There are certain things that you have to be British, or at least older than me, or possibly both, to appreciate: skiffle music, salt-cellars with a single hole and Marmite (an edible yeast extract with the visual properties of an industrial lubricant). BILL BRYSON
There are some things I desperately miss about England while travelling for longish periods abroad: The Guardian, fish and chips, Radio 4, green grass after rain ... and Marmite. You probably won't be surprised to hear my love of Marmite stems from early childhood. On cold, wintry evenings, as my sister and I sat reading before a coal fire, mum would bring us mugs of steaming hot Marmite with little pieces of soggy white bread floating on top. Even now, if I want the ultimate comfort drink on a chilly night, it's to Marmite I turn. Its savoury aroma and salty taste bring back the sensations and emotions of childhood in an instant, just as that famous madeleine cake dipped in tea provoked Proust's involuntary memories of the past.
Funnily enough, when Carmen and I married, the first house we bought lay just a few miles from the Marmite Food Extract Company's factory in Burton-on-Trent - itself within spitting distance of the Bass Brewery. Their proximity to each other was no accident: Marmite, a yeast extract, is a by-product of the beer-making industry. Later our first child, Anna, was born in Burton - and Nicholas too, a little after that. You could therefore imaginatively argue that both have beer and Marmite as interlocking strands in their dietary DNA - though it's shaken out that Anna likes Marmite not beer, and Nick quite the opposite. I vividly remember pacing the hospital car park, with the smack of yeast and hops in the air, worrying about the small son to whom my wife had just given birth (he was lying in an incubator, after arriving as a 'blue baby' with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck).
'Marmite' is French for a large, earthenware cooking pot, and Marmite was once produced in a smaller version of such a pot. Nowadays it comes in glass jars, but on each jar there's a picture of the original earthenware container. I tend to spread it with butter on toast, and with cheese on crackers and crispbreads. I also like to add a spoonful to some soups, stews and gravies - a great alternative to umami. And, perversely, I even like it on slightly sweeter foods like scones, malt loaf or Lincolnshire plum bread.
But whatever your feelings are about this sticky, dark brown elixir, this salty, savoury, tongue-tingling paste, this bitter, malty, spicy, black balm, this gooey, yeasty spread which is half solid, half liquid and thick as molasses - and people tend to love it or hate it, with no half-measures - just never be tempted by its antipodean rival, Vegemite. It's a pale imitation of the real thing and ain't half as good!