John Kelly's Washington: The Magic of Marmite

Former British reporter Maggie Hall is so mad for Marmite that she's written a book about the pungent
Former British reporter Maggie Hall is so mad for Marmite that she's written a book about the pungent "Tar-in-a-Jar." (Post)
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John Kelly
Washington Post Metro columnist
Friday, December 4, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online Friday, Dec. 4, at Noon ET to chat about the people and stories that don't make the front pages, plus his latest columns.

Today: Join John and his guest Maggie Hall, author of a new book on Marmite, the English yeast extract that is either a tasty treat or a foul elixir.

Discussion Archives/ Recent Columns


John Kelly: Afternoon, all. I'm normally not a big fan of poetry but I thought I'd kick off today's chat with a limerick sent to me by a reader named Nick Lanyan:

Each morning, two slices of bread

With Vegemite thinly they spread:

Australians feast

On extract of yeast --

The British have Marmite, instead.

Nick confesses that he is English.

My guest today is Maggie Hill. Maggie lives on the Hill but she's from the north of England, which is where she developed a taste for Marmite, a comestible I described earlier this week as "perhaps the foulest compound legally sold for human consumption." Maggie has written a

book on the edible yeast extract

and after all the reaction I got

from writing about

her I thought I had to have her on today.

If you have any questions about Marmite--if you want to defend it or attack--today's your chance.

Luckily, I am safely ensconced in my Marmite-free house.

What with Thanksgiving and all, it's been a while since we've chatted. All sorts of things have happened. Today we learn that

Tai Shan is being shipped to China

. Can't we send the Salahis instead?

Anybody seen any of those

atheist bus and Metro ads

yet? Anyone care to confess to confess to

fiddling their expenses


Let's get chattin'.


Arlington, Va.: Marmite. Is it pronounced "marmot"? Is it made from marmot?

Here are some pictures of marmots, just so you all know what you're eating.


Maggie Hall: The secret to extracting Marmite from marmnots is that they have to be boiled for two days, bones and all, then steeped in a marinade of left-over black-pudding and beer, with celery seeds. Actually it's pronounced 'marmeet' - has nothing to do with the French (or marmots), apart from Pasteur inventing it (read the book!)as a way of using up that lovely, messy, smelly yeast sludge left over from brewing beer. That is, in the trade, charmingly called 'slurry' - and is transported from breweries all over Britain, to the Marmite factory in Burton-on-Trent, in petrol-like (gas) tankers!

John Kelly: My father is married to an English woman. He said he has forbidden her from keeping Marmite in the house but she sneaks jars in. Here's his explanation of where it comes from:

"Actually the word comes from the mites that live along the banks of the river Mar, a small tributary of the headwaters of the Thames - they farm the microscopic mites to form the binding used in the production process. It gives Marmite the distinctive color, flavor and taste."


Arlington, Va.: I have a friend who loves Marmite. To me it tastes like a bit like my shoe smells after a marathon. Is it possible that an affection for Marmite is genetically determined?

Maggie Hall: Absolutely - but only if you are from that gene pool that appreciates the finer things in life!


Washington, D.C.: I've noticed lately that a lot of street musicians are not only amplifying their performance via portable speakers, but also adding backing tracks. To me, this detracts from the experience of a street musician. It makes me much less likely to pause and listen, or to give a buck. I actually encountered a trumpet player who was playing just the trumpet part of a recorded orchestral piece not written to showcase the trumpet. He would stand there and wait, then play a bar or two, then wait again. I don't understand this. There is nothing more lovely than a solo trumpet in an urban acoustic environment. So essentially, he expected donations for the public use of his sound system.


John Kelly: Can we blame Guitar Hero or Rock Band? I think it's a wonder anybody actually plays musical instruments anymore. I remember going to a few talent shows at my daughters' schools and seeing kids who sang to backing tracks. That's not so bad, but sometimes the tracks were the original song, with the kid just warbling along to--and with--Madonna or Avril Lavigne. Usually the voice on the recording was louder.

But, yes, I prefer my street musicians naked, if you will.

Here's my question: Does Peru have any street musicians left or are they all in America now?


John Kelly: Maggie, tell me why you first decided to write a book on Marmite. Why were so interested in it?

Maggie Hall: I do have a fairly serious answer. It's when I saw that you could buy a silver lid, purpose made, to fit a Marmite jar. And for that you were paying 65 quid - i.e. over a $100. My immediate thought was: what the heck is going on here? People are so into the stuff they will pay a huge amount of loot to dress-up their sticky, messy M-jar? So I started finding out what Marmite was really about - and was totally and utterly overwhelmed and surprised what a grip it has on the palates - and minds - of folk, all over the world.


