Shropshire Star

Meet the master of marmalade who has been crowned the best in the world

He started it as a hobby. Shropshire-born Stephen Snead had an abundance of fruit in his garden during the summer and wanted to make sure it didn’t go to waste.


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So he started making jam. And then he began to make marmalade. Little did he imagine that within seven years he’d be crowned the best on the planet – with his recipes stocked by Fortnum and Mason.

But the accountant who was born in Wellington has come a long way since beginning his food-based hobby.

“I began about six or seven years ago. I started off making jam with fruit from the garden.

“We moved from Shropshire to Berrington, just outside Tenbury Wells, in 2016, and there was a plentiful supply of fruit in the garden. I started off making jam to use the surplus fruit. Then I saw a few recipes for marmalade and gave that a go. I started entering my jam and marmalade in competitions and found I was quite good at it.”

So good at it, in fact, that Stephen is the 2024 winner in the World Marmalade Awards.His fruit-based preserves are better than those made by competitors from across the UK, Europe, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, the USA, and Canada.

Usually, judges are able to select one jar of marmalade that is the best in the world – but when Stephen entered the competition, they couldn’t choose between the top two.

“And both of them were mine,” he laughs.

Stephen says the secrets to a good marmalade are well-balanced flavours and getting ingredients that work well together

The winning jars were Stephen’s Seville orange, lime, and red chilli marmalade, and a delicious lime marmalade with crème de cacao. The awards were held near Penrith, in Cumbria, and he defeated competitors from around the globe.

Stephen says: “It really all started because of the garden. We had gooseberries, raspberries, damsons, and blackcurrants and didn’t know what to do with the surplus, so I turned them into jam.

“I have no food background at all. But since I started, I’ve been on a course or two and since having success I’ve started doing judging at country shows as well.

“The secrets to a good marmalade are well-balanced flavours and getting ingredients that work well together. It’s about getting a really good set that’s neither runny nor so firm that you need a knife to cut through it.

“Marmalade needs to have a little bit of a wobble to it. You want nice tender peel, too, that’s not chewy and that’s distributed through the jar, not just at the top or the bottom.”

Adding the right amount of sugar is important, as well.

“Seville oranges are bitter and so it’s about balancing that with the sugar. If you start to add alcohol or chilli, you have to have the right amount and not over-power the flavour of the fruit. There’s nothing special about the type of sugar, it’s just ordinary granulated sugar. What makes it set is all the science with the pectin contained within the fruit.”

The winning jars: Seville orange, lime, and red chilli marmalade, and a delicious lime marmalade with crème de cacao

By profession, Stephen is an accountant though moving to the countryside has led to a change of career. He runs two self-catering holiday cottages – which gives him more time to make marmalades and jams.

He doesn’t trade at all – just makes homemade jars for friends and family. “Winning the World Marmalade Award means Fortnum and Mason will take my winning recipe and produce it under their own label.

“It’s literally for friends and family, usually. I’ve given a few jars to people we’ve had come and stayed at the holiday lets but I haven’t sold any of it commercially. That might be something that I look towards in the future. I definitely want to continue to make really interesting marmalades. What I really enjoy is thinking about those different flavour combinations.”

Stephen’s pastime is something that keeps him occupied throughout the year. While people tend to associate marmalade with winter and the citrus harvest, there are supplies around the year.

“It’s great on toast, but it also works in the afternoon with teacakes. There are marmalades, the chilli one is a good example, that can also sit on a cheeseboard because it works well with savoury. I like to think about how it can be used in different ways. Fortnums used some of my food-pairing suggestions on its website, for instance.”

Stephen enjoys visiting summer shows and passing on his knowledge and expertise. He continues to judge competitions and is keen that people don’t waste fruit if they have a surplus in their garden.

“I love writing and coming up with recipes and tips on making good marmalade and I might look to sell a few jars locally, as a limited edition. I don’t see myself turning into a production unit. I like making on a small scale and experimenting with the flavours.

“The area around south Shropshire, and Worcestershire and Herefordshire is incredible for fruit – the quality is amazing, particularly for making jam. If you go out and pick the fruit you can have it in the jar within an hour. There’s nothing quite like a homemade preserve. It does taste different to anything that’s commercially produced. It’s wonderful. We rely on a lot of the citrus that comes in from other countries but there’s still some really good quality available from the UK.”

It’s not just Stephen’s morning toast that is lifted by his award-winning varieties. “You can use marmalade as a glaze on meat dishes. You can also use the chilli one with cheese on toast and it gives it a bit of sweetness and a kick, a real lift. If you’re making a drizzle cake then you can make a syrup with the lime and crème de cacao one.

Stephen was born in Wellington, near Telford, and was in Shropshire until he went to university. His roots remain in the county and his parents and other family members live in the area, with many around Red Lake, in Telford.

“I think I did a week’s work experience in the Shropshire Star in the 1980 – and now my marmalade has made me the headline, rather than the story-writer.”

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