"The Queen
of Condiments"
Kirstie Allsopp
"The finest jams, chutneys and pickles I have ever eaten"
Clarissa Dickson Wright
"It's just me and a slotted spoon love"
Victoria Cranfield

Setting up a preserve business do's and don'ts

As the New Year approaches I have decided to share some of the simple do's and don'ts I have learnt in setting up the business to help inspire those who are looking for jobs in this area.  Every week I get inquiries but we are tiny and unable to help other than the help I can provide here.

How to set up in business

This is a low cost entry business which should be started in a local market, school fete or through selling to friends.

Initially you can even use recycled jars and wax discs to reduce your outlay although investigate the cost of new jars and lids to factor this into your pricing.

Only make something you want to eat yourself, if you aren't crazy about it why would anyone else be.  Be prepared to back up your belief in the product by offering samples.

When working out the cost of your product factor in your time at £6.10/hour (min wage) ie how long it takes you to prep, make,  bottle and label it.  Add in the cost of the ingredients, jars, lids and a few pence towards heat and light.  Give yourself a profit margin, usually 40%  Work out the cost of a batch then divide between the number of jars produced.  This should be your wholesale price if you ever supply shops.

If you are selling on a stall you have to pay the stall rent and cover your time behind the stall.  In the first place you can team up with a friend, hopefully selling something else, to cut both these costs.  Once the stall has started you could do alternative days/weeks, remember that by being on a stall you can't be cooking.  The costs of  your time and rent must be covered in your retail price usually a 40% increase over your wholesale price.  This also means that as you become successful the stall price will be the same as the shop price.

Find your USP unique selling point and shout about it.  Mine is the use of local fruit, small batch size, hand cutting of marmalade from fresh fruit...so few do this now and for economic reasons for example

A tin of pre-processed shredded oranges for marmalade costs the same, sometimes less, than a box of seville oranges which takes 8 hours to prepare by hand BUT it tastes soooooo much better let your customers know why yours cost more, let them taste the difference.  A recipe is on my website if you want to try.

Don't be disheartened if at first you don't sell well, it takes time to build a customer base.  If no one likes a product find one they do BUT trust your own instincts and taste buds this is a crowded market and you can always eat unsold stock or give it as presents.

Register your business with your Local Authority if you begin to trade, you will need to be checked by Environmental Health.

Get insurance, the Market Traders Federation has the most cost effective insurance covering anything sold from a market stall BUT it will not cover you for selling to shops or over the internet.  Check out the costs and make sure you are covered, you are selling food albeit a fairly safe one with chutneys etc but eggs , meat etc have health implications if not handled correctly.....same goes for jam.

Speak to Trading Standards, our local branch is very helpful, they will pre- check your labelling and provide free guidance on legal  labelling requirements, percentages of fruit for example and how to calculate them.

Some markets have a WI stall who will sell your cakes or chutneys for you for a percentage, this route may ease you in if you don't have the initial confidence for direct selling.  Contact them directly, they are always a nice bunch when on an adjacent stall.

This is a crowded market as anyone can make preserves by following a recipe so you will have to work hard to rise above the rest BUT the entry costs are low, you can try without losing the day job which maybe looking after the children and if you enjoy cooking at the very least you will be filling your friends and family with proper tasty preserves.

Investigate the local competition there is only so much a jar of preserves can cost, if your cost is too expensive, look to smarter ways to cook to cut the labour costs ie more batches on rotation.  Your time is the most expensive ingredient.

Good Luck, the above covers my initial thoughts, if anyone wants a bit more I will try to help, cooking permitting. Others will have a different slant, investigate your possibilities, compare costs of ingredients and the local competition before jumping.

Have a Happy and entrepreneurial  New Year!

Ist Neidpath Castle International Chutney festival

I came up to the office/kitchen this morning to print off some labels (great Sunday morning) to be greeted by an answerphone message left the evening before from Lulu Benson co- founder of a chutney festival in Peebles near Edinburgh.  I'd won, can't quite believe it, a jar that only went in at the last minute, which I'd debated with hubby, chutney/relish/chutney/relish, agreed chutney and it didn't matter as in a good cause.  Sod it I've won.  Not competitive me, well of course I am but truly didn't expect to win.  I have never won a chutney competition ever and probably won't again but it won't matter now.

Of course this is the inaugural  event so less competition than next time and it will get bigger and bigger.  So much energy has gone into organisation and  ringing round (which is how I heard of it) with profits going to such a good cause.... The Gurkha Welfare Trust...I would really urge you to check out their website for an imaginative festival menu One World One Chutney it shrieks of hundreds of hours of work and it's a real shame it's so far from North Devon or I would have leapt in the car.

Anyway, Gardeners Relish WON.  Totally and utterly amazing, I love the judges and am so grateful Lulu rang in the first place.

October 23, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Kirsties Damson Jam

Well the programme is aired tonight and I am feeling positively apprehensive.  Positively, because I have been extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to have some air time promoting something very close to my heart....preserving good produce and apprehensive because I came out with some of the most crass comments which I hope will end on the cutting floor.

