Monday, July 30, 2012


I first noticed a display of Wilkin & Sons “Tiptree” preserves while on a scouting expedition for Royal Warrant products at my neighborhood grocery store. I’d never heard of the brand or the company and was impressed with its story: Wilkin & Sons has been making preserves since 1885. Today much of the fruit needed for the preserves is grown by the company on its own farmland. The business is held by a Trust, of which 50 percent is employee-owned. It has been a continuous Royal Warrant holder since George V granted it one in 1911, and today it holds a warrant from the Queen as “Purveyors of Tiptree Products.”
Right away I want to like Wilkin & Sons. These seem like good people making a good product. At the same time, I have to admit it’s a product I don’t eat. I hate jelly. It’s right up there with honey on the list of sticky, saccharine things I find really disgusting even though most people love them. I shelled out $8 to buy a beautiful little jar of Tiptree orange marmalade, but the whole way home I was asking myself, What are you going to do with this stuff?
I thought I had lucked out when I Googled recipes that use orange marmalade and found I could make a Chinese-style orange chicken ( It seemed pretty straightforward except for a line in the recipe warning me that “the cheaper the marmalade you use, the better your orange chicken will turn out.” The recipe didn’t explain why, so I just ignored that tip and continued on with my eight-dollar version. The finished dish looked absolutely beautiful, and we couldn’t wait to eat it.
I think Adam was the first person to subtly point out that the taste was a little off: “This is really nasty. What’s in here?”
Nathan politely took a bite with his plastic toddler spork but then spit it out as soon as I turned my back. The problem was the kind of pungent taste in the sauce. The little pieces of orange peel in it were very bitter, and if you got one or two of those in your mouth at a time, it sort of choked you. I remembered the advice in the recipe and realized that a cheaper orange marmalade would have probably been sweeter.
“I guess I didn’t add enough sugar,” I told Adam, who promptly disagreed with me.
“No, it’s the marmalade. It’s too bitter. You need a sweeter marmalade.”
The thing is, I don’t want a sweeter marmalade. I want to eat the Queen’s marmalade.
Adam used the rest of the marmalade the next day in a recipe for orange-blueberry muffins with an orange juice and powdered sugar icing. They were alright, but if I veered too far from the thin sheet of icing on top of the muffin I was back to gagging on orange peel. For breakfast one morning Nathan licked the icing off of two muffins but then left the rest lying on his plate.
We weren’t really sure where to go from there. The Queen eats this stuff, and the company seems like a fabulous one. How could we review it poorly? I decided we should get a second opinion, so I asked my friend Sara if she wouldn’t mind trying it. Maybe our family’s preference for sweets is so strong that we can’t appreciate a flavor as robust and…um…earthy as that of the marmalade? Sara politely tried the marmalade on toast one morning and then got back to me in an email: “I tried the orange marmalade you gave me and completely agree with you and Adam. It was way too bitter for my Mexican-American and proletariat taste buds.”
“I was worried that my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough but then came across this article after a quick Google search…”
She then included a link to an article by Felicity Cloake in The Guardian that says sales of orange marmalade have been falling in England, largely because people are beginning to prefer chocolate spreads on their toast ( For some reason, this trend seems to really worry Cloake, so she spends the majority of her article extolling the many virtues of orange marmalade: its historical significance, its intensely British identity, its famous fans. She even makes a last-ditch effort at the end to connect the stuff with one Paddington Bear, who apparently loves marmalade sandwiches. I found her arguments really unconvincing. If British people can’t force this stuff down any longer, I shouldn’t have to. Also, Paddington Bear isn’t exactly known for having impeccable taste. Have you seen that hat of his?
I’d pretty much given up on the entire Tiptree line when Adam’s mom arrived home from a work trip to England with several new Royal Warrant products for me to try. Among them was a small sampler of Tiptree preserves in three flavors: strawberry, orange marmalade, and black currant. The very sight of the orange marmalade made me shudder all over again, and the strawberry jelly looked completely unappealing to this jelly-hater. Tentatively I dipped a teaspoon into the jar of black currant preserves. What I tasted was pure, unadulterated heaven.
“What exactly is a currant?” I asked Adam, the jelly still stuck to the corners of my mouth.
Adam, who knows everything, was temporarily stumped. “It’s a…it’s a little thing…”
“Is it a grape?”
“Is it a berry?”
“Kind of.”
Apparently black currants (yes, they are berries) are a serious matter in the United States ( For one thing, they’ve been banned for the past 100 years because their plants were a popular host for blister rust, which was thought to threaten the American timber industry. They’re just now making a limited comeback in parts of the Northeast. For another, they’ve long been nicknamed “the forbidden fruit,” which I think is a pretty brilliant PR move. You want black currants? Sorry, you can’t have them.
Unless you buy imported Tiptree preserves. From now on, I think I do.
Where to buy: I found a huge selection of Tiptree products at Treasure Island. They’re also available at, If you’re a fan of strawberry jams and jellies, try to get your hands on the company’s Little Scarlet variety when it’s released once each year,  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This being one of the hottest summers on record in America, it seems like a great time to enjoy “Pimm’s and lemonade,” a favorite summer cocktail in England. You make it by combining three parts lemonade and one part Pimm’s No. 1 cup gin with mint and slices of cucumber, oranges, and strawberries. The drink has a honey-colored, iced tea appearance and looks great in a glass pitcher. It’s alcoholic without being as strong as a Long Island iced tea, although Adam has suggested an Irish version: Fill any size glass with lemonade; pour it out; then refill the glass with Pimm’s…
The drink has been around since about 1840, when Thomas Pimm began mixing fruit extracts with bitter gin in his London oyster bar to make it more palatable. Pimm’s No. 1 cup and various other varieties created by the company have enjoyed immense popularity ever since. Queen Elizabeth likes a good Pimm’s too—she just awarded The Pimms Company a Royal Warrant in 2011 as “Distillers and Compounders.”
I think this might be the first case I’ve found of a Royal Warrant being somewhat damaging. See, Pimm’s already had a longstanding reputation for being a drink enjoyed by the wealthy. Picture it being drunk at garden parties, at Oxford boat races, at polo matches, and by spectators on Center Court at Wimbledon. Oliver Thring argued in a blog post in The Guardian a couple of years ago that:

