We're jamming: meet Devon's jam and jelly makers
PUBLISHED: 10:02 07 August 2014 | UPDATED: 10:02 07 August 2014
When the Government threatened to start telling us how much sugar we could put in our jam, Devon's makers told Whitehall where they could stick their silly rules. CHRISSY HARRIS showcases the county's best makers
All over Devon, something is stirring in the kitchen.
People everywhere have become firmly stuck on the idea of making delicious pots of jam and jelly.
Whether it’s standing over a hot saucepan full of strawberries on the hob, or blending great vats of fruit and sugar to sell on an industrial scale, the art of preserving has long captured imaginations.
It might be because of our famous cream tea but Devonians seem to be especially partial to both making and eating a pot of the sweet - or savoury – stuff.
“It’s wonderful to have and it just makes you feel rather resourceful,” says preserves expert Pamela Corbin.
Pamela is one of the judges for the prestigious annual Taste of the West food awards and has written the River Cottage Handbook on preserves.
“You are basically taking what is plentiful and keeping it, rather than throwing it away. And when it comes to making jam, there is a huge nostalgia that makes us all think of our own Grannies.”
Although strawberry remains the most popular flavour, there has been an explosion of diversity in the flavours and textures now on offer including delicious-sounding damson & fennel blossom, lemon, ginger & honey and apricot & amaretto to name just a few of the newer flavour combinations.
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There has also been a rise in the popularity of jellies, which are made from only the juice of the fruit and therefore have no seeds or pips.
Lush rolling hills and a temperate climate means Devon does jam and jelly quite well.
Here are some examples of the county’s prime preservers:
The long-standing business: Waterhouse Fayre, Bishop’s Nympton, North Devon.
Ann and Neil Stallard have been growing and preserving fruit for more than a decade. The couple acquired eight acres of land in North Devon and started growing top-quality raspberries, blackcurrants and other fruits to sell to local hotels and restaurants. “But then we wondered – what do we do with all the fruit with tiny blemishes?” says Ann. “We didn’t want to waste it so I thought I’d have a go at making jam even though I’d never done it before in my life!”
In fact, Ann had spent years living in Hong Kong and her background is in the building and manufacturing industry and later IT and telecommunications.
Jam had never really been on her radar but she clearly has a good eye for business and simply transferred her skills.
“I do like that side of it,” she says. “I enjoy the jam making but it’s dealing with the customers and coming up with new ideas that I enjoy most.
“My husband, who was brought up in Devon, looks after the fruit. I do help with the pruning but I trust him to do that side of things.”
Waterhouse Fayre has gone from humble beginnings with a stall at South Molton pannier market to supplying firms across the county, including the Royal Horticultural Society garden, Rosemoor, in Torrington and even The National Trust.
To date, Ann has made everything in her own kitchen but later this summer, she is planning a move to better-suited premises in Burlescombe, Mid-Devon.
“We don’t really like to stand still,” she says. “We’re always looking at what we could do in the future. It keeps things interesting.”
The new kid on the block: The Tiny Marmalade Company, Exeter.
It’s hard not to feel inspired by people like Paloma Hermoso.
The 32-year-old mum arrived in Devon from Spain just two years ago to escape the country’s economic hardships and start a new life with her young family.
Now Paloma holds down a full-time job, looks after her children, aged four and two, and still finds the time to run her award-winning jam-making company.
Paloma, who hardly spoke any English (“only what I had learnt in school”) when she arrived in the UK, started the Tiny Marmalade Company nine months ago.
“I love cooking, I find it very relaxing, I love jam and I also love those small pots you get in hotels. In fact I collect them and moving into making jam myself just seemed like the right thing to do,” she says, standing in the perfectly ordinary kitchen of her terraced house in Exeter city centre, where the all the jam magic happens.
Paloma cooks up small batches of jams and marmalades using flavours that would make Willy Wonka proud. Stacked in neatly ordered plastic drawers there are little jars of delight, such as fig & lavender, dragonfruit & raspberries and - one of her bestsellers – Stardust, made from physalis, red grape & cardamom.
All the ingredients are both sourced from local companies, where possible, and purchased in season. The magical combinations are then created in a regular saucepan and stirred with a wooden spoon, on an electric hob, placed in sterile tiny jars and sent to stockists all over Devon.