Falls Church, Va.: So, what's the American equivalent of Marmite? What concoction is popular over here but considered incomprehensibly foul across the Atlantic?

Peanut butter? Beef jerky? Velveeta?

John Kelly: I heard from many Brits who said they couldn't understand the American obsession with peanut butter. In fact, when I was living in England I met a woman--intelligent, well-traveled--who said she found that America, "smelled of peanut butter." The way she said this suggested this was not a good thing in her opinion.

But peanuts aren't very English, while the sludge left over from brewing beer apparently is.


John Kelly: Maggie, Marmite has obviously consumed your life these last couple of years, but you spent most of your career on Fleet Street, writing for the red tops, as they say. What were some of your favorite stories that you covered?

Maggie Hall: Well, of course they all had to do with sex, scandal and, in the days I was in Fleet Street the Mirror was the leader in pin-pointing 'causes for concern'. It used to do 'shock issues' - where every other page was devoted to something that was wrong with the country, society, etc....


Metro Fare Hike: I understand that this may be necessary; however, I will swallow it a lot easier if while going through stations (such as Silver Spring, Union Station and others) metro employees aren't sitting or standing in a circle and talking amongst themselves. If I ever have a problem with my SmarTrip or something else they act as though I am interrupting a private party or something.

This is unacceptable and needs to stop, especially if/when fares go up. Their time could be better spent on the platform working to ease crowding and rowdy behavior of kids.

Just my take. Your thoughts John?

John Kelly: I don't know if I often them in little coffee klatches. The station manager is typically in his or her circular lair. And I've never encountered indifference or rudeness. As for trying to ease crowding, I have seen them do that on real high-traffic days, like after a ballgame. The rowdy kids is a tough one. That seems like a job for Metro Transit Police. And the station managers are sort of at a disadvantage there, since we want them in their offices when we have questions or problems.

But if you do encounter bad Metro employees Metro would probably want to know about it. There's a place on their web site where you can send in comments.


Arlington, Va.: Hi John and Maggie -- I'm definitely a Marmite lover, originally from Stoke-on-Trent (about 30 miles from Marmite's home in Burton-on-Trent). So, I had left a sealed Marmite jar in the back of my kitchen cabinet for a while, and when I next stumbled upon the jar, the Marmite had "grown" up the inside glass of the jar, down between the jar and the plastic lid, then up between the lid and the seal, and down the outside of the jar onto the cabinet surface. My question: is this a natural (even common) property of a living yeast product like Marmite (and have others experienced it?), or could there be something unique about my kitchen ecosystem that makes this marvelous spread literally spread?

Many thanks.

Maggie Hall: John, oh my God, what is going on in YOUR kitchen?! I have never, ever heard of such a thing. Gosh, there are jars of it at the South Pole - left from the '30s - still pristine and pure! But I hope you did something constructive with the growth. Sounds like would make a good Christmas tree decoration. And you're from Burton-on-Trent...I was so let down when I went recently. The city, or is it Unilever, don't make a big thing out of it. I have an entry in the book detailing my disappointment....


Bowie, Md.: About fiddling expense account records. I used to be an officer in the labor union at a federal agency. We often told people, once you pass your probationary period, your job is pretty much guaranteed for life UNLESS YOU FALSIFY AN EXPENSE ACCOUNT. That's the one thing you must absolutely never do.

John Kelly: Here is a great story from the Times of London about famous journalistic expense fiddles. The camel makes an appearance there too:

"One such is the often told tale of the foreign correspondent and the camel. In a collection of essays about journalism, edited by Stephen Glover, there is even a chapter, written by Anonymous, called “How to claim a camel on expenses”. The story goes that the Daily Express accounts department in the 1960s queried a large bill for “local transport” in the Middle East and was told by the reporter that he had been forced to hire a racing camel. In another, possibly apocryphal, version of the story, the correspondent was sent a letter by his editor explaining that he was fascinated to see that his newspaper now owned a camel and asking where it was now. The correspondent replied with an additional expenses claim for the cost of burying the beast."

John Kelly: I guess a camel is a good thing to put on an expense account since it's not as common as a horse but not so outrageous as an elephant.


Falls Church, Va.: John, please tell us about the time you met the Salahis.

John Kelly: Interestingly enough, I think that's going to be the subject of my column Monday.