the drink now epitomises seasonal events featuring irritating rich people; trilbied fops in preposterous blazers; hawing women in silly hats; drunken trustafarians lounging on riverbanks; fans of Nigel Farage doorstepping ahead of European elections

(If you only understood about a third of that, you’re in good company).

Pimm’s has been trying for years to convince the English that No, no, no! This is a drink for the common man too! Take, for example, its silly slogan “It’s Pimm’s O’Clock!” and its recent advertisements that feature middle class people drinking it while barbequing and marching down a street in the kind of quiet English village you might see on a rerun of Changing Rooms, The Queen publicizing that she likes sipping it at one of her lavish summer homes isn’t really helping along an ad campaign aimed at the proletariat, you know?

Fortunately, in the U.S. “Pimm’s and lemonade” doesn’t have that kind of baggage because most people here have never even heard of it. A recent article in the New York Times argued differently, but I disagree with them ( When I did an informal poll of my friends, coworkers, and family members these past couple of weeks, only two had ever tried it—my friend Lev because he’d once had a British roommate and my friend Krysten because she’d studied abroad in London in college. If we Americans don’t know anything about the drink and have never tried it, the Pimms Company is just one catchy advertising slogan away from converting us to loyal consumers, right? Forget the Miller Genuine Draft and Two Buck Chuck—It’s Pimm’s O’Clock! The only problem is that their advertising seems nonexistent here.

I sent an email to customer service at the Pimm’s Company to ask why I never see any advertising for Pimm’s in the United States even though it’s readily available at most liquor stores. I received a response from a woman named Tammie who works for a company called Diageo, which apparently owns Pimm’s.

