemarmite.com)
You'd be surprised at how few Marmite-related books there are, especially as the number of Marmite brands is growing enormously at the moment.
So, into the world comes a new Marmite book filled full of Marmite information, from serious to silly and everything in between, illustrated with fun cartoon sketches.
The Mish-mash Dictionary of Marmite covers the beginnings of Marmite as brewing industry yeast-waste, to its use in the finest restaurants and the grip that Marmite has on the palates and minds around the world.
The book is almost a social history, covering more than 100 years of the life of Marmite. The Mish-mash Dictionary covers Marmite’s place in medicine, its role in education, wars, its many unlikely uses (apart from eating it), and more.
I have to say that during the research for this book I was in contact with Maggie Hall, the author (who was New York correspondent for the Daily Mirror, then a freelancer in Washington DC), and she was absolutely lovely and genuinely interested in our favourite spread. However, due to a spell-checking error, I am in the book as Sean Waldron and not Seamus Waldron… I cannot repeat the reply from Maggie when I pointed this out!
Now I know what I would do with Marmite: use it for fish bait and to murder garden slugs. Maggie Hall's new book consistently rewards the reader with tasty tidbits. I can't wait for the movie version! – Margaret S
By Garry Clifford
The sun may have dimmed a bit on the once mighty British Empire, but its legacy lives on in weird and wonderful ways. One of the most widespread is the iconic breakfast spread of gooey black concentrated yeast extract known as "Marmite." Regarded by the Brits as a national treasure, the brown jar with the bright yellow lid shows up in some of the most remote places on the globe.(Just this year Jesus appeared in Wales in a Marmite lid). People love it or loathe it. Maggie Hall, an intrepid reporter, who has spent the last 40 years covering both sides of the pond, has written a delightfully funny book about this little wonder filled with wonderful historical stories and bizarre lore, it is a great read for nearly everyone and not for Brits alone. But if you're a Brit – buy two!
Maggie Hall's Mish Mash Dictionary of Marmite is full of fascinating and fun facts. It's a surprising blend of product info, history, recipes, cartoons and reasons for brand loyalty or loathing. What a grand tour of the British psyche and sense of humor, as well as its breakfast table. Yes, it is an ideal bathroom book, but I couldn't put it down. Was just too anxious to read the next silly, sexy, touching, ironic, or helpful item -- most of which were revelations. Your UK friends and closet Anglophiles like me may appreciate this book the most, but almost anyone will enjoy it. People who love Marmite, or love to hate it, are everywhere. As I learned from M3 -- Mish Mash Marmite -- the salty spread has even traveled to outer space! For the record: Marmite isn't my thing. Make mine peanut butter & jelly on a toasted English muffin, thank you. – BB