Current stockists include The Shops at Dartington and the National Trust café in Wembury, plus plenty of regular customers up and down the country.
The Tiny Marmalade Company’s popularity is growing with 5,000 pots sold since Paloma started her business last autumn.
Paloma recently won silver at the Fair Trade Business Awards in Bristol and has been asked to attend the BBC Good Food Show in London.
“I can’t believe what has happened in the last six months – it’s amazing,” she says. “It sounds really strange coming from me, a Spanish person, but I feel really proud of the South West and Devon.”
Going for Gold
What does it take to be an award winning jam or jelly maker?
“The most important thing is flavour,” says Taste of the West awards preserves judge Pamela Corbin.
“I’m looking for a freshness and something that’s not too sweet. Too much sugar will upset the balance of flavour of the fruit.”
Pamela, who admits her favourite is gooseberry jam, says being a preserves judge in Devon is a sticky business.
“We do have some exceedingly good jam makers in Devon,” she says. “Judging is always difficult – until you taste your first really good one. Then you’ve got a benchmark.”
One such benchmark was the apple & mint jelly made by Brendon Hill Crafts, in Barnstaple.
The firm has wona Taste of the West gold for that product, and a silver award for its West Country cider chutney.
“We’re really chuffed,” says Ruth De Maid, who runs Brendon Hill with her husband Derek.
“This is what we do seven days a week. Winning these awards is a pat on the back for us and confirmation to our customers that we are doing the right thing.”
Why We Love A Cream Tea
So what’s the best thing you can do with your jam?
Why, stick it on your freshly baked scones, of course (on top of the clotted cream though – Devon rules apply here).
This iconic afternoon treat is a delicious part of Devonian culture and is enjoyed by people the world over.
“It is one of life’s little indulgences,” says Deborah Trott, co-director of Delimann, an online food emporium, based in Chudleigh, with a long-standing shop in Bovey Tracey.
“People just love a cream tea. It’s a special treat, not something you have every day and it’s so unique to Devon.”
Four years ago, the award-winning Delimann began a cream tea by post service, which allows a little box of Devon to be delivered to your door, wherever you are.
“It’s really taken off,” says Deborah. “We had to send one recently to Barbados!
“We managed to get it there in 48 hours. It would have been quicker but it was sat in the post office for a few hours because the postmistress wasn’t in.
“There is that big nostalgia element associated with a Devon cream tea though.
“We have a lot of customers based in London and the Home Counties who want a little reminder of their holiday.”
It might be a simple souvenir to some, but in Devon, the cream tea is a serious business.
Paul Winterton, general manager at Langage Farm, Plymouth, is leading a campaign to ensure the Devon cream tea achieves Protected Designation of Origin status, putting it up there with the Cornish pasty and Stilton cheese.
“We’re still putting through the application and it’s a long-winded process,” says Paul.
“It’s about finding the information that will satisfy the application but I’d say we’re about 95 per cent there.”
Paul and his team have to provide and calculate data that will establish Devon’s link with the cream tea, which some say originated in Tavistock’s Benedictine Abbey around 997AD.
It’s hoped protected status will help set the Devon cream tea apart from other ‘impersonators.’
Have A Go Yourself
Taste of the West and World Marmalade award winners Cranfield’s Foods in Barnstaple, on how to make the perfect:
Crab apple & Calvados jelly:
Collect and wash your crab apples.
Three quarters fill a large saucepan with apples, just cover with water and simmer until soft and disintegrating.
When cooled but still warm (which means it will pass more quickly through a jelly bag) pour this mix through a jelly bag or clean pillowcase and allow to drip through overnight.
Resist the urge to squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy. Measure the resulting liquid and use in four-pint batches;1lb/450g sugar per pint plus a quarter pint of wine vinegar.
Bring to a rapid boil in a large saucepan, skim off scum as the jelly comes to a boil or it may boil over.
Test for a set after 15 minutes by placing a small blob of the jelly on a cold saucer. If the jelly wrinkles it is ready to set. For a more scientific test boil to about 219C and then take off the heat.
Once setting point is reached add a small glass of calvados and decant into your sterilized jam jars.