“While we appreciate your interest in Pimms, it is our policy not to provide proprietary information to external parties for private or commercial purposes,” Tammie wrote in her email. “Public information regarding our company and Pimms is available on our website: In regards to your comments about the advertising we will be more then [sic] glad to forward them to the appropriate department for there [sic] review. We apologize for any inconvenience this my [sic] cause.”

Oh brother. Who are these idiots? Is it any wonder they can’t figure out how to make Pimm’s popular in the United States?    

Luckily for you, I’m telling you about it now.

Where to buy: In Chicago I found Pimm’s at the Binny’s in my neighborhood,'s, and on the menu at English, Remember that if you’re lucky enough to live in New Orleans or New York, the Times would have you believe they’re handing it out on the street corners there.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I’ve never used Yardley soap before, not even their signature fragrance—English Lavender. The company holds two warrants—from the Queen and Prince Charles—both as “Manufacturers of Toiletry Products.”
It seems fitting to select Yardley as one of our first Royal Warrant holders to explore because of the combination of its history and accessibility. The company was founded in 1770 and has been providing hygiene and cosmetic products to British royalty for centuries. At the same time, I can walk into any drugstore in America and purchase a bar of the soap for about two dollars.
Or can I? When I bought my bar of English Lavender soap at the Walgreens in my neighborhood, I was surprised that the Royal Warrant didn’t appear anywhere on the packaging. At first I wondered if Yardley is only allowed to use the Royal Warrant within the UK, but that doesn’t make sense if my Hunter boots and Twinings tea both had it. An online search showed me there are two Yardley websites—one for the US and one for the UK. I emailed customer service at the latter and asked why the Royal Warrant isn’t affixed to American packaging.
In less than 24 hours, I received a courteous response from Catherine Sullivan, UK Sales Co-ordinator for Yardley.
“The reason for the differences is that the Botanicals soaps produced in America are made by a different company,” she wrote in her email. “The Yardley range produced here in the UK is indeed used by the Royal Households, and therefore permitted to carry the Royal Warrants. The Botanicals range is made in America for the American market, and we have no involvement with it.”
Oh. Even though I half expected that would be the answer, the email left me with a feeling of inferiority. It seemed like Queen Elizabeth was standing over my shoulder sneering at my naiveté. “But of course you can’t buy our soap in your country,” she’d say.
Only…we can. Catherine Sullivan helpfully pointed out in her email that I could order the real thing from a website called The King and I, which specializes in imported bath products and cosmetics. For just $15 (plus shipping and handling, of course), I ordered a three-pack of Yardley soap with the Royal Warrant right on the front of the packaging.
That price, and that process, beg the question: What’s so bad about the stuff they sell at the Walgreens?  If the British Yardley really is better, I guess it’s worth the hassle each time. But if it’s largely the same, maybe I wasted my money.

Comparing these two soaps turned out to be a little trickier than I thought. Overall, which soap do I like better? I’m still not sure, and I’ve been using it for a week. The British soap feels nicer on my skin, smells better, and washes away without leaving a residue. Still, I’m troubled by its olive green color and by the incredibly dated font on its packaging that reminds me of old Calgon commercials. I like the smell of the soap, but whenever I use it I feel like it’s not really me.
The American soap, by contrast, has much prettier packaging, but I think its smell is a little more chemically and I don’t like that it leaves a kind of film behind after I shower. Its color, a peachy cream tone, is better, but I find it strange that neither soap is purple.

