Creative artisan producers of delicious and sustainable, gourmet preserves from the Surrey Kent borders.
The Main event: Wild garlic pesto made with cashew nuts and vegetarian Italian style hard cheese
Elderflower jam, wild garlic pesto, crab apple jelly, fruit cheeses and chutneys are top lines of award-winning food producers Ginny Knox and Caro Wilson. As school-friends who loved cooking their early hedgerow finds together they then went their separate ways into the corporate world. After 20 years, with a wealth of experience between them they succumbed to the lure of the countryside and their passion for foraging. Swopping briefcases for wellington boots, they began a fruitful journey combining their love of wild food and kitchen alchemy. Starting in 2010 they now have an established customer base and their wonderful products are sold in many outlets such as farm-shops, delicatessens, the gift shop at RHS Wisley and Cook.
Part of their success has been recognition that although fierce competition existed from other jam and preserve makers in the artisan market no one else was using wild or foraged food. With a clear niche market they developed their brand and launched a range of traditional preserves using natural ingredients whilst maintaining a modern edge. Timing was on their side with growing awareness of food wastage and the rise of campaigns to encourage sustainable thinking around food and farming. Food politics aside, their products are successful because they have a story and history that we can relate to. Most importantly, they are delicious and intensely flavoured — food experts must agree because they hold several gold stars from the Guild of Fine Foods. I regularly serve their damson cheese at dinner parties and it’s always the centre of attention.
Living in Kent, Caro has found a wealth of farmers who either have wild food growing on their land (such as wild garlic) or traditional fruit such as crab apples, which were not being utilised. Crab apples for example have traditionally been grown in orchards alongside other fruit trees as pollinators but, as the fruit bruises easily, the apples went unpicked and were left to rot. Some of the trees are so old the variety names have been lost or forgotten over the years. So Ginny and Caro give them new names like ‘big pinks’ to identify them. This is essential as many of these fruits have a very short season so they prepare them while they are at their best and freeze the pulp for later use. Crab apple jelly was virtually impossible to find in shops but like many Wild at Hearts products belongs to our rich culinary history.
In addition to developing their business these industrious entrepreneurs have also published had a cookbook. Two years after starting their business they were commissioned by a publisher and following a year of hard work the ‘Hedgerow Cookbook’ was on the shelves in 2013. This is a collection of one hundred recipes written by Ginny and Caro and is testimony to their vast knowledge of foraging. Just flicking through the pages is an education in itself and my copy is marked up with lots of recipes to try.
Unlike many other small food producers I meet their realistic and sustainable approach to their business is admirable. After two years of picking and processing all their own fruit, wild garlic and samphire they realised this was not a realistic long-term option for meeting demand. They have now outsourced both the picking and the production to local farmers who are happy to support this unique enterprise whilst also providing local employment. This leaves time for the enterprising duo to develop and grow their business.
Their product range benefits from being both quirky with a modern twist on the traditional. Their damson cheese works a treat with blue cheese and wild plum chutney with pate takes it to a whole new level. All the products have support on the company website with serving suggestions and tips. With plans for some delicious new products for autumn and additions to the Christmas range I can’t wait to see what they do next!