Van Ness, D.C. : Hi John, love the chats! Here's something I've been thinking about since D.C. announced the 5-cent bag tax. Right now if you go to Giant (maybe other grocery stores too) and use their reusable bag you get a 5-cent credit on your bill. I think that's great. My question is...if I go into the store and only buy one or two items that I can fit in my purse or just want to carry without a bag (i.e.. gallon of milk) should I still get that 5-cent credit? True, I'm not using their reusable bag on that trip, but I'm also not taking a plastic bag. I usually use the self checkout lanes where the computer has a "reusable bag" button to give the credit, so I feel like that choice is up to the consumer. What do you think? Is taking the credit ethical?

John Kelly: Interesting question. On the one hand, you should get the credit because you're not using a bag. On the other hand, you haven't bought a Giant reusable bag, so the supermarket isn't getting any of your bag money. But I think I'm going with my first inclination: You should get a credit.

What do others think?


Ellicott City, Md.: Is it true that Marmite is used in cans of Fix-a-flat?

Maggie Hall: You've got that totally wrong! It's used mainly as a thermal paste...but you know, in an could sit at the side of the freeway enjoying a Fix--Flat sarnie, while waiting for triple A to arrive...


Washington, D.C.: John -- what do you think are the chances of some smart, rational thinking going into eliminating Metro's budget deficit? It has to start with understanding transit--eliminate duplicate service before service with no alternatives; understanding that waiting in the elements in high crime areas for buses makes cuts a bigger deals than waiting on a safe covered train platform, etc. Also, providing accurate information to the Board might be nice (Metro overstated the amount of bus service in their last proposal, thus understating the impact of proposed cuts). Why not eliminate the yellow line extension to Fort Totten (there's already green line service there)? Why not look at cutting yellow and orange line service where it overlaps another line during non-rush hours? Why not charge for parking at stations on the weekend? I'm a rail rider and many of these suggested cuts would cut my service, but I want a rational smart decision, not just one that benefits me.

John Kelly: I wonder if charging for parking on weekends would actually decrease ridership, though, as people chose to drive instead. One thing I thought the other day was that Metro may have given up on getting more advertising. There are lots of parts of stations that don't have ads. And Forest Glen, where I usually get on, has a bunch of old ads in it, for events back in the summer. I guess there isn't a huge demand for advertising, which is too bad, since it could bring in money. What else might? Opening Metro up to film crews, as they've never done in the past?


Laurel, Md.: JK: "Marmite, an English condiment that is perhaps the foulest compound legally sold for human consumption."

Have you ever tasted potted meat product?

Maggie Hall: JK, wash your mouth out! Not because of the 'foul' Brit things you clearly have never tried...but you are talking about my second favorite food. 'Am drooling for a teacake sandwich with potted-beef. Now I think about it, we are a strange lot...but no, it's deeelicious. Especially with just a smear of the mighty-M....


The equivalent: Perhaps SPAM?

John Kelly: I think they must have SPAM in England, since Monty Python sang about it.

In my first column I mentioned anchovies in a way that had some people thinking Marmite had anchovies in it. It doesn't, but Patum Peperium does. No, I hadn't heard of it either. It's some super-concentrated anchovy paste that also goes b the name

Gentleman's Relish

. Given how small that container looks in the photo I'm guessing that, like Marmite, a little goes a long way.


Potomac, Md.: They would also have you believe they eat blood pudding and kidney pie. I think it's all a put-on for the benefit of tourists (and columnists). When they go home they actually nuke a Marie Callendar's, same as us.

Maggie Hall: And you know Potomac, both of those yummy dishes are enhanced with a dollop of M.....believe me! Have a feeling you're never going to get round to trying black-pudding but please do - with a drizzle of M-marinade, added at the last second of frying (in fairly deep-fat, of course).


Bmore, Md/: Hey John!

Just writing to say hello. Introduced my coworker to your chat today -- hope the Marmite talk doesn't turn her away!

John Kelly: Thanks, Bowie. And welcome, Friend of Bowie. These chats have a tendency to take on a life of their own....


Washington, D.C.: John, I think the Marmiters have been overreacting to your column. I've seen your hat and it isn't that bad. I challenge the fans to put their money where their mouth is. Make mine peanut butter and $25 to Children's Hospital.

Maggie Hall: I have to agree. But, oh what fun! And to think it's now made it to the Letters to the Editor page. Good for the WP, keeping things in perspective, while the world goes mad. But you know the reaction just underlines how divisive Marmite (Vegemite and let's not leave out the Marmite from New Zealand, which is nothing like the 'real' Marmite) is - and how it divides the world. Which of course is why it's conquered it!