Finally it occurred to me that my two year-old might be a better product tester than me. Adam and I pulled Nathan into the bathroom to wash up before dinner one night. First we asked him to smell each bar of soap, but that wasn’t helpful since he said “Yummy soap!” after each one. Next Adam asked him which one looked better. “The green one!” he said. Okay. We then washed one of his hands with American soap and one with British soap. “Which hand feels better?” Adam asked him. Nathan didn’t hesitate: “The green one!” At least he can make up his mind.
Apparently it really made an impression. “I have more green soap,” Nathan said to me the other night when I tucked him into bed. In the morning, he was still asking about it. “Where green soap go, Mommy?”    
Once I’ve worked my way through the four bars of Yardley soap I bought, I don’t think I’ll be buying it again for awhile. I’m just not a Yardley lavender kind of girl. Nathan, though, might get some in his stocking this Christmas.
Where to buy: The American version of Yardley soap is available at most stores that sell bath soaps You can order the British version domestically from The King and I,

Sunday, July 15, 2012


“Twinings” and “tea” are nearly synonymous in England, so famous is this brand name. The company dates back to the early 18th century, and the list of its accomplishments is stunning. Its shop first opened in London in 1706 and can be found in the same location today. Its logo has been in use since 1787, making it the longest continuously used company logo in the world. Twinings was first granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1837, and, according to the searchable database on the Royal Warrant Holders Association website (, today it holds warrants from both the Queen and Prince Charles as “Tea and Coffee Merchants.”
Americans do not share the British obsession with tea—let’s just get that out into the open now. When I was a kid we had two kinds of tea in our house—a big glass jar full of Lipton instant tea powder (stir one heaping teaspoon into a glass of cold water and watch out for the globs of powder that don’t fully dissolve) and a box of Luzianne tea bags that was approximately 12 years old and that was only dragged out from the back of the cupboard if someone had a cold or the stomach flu. If Americans drink tea it’s most likely in a sweetened, ready-made version, e.g. bottles of raspberry Snapple…or maybe hot tea from Starbucks, where we overpay someone to simply pour some hot water over a tea bag into a disposable paper cup. It’s true that drinking green tea has become popular in recent years, and Argo Tea cafes are beginning to dot streets in major cities. But even those of us who are regular tea drinkers seem to miss the point. It’s not just about the tea; it’s about the ritual.
Tea is not only a beverage but also an event in England. It happens at fancy hotels where tea service is £30 per person and includes French pastries and scones with clotted cream and finger sandwiches, at offices in lieu of an American-style coffee break, and in private homes. It’s a time to rest and relax a bit before getting on with one’s day.
When I first considered implementing a tea time into my own daily routine, it seemed pretty feasible. I could fit it in sometime in the afternoon, between washing up dishes from lunch and taking a quick nap with the baby before picking up my other son from his daycare. Then it hit me: I only have time for afternoon tea because I’m on maternity leave right now. When I go back to work next week, my life is going to become worlds more difficult and stressful.
In thinking about out how to imitate a royal lifestyle with young children at home, it is tempting to suspect that someone like Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t know the first thing about the balancing act required to be a working mother. She has never been responsible for taking care of a home or cooking meals, and I’m sure she had extensive help with her four children anytime she wanted it. That said, a mother is a mother, and I can’t imagine it’s easily possible to escape those duties and emotional responsibilities no matter who you are. In 1951 Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, began having health problems, and she began making public appearances for him and traveling extensively on his behalf. At the time she had two small children—Prince Charles was three years old, Princess Anne was one. The next year her father died and she became the ruling Queen of England at the age of 25. Talk about a high pressure job. I suppose she also sometimes had days where she was too busy to remember to brush her teeth or where she showed up for work wearing two different shoes (like I did a few months ago when I was pregnant).
If tea can’t always be a lovely, relaxing ritual spaced perfectly in mid-afternoon, at least it can be a caffeinated friend in your corner. I bet Queen Elizabeth gets that. I brewed a large mug of Twinings Earl Grey, stirred in a teaspoon of sugar, and poured the whole thing over ice one day when I was carrying around an especially cranky baby in a Baby Bjorn. It was delicious. The difference between iced tea made with Twinings loose tea and iced tea made with a Lipton tea bag is like the difference between a cup of Swiss Miss hot chocolate you make in your microwave and the French drinking chocolate they serve at Angelina in Paris. There’s really no comparison.
Although I haven’t quite managed to have a fully British experience since I iced the tea and drank it on the go (surely that’s cheating somehow), I can still see the benefit of adding Twinings into my everyday routine. The project is off to a great start.
Where to buy: Most American grocery stores carry Twinings teas. For a complete list of retailers, visit     

