Jams and Preserves – Tips from a Winner!
January is marmalade-making season, the month where thousands of us will buy our Seville oranges and head for the jam jar cupboard. But for Julian Warrender it didn’t stop at the end of the annual spree. In 2000, after she got divorced, her ‘tinkering’ in the kitchen grew into a passion for making condiments and preserves.
Seven years later, she took on a small industrial unit and started selling her first product, a fresh hollandaise sauce which was marketed through a local asparagus grower. Her company Ouse Valley Foods sells over 6000 pots a year, being one of the few companies that has been given a European licence to produce from fresh eggs. And Julian is still the chief pot-stirrer.
We are chatting in her office full of young staff who do the marketing and label the pots of jam but it’s clear that Julian is keen to get back to the kitchen. ‘I do enjoy really hard work’ she tells me as I follow her with a video camera. It’s December and she making Tamarind and Star Anise Jelly to be sold at various local outlets.
‘It’s very easy to get drawn into the glamorous world of selling to shops like Harrods and Fortnum’s, but the margins are hard to maintain.’ She finds that many of her customers are people who have made jams and marmalades themselves and therefore appreciate the high level of Ouse Valley quality. Julian sources nearly all her fruit from TG fruits based in Brighton and when asked what advice she would give to other jam cooks she says ‘treat every batch as if it was your first!’
Ouse Valley scooped three awards including Gold (the top category) with their first entry into the GTA awards in 2007, and have since won an award for the Best Rural enterprise sponsored by Country Living Magazine. Recently they were selected as a supplier for the Olympics.
‘It’s lovely to get awards’ admits Julian who is nonetheless always striving towards the next goal. Having conquered the world of preserves, she is now starting to hand down her recipes and enthusiasm to the like-minded of all ages with her new passion for writing. Granny Marmalade and Uncle Tractor is the tale of the changing year on a working farm. It’s a charming but realistic portrait and the story is interspersed with seasonal ideas for cooking with children.
‘Writing has become an essential friend to me.’ It’s proving to be one of the few things that can keep her away from the gas burners. ‘I need creativity beyond food creation, and at the moment I’m also being challenged by the intricacies of a jewellery-making course here in Lewes.’
She also loves and feels a profound need to be engaged with the great outdoors. ‘I have always had a dog and between us we nose our way through the seasons, delighting in the smallest of daily surprises…I am very feral at heart!’
Sometimes she is joined by her grandson whose perspective has perhaps inspired the characters of Granny Marmalade and Uncle Tractor. ‘My grandson loves tractors, but you know, everyone loves tractors, don’t they?’ she laughs.
Here Julian is making her famous Tamarind and Star Anise Jelly whilst dropping the odd hint on her art!