‘There’s nothing like a home-cooked meal…

It’s true, and of course, dependent on the quality of the chef ‘in residence’. But don’t we all have a go-to speciality dish? Mine would be a crazy cheese lasagne, or even more certainly a favourite that Mum or Dad used to cook you in their yesteryears. Either way, we cannot argue that there is something special about a perfect home-cooked meal, using straight from the market, fresh ingredients.

However, let’s shift the goalposts a little, from cooking for your loving partner to inviting twelve of your best friends round for a posh dinner party. Using the same recipes, ingredients and accompanying wine, everything is the same, but this time it just doesn’t quite work out. It’s good but not sensational.

Why is that? Simple really; what works in small volumes can change completely when multiplied. The cooking time of a soup starter will increase due to volume, so the evaporation rate of steam will change. The skills and process change and need to adapt to the substantial increase in volume.

The world of preserves brings us a vast variation in offerings with endless flavours to satisfy everyone’s taste preferences. Producers vary and contrast immensely from the church fete homemade jam, made from a cottage orchard, right through to the companies making millions of jars a year to line the supermarket shelves up and down the country.

Although there is a considerable sliding scale, these offerings can be segmented into preserves that are either handmade or in absolute contrast, ones manufactured using production processes.

The main difference between the two approaches comes down to flavour. It is simply not possible to offer the abundance and robustness of flavours if you are don’t use what we call ‘the small-batch method’. When you apply mass production processes and bulk up, it’s almost like something magical disappears.

We have seen a considerable shift in preserve world trends over the last decade. When researching the market to start Northumbrian PANTRY, we were presented with figures suggesting that national jam sales had dropped by around 10% in ten years.

Yikes! We saw this sector as an opportunity! The shift of focus from a sugary start to your day, moving from marmalade on white toast to granola and smoothie to go, has had its effect. But we still love our jam, chutneys and relishes so when we do treat our selves at weekends, or on family occasions, and we choose something a little bit special. We call it the ’boutique market’ or ‘speciality preserves’. A little bit of luxury every now and again!

Fortnum and Mason have always been our ultimate example of speciality preserves. We love to buy a jar of ‘Strawberry and Champagne Preserve’ to enjoy on Christmas morning. Flavours such as this will have been made using smaller batches.

We’re talking about two distinctly different products; ‘handmade’ and ‘manufactured’ preserves, in the same way, we would compare a ‘readily available blended whisky’ to an ‘oak-aged 25-year-old malt’.

We have also seen a massive shift where consumers now demand to buy local. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised at just how important environmental driven choices are prioritised. People want to know that what they are buying hasn’t travelled 1000’s of carbon miles to get to them. Markets, fayres and festivals are great events to hear what people feel and how their buying patterns are influenced by their desire to save the planet. Isn’t that just incredible!

We are also seeing an artisan food movement of locally made foods such as charcuterie and fresh organic fruit and vegetables in farm shops throughout the country.

As a child, we would get very excited about exotic Italian Amaretti biscuits, and their distinctive paper wrapping brought home from my Dad’s foreign business trips. It was a real novelty! Today these products can be found in most delis and even the largest of supermarkets. The magical mystique and appeal have vanished. Today we get more excited about super freshness, super quality, or super local. Our tastes have come full circle, they’ve come home!

When we started researching recipes in 2018, we were happy with what we were creating. The next step is market research, so we sent out samples. The feedback was positive, so it was time to go to market, launching in September 2019. The market reaction has been overwhelming and beyond what we could ever have imagined. Customers love our brand and jar designs, and so do we, but it has always been the freshness and fullness of our flavours that people feedback to us. We always say to our customers; this is because we only ever cook in small batches.

2020 has been and will continue to be extremely exciting for us. We’re waiting in anticipation for life to return to ‘normal’. Over the festive period, we were at production bursting point, overwhelmed by demand since our launch. The only way to keep up with demand was to scale up production. We are fortunate to have some converted barns by our cottage where we plank to build a new kitchen.

Moving forward, there are so many options. However, one thing we do know for sure is that our processes will be designed around the fixed policy of using the #thesmallbatch method! It is possible to scale up our production, so long as we prioritise our fixed principles and work to reflect our ethos.

One of the best examples of our traditional, handmade and #smallbatch approach would be our glorious and very limited addition Crabapple Jelly. Crabapples grow readily in the North Tyne Valley, and in many gardens and amongst the hedgerows of the community, however, the window is very seasonal running only from late September to early November. These plum-sized apples cannot be eaten uncooked, and they can’t be frozen. However, they make a fantastic light and sweet jelly which can accompany many of our favourite foods, such as roast lunches through to charcuterie. We even know if a young local eight-year-old who loves it on toast.

We harvest the crabapples by hand and cook them in a jam pan. The next step is wondrously traditional, as we pour that contents into a jelly bag supported by a wooden frame allowing the contents to drip filter into a collection pan slowly. This is left for 24 hours, with the liquid collected the next day and mixed and cooked with sugar. The finished jelly is then jarred creating what we call North Tyne Gold.

It is heartening to know that there is a very healthy market demand for all things good in the world. Something more than just convenience, but something that has a quality often born from the passion with a real sense of regional identity. Cooking preserves in small batches really does create more robust and abundant flavours. It’s wonderfully scientific. The proof is in the erm… in the preserve.

Indeed only you can truly be the judge! Let us know if you experience a real difference when tasting’ small batch’ produce. #smallbatch.