Friday, July 13, 2012

How It All Began

I first encountered the Royal Warrant on a pair of violet Hunter rain boots I bought last summer. It was the first time I’d worn them to work on a rainy Chicago morning. I couldn’t believe how much I loved them. They kept my feet and legs perfectly dry even though I’d hopped over puddles and gotten splashed a little bit by a passing CTA bus on the twelve-block walk from the train to my office. I’d also gotten envious stares from every other woman I’d passed on the street because the boots just looked so good. I felt as glamorous as Kate Middleton, and it had only cost me a couple hundred dollars.   
When I sat down in my desk chair to take off the boots, I noticed a funny black symbol and some incredibly tiny writing on the inside of each shoe. It read: By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, Suppliers of Waterproof Footwear. The Royal Warrant.

A Google search explained to me what the Royal Warrant is—essentially a seal of approval that Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip, and their son Prince Charles can give to any goods or services of their choosing. The website for the Royal Warrant Holders Association makes it perfectly clear that the warrants are not given to “the best” goods or services; they’re given to the royal family’s preferred goods and services. More than 800 businesses currently have a Royal Warrant, and the range is surprising. From fishing tackle to breakfast tea, from bathroom cleaner to vacuums and computer software, if you’re in the market for it, the royal family is happy to give you advice about what it likes.
That’s weird. This idea of selecting and marking goods that have received the approval of members of a monarchy is a peculiar one for most Americans, myself included. Our national leaders have power for, at most, eight years, and the vast majority of us couldn’t care less what kind of rain boots they wear, what kind of breakfast cereal they like to eat. The nearest example I can think of involves First Ladies and fashion. Americans couldn’t get enough of Jackie Kennedy’s clothes and hair, and today they’re still talking about Michelle Obama’s H&M dresses. These fads change with each new presidential administration, though; the current Queen has been keeping a list of things she’s fond of for 60 years.  

I started to think there was really something to this list. The Queen had been right about the rain boots after all. Maybe it wasn’t such a stretch to think she also knew a thing or two about the best bath soap to use (Yardley of London), the best cars to drive (Land Rover, Jaguar, or Bentley), and the best chocolates (Prestat, Cadbury, or Charbonnel et Walker). The members of the royal family are infinitely wealthy and have access to anything they could ever want. If they’ve chosen Cadbury over Godiva and Hoover over Dyson, maybe they’re onto something?
And maybe my little family of four in Chicago could be onto something too? If we took the royal family’s advice about which products and services to buy, could we make our own lives a little bit more elegant? God knows my husband Adam and I have limited everyday access to anything refined. The crevices of the $800 dining room table we bought a few years ago are permanently caked with peanut butter and macaroni and cheese courtesy of our toddler, Nathan. Our $50 bedspread from Target has smelled funny, despite several washings, ever since our three month-old Nicholas spit up on it a few weeks ago.
Maybe that’s why there’s something special about pulling on those Hunter boots on a rainy morning, about enjoying one of the chocolate biscuits from Fortnum & Mason we brought back from a trip to London last August. If we could include just a little bit of such luxuries in our daily lives, maybe life could seem that much more regal? That’s what we hope to find out.
Our project is simple: try as many brands associated with the Royal Warrant as we can. We already know we can’t try everything the Royal Warrant is affixed to given the confines of our budget and our inability to move from Chicago to London anytime soon. It would be nearly impossible for us to hire the same optometrist or dry cleaners or vehicle repair service the royal family uses. Still, we want to see how possible it is for average Anglophile Americans to enjoy what the royals do. We also want to make up our own minds—are these brands regal? Or rubbish?