I take my hat off to Kirstie, she is a damn hard worker with a punishing schedule, a young family and a gift of being nice when tired.  Lets face it, she could be a lady that lunches but isn't.  In case there are any questions, she definitely made the jam  hence she had to get the stones out on the day in the time allocated to filming.

If you want to have a crack at the jam with damsons you may have in the freezer; then count them in, cook them down and leave to go cold.  When you are ready go in with clean hands (they will stain) or thin plastic gloves and count the stones back out.  When they are all out, warm the fruit and add the sugar before cooking to a set........it's the way I do it!

This jam recipe will work with other dark plums, if they are large and the stone can be removed first do it that way, the problem with damsons is that the flesh of the fruit sticks to the stone until cooked.   If using yellow plums substitute lemon zest and use the juice of 3 lemons made up to 290ml with water.  The flavour of a yellow plum is quite different and needs a different boost.

The damson jam recipe is on my brand new website ....exciting!  Hopefully it will all be up and running this evening.  I (substitute  Sam, the IT son-in-law who knows what he's doing) has rejigged the shopping cart so you can buy as many or as few items as you want and included cookery equipment I use to make what I make.  I really believe there is a  resurgence of interest in food that is translating into people having a go.  Brilliant! What better for Christmas than a homemade hamper or, in default, some of our preserves.

I will be putting up a seasonal recipe every month (in the recipe section) in the hope you may be inspired to have a go; I have also posted a couple of boozy recipes on  facebook  and particularly recommend the bramble brandy (still possible) and utterly delicious.  Shamefully my brambles have mainly been diverted from jelly to brandy and worse, they are all gone!

 Click here to view the recipe

October 19, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Quick Blackberry Brandy

I was offered a dram of blackberry brandy yesterday while collecting fruit from near Barnstaple. It was fabulous mellow, slightly sweet with a rich under current of spirit. It was so good I have diverted brambles already picked from jelly to alcohol.

This recipe is quick and ready to drink almost immediately (good after 5mins) but should improve

Equal parts bramble juice and 40% brandy

Soft dark brown sugar.

I used 1 pint bramble juice to a pint of brandy and 4 tablespoons of sugar Put blackberries on a very low heat to release the juice, keep an eye on them as you don't want them to boil, once the juice is liberated take off the heat(could be done in a low oven).

Strain through a fine mesh sieve, the berries could go in a pie and measure the juice, add the same of brandy, sweeten to taste. Really warming and fruity and antidote to any wet day!

September 03, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Disrupted nature

5 hornet queens have woken up and been liberated from the house in the last 2 weeks and still the bats aren't back.  Last year the first queen heralded the bats by a few days, we need them.  Normally midges are awful by now but because it has been relatively dry and cold we can still get around without to many bites, but we will  need the bats, lots of them.

The mayflies were out in April, there are thousands of toad tadpoles in the river.......never seen that before but the level is so low, even with the wet weather of the last few days the levels are still poor but the ground a little less hard.  The rowan has blossomed and the fruit will probably be ready in about a month, 6 years ago the fruit was an August job, then July for the last 3 years but June......how are the birds to fatten for winter?  The rhubarb is nearly over, usually beginning of July.

We are however very luck in comparison to the rest of the South, our trees are green, the lawns not parched and I think the fruit crops will do well.  We have deliberately kept all the grass long as it seems to hold what little rain there is for longer.  The volume of bird song is tremendous even if it is loudest at 5.20am and the carpets of wild flowers in the field just about to break forth is better year on year.  Small blue and holly blue (I think) are on the wing, no marsh frittiliaries this year but loads of orange tip.  Damselle flies are out but no dragon flies yet...

I have received my first batch of Apricots from Arlington Court in May before the gooseberries, totally daft even if they are under cover with many more to come over the next few weeks apparently.

My strawberries are close to ripening but looking out of the window, a squirrel is sizing them up.......he gets up before me and makes deft work of the netting, unlikely to see many of them then....some things never change!

May 30, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Kirstie Allsopp Calling Devon Jam Makers

I have just had a very interesting telephone call from Raise the Roof Productions who are making a brand new Kirstie Allsopp series for Channel Four this May/June in Devon.

They are looking for enthusiastic amateur jam makers in the North Devon area who would like to grow their preserving knowledge and maybe grow a new career with Kirsties help.  They want genuine local talent, humour........it helps when things go wrong and a willingness to try new things.

If this sounds like you email the team at craft@raisetheroofproductions.com

Good Luck!

Spring at last

After the long cold shiver of winter the warmth has brought the world to life.  The morello cherry tree budded in time for a drastic hair cut, sacrificing this years fruit but I couldn't reach last years so it will be worth it.

The frogs and toads have of course been active, the annual toad run once again coincided with the half term holiday and increased traffic but most got to the pond with a little help from a bucket.  The spawn was hit by frosts but there is so much of it, what died was eaten by the frog tadpoles that had already hatched.