John Kelly: Someone took a shot at my hat the other day (figuratively, not literally) and I took great offense. How do you know, I said, that I don't wear a hat for medical reasons?

And I tell you, this chilly morning my crumpleable green felt Lands End fedora kept my noggin nice and toasty.


Bag Tax: I just moved out of D.C., so I hopefully won't have to deal with the bag tax much...but I was a self-check out lane the other day, and I put my milk down on side, then bagged it up after I was finished with everything. I wondered, how would they charge me for a bag if I bag things after I already was an interesting conundrum.

And yes, you should get a credit for not using a plastic bag.

John Kelly: I met a reader at the PostPoints Meet and Greet Tuesday who said she's working with a local legislator in Northern Virginia to introduce a bag tax there. They want to do it at the same time as a legislator in Montgomery County, to capitalize on momentum from the District's recent move.

And speaking of self checkout: My Lovely Wife has noticed an increasing number of random inventory checks at the Giant, where an employee asks for your receipt and goes through your bags matching things up. I guess they've had some theft, with people using self checkout to not pay for things. Anyone else noticed this?


Jersey: Up here in Jersey, the local Try N Save gives a 5-cent refund for the use of any cloth bag.

The Whole Foods gives 15 cents off for the use of your own coffee mug.

John Kelly: I wonder if I can get a discount Slurpee if I just cup my hands under the dispenser at 7-11.


Washington, D.C. -- Atheist Ads: Yep, saw the first one just before Thanksgiving...and the only one, as I can remember. Anyway, it got me thinking about what I call myself. I used to consider myself an Apathetic Agnostic (I don't know and I don't really care), but I figured that amounted to being a secularist in the end. So, now I consider myself a secularist. I don't think about religion in my day to day life, and it has no baring on my decisions or actions. Anyway, I'm good for goodness sake anyway, so more power to the Atheists out there (which implies that they think about religion just enough to deny the existence of God, and that's why I'm not one).

John Kelly: I don't think they really like being called atheists, maybe for that very reason: to discount god you have to first think about god. Secularist works, and they use that term, though they seem to prefer "humanist."


Rockville, Md.: "but only if you are from that gene pool that appreciates the finer things in life!"

So, who can we blame for stout?

Maggie Hall: Apart from the thin people. Hey, what is wrong with you lot - what the heck is wrong with 'stout'? Try mixing it with champagne - might go down better that fizzy way. And if you feel that's a waste of that fine French product, use cider....(what is she going on about now?)


Washington, D.C. -- Marmite: As I've mentioned before when you brought up the peanut butter British husband loves the stuff. He pretty much loves anything peanut/peanut butter. So, the dislike is probably about as subjective in England, and Marmite is over here.

(Also, you can buy Marmite/Vegimite in the States. I've seen in stores before).

Maggie Hall: Get him to try both together. Peanut butter and Marmite - now there's two countries joined by divided taste. The only thing better is to add: apple sauce and/or a mashed banana. It wasn't until I started researching and writing the book I discovered I had such depraved tastes. My husband says I have a mouth made of asbestos. Of course he cannot abide it. And he is responsible for the secondary title of the book: Tar-in-a-Jar. He dubbed it that the first time I produced the Marmite jar on the breakfast table. Says a lot about our relationship - despite M its survived 30 years.


So, what's the American equivalent of Marmite? What concoction is popular over here but considered incomprehensibly foul across the Atlantic? : Scrapple?

John Kelly: My father loves scrapple. That's definitely one of those foods whose name should give you pause. "Scrapple." It just doesn't sound too appetizing, does it?


Bag credit: Giant gives you the credit no matter what bag you bring. Mine are Whole Foods, Trader Joe's. I get credit every single time. LOVE Giant!

John Kelly: Okay, good to know. So I guess the same thing would apply if you used your pocket. But what if you buy a 50-cent pack of gum and apply the bag credit?


Peruvian musicians: Peru definitely over-exported its main resource (pan flutists) in the 80s and 90s, as much to European capitols as to the U.S. Though I'm sure they've grown a new crop by now. I'm going to Peru in a few months. I'll report back.

John Kelly: Yes, it's true. It's not just Washington. We saw them in Cambridge, Mass., when we lived there a decade ago and there were some in Oxford, too. I wonder what they have in Lima? Guys playing "Purple Haze" through an amplifier hooked up to a car battery?


Marmite question?: Since Marmite is a yeast, and yeasts are part of breads, grains, etc., and rodents love grains, maybe it could be used as rodent bait? "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door"

John Kelly: How could you stand to see an animal suffer so?


Annapolis, Md.: Hi, John. Last week I ordered a chicken salad sandwich at a local fast food outlet. It's a fairly good-sized sandwich, so I asked them to cut it in half. No can do, they explained, because "it has pecans." However, they gave me a knife, I cut it in half, and all was well.

Yesterday I had a slightly upscale version of the same sandwich, at Panera's. It came cut in half.

Obviously not a big issue of our day, but any idea what's going on here? Thanks.

John Kelly: It has pecans? What's that supposed to mean? Were these special diamond-hard pecans, impervious to any knife made by man? Or were they afraid if they cut it they would unleash pecan microparticles that might send someone into anaphalactic shock? Or were they just lazy?

I like my sandwiches cut in half. In fact, some sandwiches always come in quarters. Like a club sandwich, right? I think it's a law that that has to be quartered and penetrated by four toothpicks topped with decorative plastic.


Washington, D.C.: John, I strongly believe in charitable giving and a couple times a year, send my donations to my charities of choice. As someone blessed with a job, I am doing all I can to increase that donation this time of year and in these difficult economic times. But am I being a Scrooge when I become more and more irritated that every large store these days at every transaction now makes you twice refuse their "offer" to donate to cause XYZ? I first have to hit the 'no' button on the credit card machine and then tell the clerk no. It's admirable to encourage charitable giving, but isn't this just getting out of hand?

John Kelly: Well as I'm involved in my own charity drive right now, I have no right commenting. I have not noticed what you described. What I have noticed are checkouts festooned with paper balloons and the like that are the result of an impulse charitable donation: Give $1, sign a balloon, we stick it up and your money goes to a charity. I have no problem with that, as long as the charities are properly vetted and the customer isn't pressured. People do like to give and I'm all for things that make that easy.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Maggie --

On an episode of "Cash In The Attic," a woman said her grandfather, who worked in the Bass brewery, discovered Marmite. Was she wrong?

Maggie Hall: Boy, do I need to track that down! Tried for months - got nowhere. Cash in the Attic would never get back to me. But finally made contact with the auctioneers involved in that episode (thanks to my eagle-eyed-eared pal Barbara Rich who caught a re-run of it). They're still working on it for me. So hopefully (without getting ahead of myself) for the second edition I'll have nailed it. But you're right...what a fascinating story, no matter where the truths lies....

Maggie Hall: And just to say: I think she is wrong...but her grandfather clearly had an involvement in the very early days, circa 1902, when they were trying to get the formula right with the yeast-sludge, which at the start only came from that great Brit brewery Bass. Amid maybe he didn't get recognized for what he did...? We'll, hopefully, see....

John Kelly: Imagine trying to get credit for inventing Marmite. It'd be like saying, "My grandfather invented napalm."


Silver Spring, Md.: John, I did see one of the "No God, No problem" buses yesterday. Thanks to you, I was not taken aback.

With Metro's budget like it is, I reckon they could use a good ad-war. So let's see what the Catholics can come up with!

John Kelly: I'm not sure the Catholic church has any money left to spend on an ad war. And having just seen "2012" the other night, I can report that--SPOILER ALERT--they have to rebuild the Vatican.


The things I learn here: New Zealand Marmite is different? Tell me more! Is it that they brew beer differently so have different leftover sludge?

Maggie Hall: The back-story to New Zealand Marmite is fascinating. All in the book (of course). But it has sugar in it! Which makes it, to me anyway but not the Kiwis, inedible. Basically the story is the New Zealand crowd (Seventh Day Adventists) bought all the rights to Marmite. Apart from the shape of the jar. They did the deal because supplies didn't get through during the First World War. Which is why the Aussies came up with their own too...


That's not so bad, but sometimes the tracks were the original song, with the kid just warbling along to -- and with -- Madonna or Avril Lavigne. Usually the voice on the recording was louder. : Okay, but let's give them some points for getting up there. It takes courage to warble in front of a bunch of people.

John Kelly: You're right. But I do wonder about the effect of musical video games. Are there kids out there who think they play the guitar because they can push colored plastic buttons while watching squares and triangles race across their TV screen?


Mass Ave.: What is the deal with the protester outside the Vatican Embassy?

He is there every day waving his protest sign. Is he paid to do this? Who feeds him? Where does he go to the bathroom?