The only active butterflies are the hibernating ones, peacock and tortoiseshell although some of the tortoiseshell ones look quite pristine.  Lots of huge bumble bees but their nests are been dug out by  badgers who are seemingly more active than in previous years.  It will be interesting to see if they attack the beehive I am hoping to have colonised this spring.

While inspecting the rhubarb I disturbed a pair of lizards, then once you get your eye in there are loads, I hope they are hungry the flies are becoming a menace warming themselves on every shrub then rising like a swarm of bees........well at least sounding like one.

On a cooking front, I have been joined by Kate to help with the veg  prep, after a month she is already fed up with limes although only afflicted one morning a week.  We are making it for Fortnum and Mason under their own label and hopefully it should be in the store by May.  All chutney needs at least a month of resting to let the flavours meld but the lime pickle justs gets better the longer it is kept.  I found a jar, best before 2005 (one of the first I made and given a 2 year shelf life) it is fabulous and mellow always worth smelling and tasting a chutney before throwing it away!

We are also making a range of seasonal chutneys for Fortnums, the first two are gooseberry and elderflower and rhubarb and orange for Spring.  The idea is to use locally grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.......summer is a little more problematic as everyone does Summer and I have to think of something different that works.  Carrot and coriander is a work in progress!

Just seen a carder bee, the first of the season, I have to go outside, the potatoes need to be planted and the final dead cane cut from the loganberries, long may the warmer weather last!

April 02, 2011 by Victoria Cranfield

Happy Christmas!

As I write the snow lies thick outside the kitchen so beautiful and yet treacherous.  The small birds cluster around the feeders topped with sunflower seeds whilst the blackbirds filter the last of the apple shreds in the orchard. It is so cold, or at least has been, with minus 16 on the solar panel the other night, that you can only marvel at their survival and keep topping the food. Two snipe flew from the pond as I took the dogs through the field, the first I have seen here.

Time spent sweeping snow before it is walked on is well worth while.....learnt the hard way last winter with many a slip and painful fall.  Good exercise too as we are in a valley and all paths go up hill ........to the wood store which is depleting rapidly.

Last summer we had a skip of waste wood from the local yard destined for landfill, full of charred, nail ridden wood, brilliant for a wood burner, the resultant ash riddled through a blue plastic mushroom box to remove nails before dumping on the compost even some of the nails are reusable..........I may be getting a little too evangelical, but free (discounting chopping etc) heat.

I would like to thank all of you who have taken the trouble to comment on your successes with the boxing day chutney, my loyal customers who buy from me regularly and those who buy occasionally and hope you have a very happy and successful Christmas and New Year.

For those that tell me off/encourage me to get on with it I WILL get on with the book in the New Year.

December 19, 2010 by Victoria Cranfield

Crystallised Spring Flowers

Another very cold night but beautiful day, ah well, I will have to replant the runner beans which have for the second time succumbed to frost.  For someone who  espouses giving time for things to work, I can be pretty impatient!

Before all the spring flowers disappear please try to crystallise some.  I meant to blog about this before but have been suprisingly busy. The Victorians used the technique for many edible flowers but from trying for the first time I would recommend flowers that aren't too tiddly and are relatively simple in shape.

Pick a few primrose heads, these look the most beautiful and/or violets (a little blobby looking when done). Paint both sides with ordinary egg white and dust all over with caster sugar.

I sat the flowers in a bowl of sugar once I had painted both sides with a childs paintbrush (unused by child) and then gently heaped the sugar over the top.  Shake off excess sugar and check the flower is as evenly coated as possible. Place face down on grease proof paper that has a thin layer of caster sugar on it and put in a warm place to dry.  I sat mine on the top of the aga for a couple of hours.

If you want to keep them, store in a small air tight container out of direct light.

I used the primroses to decorate a fruit fool pudding for a dinner party and they truely looked fabulous.  I was suprised how simple they were to make,  the caveat being they taste only of sugar.  This was not the case when I tried the same method using fresh lemon verbena leaves, these were literally good enough to eat.

I am pretty sure, and will try, that this would work really well with herbs such as mint and basil.  If you grow your own please try the flowers of the herbs as they are less strong versions of the leaves but look much better to dress salads.

May 13, 2010 by Victoria Cranfield

Wedding Favours

Last year I was approached independently by 3 brides wanting wedding favours for their guests. We managed to produce colour co-ordinated jars which complemented both evening and breakfast feasts.

It lead me to consider offering this as a service which I am due to launch at the Exeter Festival of Food and Drink.  I can provide a selection of small jars of preserves, chutneys and jellies as wedding favours with:

.     Personalised labels

.     Award winning seasonal flavours

.    A wide palette of natural colours

.    Local sourcing

An opportunity to provide a memorable, tasteful and inexpensive keepsake for your guests, perfect for:

Wedding breakfasts……..damson, raspberry or loganberry, apricot, greengage, marmalade

Lunch or Dinner…….chilli jam, spiced apple chutney or a cool lime pickle

For any time…..flower jellies, spice or herb jellies

.     Minimum order 30

.     Priced between £2.50 and £3.00 each .

     Contribution to delivery £10

If anyone is interested please contact me with your telephone number so I can ring you to discuss what you might want!