John Kelly: There was a story about him in the Magazine or the Style section a few years ago. I see him on the Metro occasionally, on his way home from "work." His sign is all folded up.

_______________________ Photo: Tai Shan


Lincoln City, Ore.: In my considered opinion, having spent lots of time in Australia and in England, Vegemite is a lot better than Marmite. It is way superior in holding roof tiles down as well as good in shoe repair. You didn't address these facts in your book.

John Kelly: And it's the one Men at Work mention in their song "Land Down Under."


The Marmite had "grown" up the inside glass of the jar,: I bet you anything that that cupboard was near the stove, or the top of the refrigerator. We've learned not to put food items in those places, as they inevitably create enough heat to start things swelling and moving.

John Kelly: I'm going to have to eat a lot of peanut butter to banish the image of that multiplying jar of Marmite from my mind.


Zuvielekatzen, Va.: Ooohhhhh -- stout and cider -- that's a Snake Bite where I come from and it's very yummy! I could go for one right now as a matter of fact, but I'm working. Come on 5:00....

Maggie Hall: Oh, never heard that term before....we call'em Black Velvet,

if made with champers. With cider - a poor-man's BV. Actually supposed to be made with Guinness who cares. And talking of Guinness used to make its own "Marmite". Was called GYE (Guinness Yeast Extract)....the M lot basically put them out of business because they would not allow them to sell it in Britain. Can you imagine that happening these days! BTW anyone out there with memories, anecdotes of GYE, would love to hear them....


Marmite takes the place of cod liver oil?: Maybe Marmite could be used as a threat for malingering kids like cod liver oil once was for my parents' generation: "You look sick, here, have some cod liver oil." Isn't Marmite chock-full of B vitamins? (Oh, wait, if we can't use it as rodent bait, then giving it to kids would be child abuse?)

Maggie Hall: It is child-abuse not to give it to your child from the moment they can hold a 'soldier' to dip into a boiled egg!

Yes, chokka with five Bs. Did she just say "chokka"? Doesn't she mean "choking"? And what's with the cruelty to soliders? That'll sort the Brits on this forum out from the rest....


Tai Shan lover: What will we do without him? Who else in town can look cuddly and rumpled and eat bamboo so fetchingly?

John Kelly: Hasn't he reached his disaffected teenage years? Or is he beyond even that? He might be getting to be like the 26-year-old college grad who refuses to move out of his childhood home. If you love something, you have to let it go.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Charitable contributions at stores. This is quite common at Safeway. Most times I go in there they're asking if I'd like to donate money to an organization. I've even read stories about people being asked to donate to charities while on airplanes. And don't get me started about being asked to donate to some cause or another while on a Metro platform or train.

As for Marmite, I have never had it but Cadbury's chocolates and Bird's Custard Powder are wonderful things.

Maggie Hall: Especially when mixed with Marmite.....seriously, there is a top chocolatier in London (Paul A. Young - has to use the middle initial not to be confused with you know who) who is doing a roaring business with his Marmite Truffles.


Self: The self-check out lanes in the Try N Save (and Lowe's) are nice, but the machines are too smart for their own good. There is a sensitive scale in the "bagging area" which goes off if you put your cloth bag there: "Unexpected item in bagging area." It's only then that it says, "I'm using a cloth bag." It should ask right away whether you are using paper.

Then, if you don't bag your item right away, or somehow don't get the item right on the scales, it states "I don't want to bag this item."


John Kelly: Think of all the computer programming time and expense that has gone into replacing humans. Like, those automatic things must have a scale of some sort, so it can tell whether you've put a Phillips head screw on the conveyer belt or a reciprocating saw. Complex algorithms must be involved. I think I'd rather have a person instead.


Bag credit? Hit or miss: At least at the Vienna, Va., giant. Sometimes they give it to me, sometimes I have to ask for it. Second the other chatter -- I use a Dansko shoe bag and Whole Foods bags.

John Kelly: So it's not an always thing?


Bag credits: The Giant that I use makes it next to impossible to get a credit for your reusable bags when you use self-checkout. You have to get a clerk or manager to wave their magic wand in front of the laser. Since you're at self-checkout and there are always people waiting on line, there's a real incentive not to hold things up. So, I rarely if ever get credit for my reusable bags. So, I have absolutely no intention of charging myself for plastic bags after January 1, if and when I forget my reusables. Giant owes me for all the times I didn't get my credits.

John Kelly: A kink in the system. You're right: involving management seems to defeat the purpose.


Washington, D.C. - Marmite: Yeah, my husband is British, and he does his enjoy his Marmite. We were visiting some friends out in California, and there was another British fellow there who had brought a couple jars with him from England. One of our other friends had never tried it before, so we gave her some. She thought it tasted like fish paste, but she thought it was all right (she also likes Sushi, so that might be why). Personally, I can do without it.

John Kelly: I think that the breakdown is about 50/50 between lovers and haters. Nobody, it seems, is ambivalent about the stuff.


American Legion, Capitol Hill: For the record: We made one Marmite convert at Maggie's book launch. We understood her liking the stuff after she confessed to losing her sense of smell years ago.

John Kelly: YEs, losing that critical facility would help.


Speaking of bag tax: When will the U.S. start having trash pick up once a week or every fortnight (love that term)?

I was told that part of the Netherlands has trash pickup fortnightly.

Maggie Hall: Please, please never, ever. My part of Yorkshire - actually most of Britain - is now down to fortnightly. One week it's garbage/household stuff, the other week it's recycling. And as the Brits have never really discovered sink-erators (?) it's one nasty, smelly, unbelievable carry-on. Though when I was back home recently I did buy a sink-thingy - which of course means having to dismantle the whole of the 'under-the-sink' space....hey, I'm getting off message here.

John Kelly: The issue of rubbish collection was really controversial while I was living in England. Most Brits have these things called wheelie bins: rolling trash cans issued by their local government. Some citizens were charging that the government was putting sensors and trackers in their wheelie bins. This sounded like tinfoil hat stuff--until it turned out to be true. The thought is that eventually people will be charged based on how much trash they generate. And the way to do that is to have a transponder on each bin so that when the bin is lifted and emptied on the truck it can be weighed. George Orwell, white courtesy phone. But then again, Britain has the second worst household recycling rate in Europe, after Greece.


Earls Court: I used to think: Marmite? Ew. But last time I was in the U.K., a friend turned me on to Twiglets, which are pretzels flavored with Marmite. YUM-my! They burned a little going down, which was a bit of a thrill.

Maggie Hall: Now we're really cookin' I never knew anything about Twiglets - except I loved them - until doing the book. You know what (well, no you don't) they are not made with Marmite! Yeast-extract, yes - but not the original stuff. And Twiglets have been around almost as long as Marmite (1902) and they were invented by a French guy who worked for Peek Freans (old, long gone British 'cracker' maker) - and my theory is that he was cut-out of the Pasteur deal and got his own back!


Ballston Dude: Bag credit for sure, I've been using the same bags from Giant since 1995.

They are locally made by a group in Md. They hold a lot of goods and can take a lot of weight.

Take them to the beach for your towel, books, etc and the sand falls out of the mesh on your way to the car.

I still don't understand why things with handles (detergent) are placed in bags. IT HAS A HANDLE!

John Kelly: HANDLE?! You can't handle the truth!


Fairfax, Va.: It reminds me of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly minus the menthol smell.

Maggie Hall: Menthol-Marmite - that has possibilities. And you know, I would put M on a wound and a scratch - if that yummy petroleum compound wasn't at hand. With all the salt, couldn't, wouldn't do any harm....and it would make a lot more sense ouf of licking-your-wound....

John Kelly: Yup, nothing better than yeast extract on a suppurating wound.


Scottish girl in D.C.: Oh, soldiers and boiled that's what I'll have for breakfast tomorrow....gone all nostalgic, I have.

(soldiers = toast strips)

Maggie Hall: Well explained. Thanks. Was dreading being asked: what are they?


Blood Pudding: Oh, no, no...that's not a put-on. I've been served blood pudding at almost every friend's house I've stayed in England. I tried it once, and that was enough. Not for me thanks. There was another pudding I liked was just called pudding, as far as I know. It was kind of like a puff-pastry, with beef gravy on it. Very tasty.

John Kelly: Yorkshire pudding. And it is delicious. Hard to get exactly right, I find, but when it clicks it's magical.


Opening Metro up to film crews, as they've never done in the past? : My understanding is that Metro does allow film crews, but they won't allow the actors to do anything that riders aren't normally allowed to do, such as run, jump over turnstiles, etc., because it would set such a bad example. Which is why scenes in D.C. Metro stations are filmed in the Baltimore subway; the Baltimore subway authorities are much more realistic about what film viewers can determine for themselves.

John Kelly: Right. It's like how Metro won't actually tell people to stand on the right and walk on the left, since that would imply that it's okay to walk down an escalator. And that might result in injury.


Are there kids out there who think they play the guitar because they can push colored plastic buttons while watching squares and triangles race across their TV screen? : Yes. And I convince myself I really CAN sing when I am in the car and I've got the radio up really loud. I should be on American Idol! And then I continue singing later without the music or the vocals and the sorry truth comes out.

John Kelly: You need to get yourself Autotune. Get it? Auto. Tune?



Falls Church, Va.: So, how does one actually eat Marmite? ("Reluctantly!" Yes, very funny). Is it spread on toast? Is it a condiment, as in something like a ham sandwich with mayo and marmite? Is it eaten directly from the jar, like yogurt?

Maggie Hall: John called it a 'condiment' - and that's the only thing I took issue with. It's a food all unto itself. The traditional way of using it is: spread (sparingly if you're a novice) on hot buttered toast. Or, if not toasted - the most basic, soft, the sorta white bread we shouldn't eat. After that you're on your own.....though I suppose I should take back the 'not a condiment' crack. Added to cream cheese, cottage cheese, grits, even yoghurt - particularly strawberry or peach (not) - it becomes one. And to get totally serious it's now considered one of the top way of adding the 'umami' factor to any food. And chefs are routinely using it to enhance all manner of dishes, from beef to fish, to ice-cream. What can I's a whacky Marmite world out there.


D.C.: I've been trying to find a copy of the marmite book for my Brit friends ...where can it be ordered or purchased?

Maggie Hall: Thank you for asking! All the usual on-line booksellers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble)....and Marvelous Market, on Capitol Hill (7th Street, SE - steps from Eastern Market) have copies. Or you could order if from your local independent bookshop.....

Maggie Hall: And just to add to that: online booksellers on both sides of 'the pond'.


Philly, Pa.: Pleeease, don't get her started on scrapple! Maggie Hall eats the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill out of that stuff every weekend. She's legend. Probably will get them it with M soon.

Maggie Hall: Who mentioned scrapple? Yes, do get me started. I love it! And as 'Philly' says, I have it every Saturday for brekkers (oh, there she goes again) at the Tune Inn, that most wonderful watering-hole, on the Hill. And until all this Marmite madness broke out in my life - which seems to have landed Washington with another war to cope with - I had never thought about smearing it on the so-good-for-you fried golden-brown slice of scrapple. But tomorrow I'm taking my Marmite with me!


Homebrewer: I brew beer at home! Can I make Marmite from the stuff in the bottom of my fermenter?

Maggie Hall: The simple answer is 'yes'. The long answer is 'but how to?' I fiddled around with quite a bit of the stuff to try and make it work. I don't think I had the patience. But will try again for the second-edition. In the mean-time, if you work it out, let me know....


London, U.K.: What U.S. food is as foul as Marmite? How about corn dogs? And what do you do with the rest of the dog?

John Kelly: It comes in handy when you need some hair of the dog.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: So, Maggie, what's the favorite fact you learned while researching the Mish Mash Dictionary of Marmite? Also how many sterling silver Marmite lids did you buy?

Maggie Hall: I have not succumbed to treating myself to a silver lid. Mainly because a good friend back home bought me one recently to celebrate me finally taking my head out of the Marmite jar. Though - and I do not mean this in any 'mean' way - it was one of silver-plate jobs. Thanks goodness, would have been horrified to have a piece of Sterling I couldn't put round my neck! But they are huge sellers...


John Kelly: Thanks everyone for stopping by. I hope we haven't put you off your food. Maggie, thank you for joining and trying to spread (har har) the gospel of Marmite. Maggie's book is available online and at Marvelous Market on the Hill. And you can follow her extract exploits at her blog.

I hope you will consider

donating to our Chldren's Hospital campaign.

I know the economy's in rough shape, but the need never goes away.


Maggie Hall: How much fun this has all been! And I thank everyone who took part in the online 'chat' and responded to John's column - because it just shows that some of the doubts I harbored (like, why 'am I doing this?, I'm wasting my time writing this book) have all been blown out of the water. I just hope that those who love Marmite, enjoy dipping into the book as much as they like to dip into the stuff itself; and to those of you who cannot abide the thought of it, let alone the taste, there is plenty of ammunition in the book to hurl at those who make your life a misery by adoring it so. Did you hear about the awful condition pigs get, that's called the "Marmite disease....." Thanks everyone so much. I haven't had so much fun since the producer of NPR's Saturday edition of All Things Considered (they came for breakfast this morning, as a result of John's column)almost passed out when he was force-fed Marmite!


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