With every meal there is a certain condiment that is a favourite in everyone’s house. Do you like piccalilli with your ploughman’s? Mint jelly with your roast lamb? Or is a scone incomplete without a berry jam? Our latest Foodful Feature is about Simonburn-based Northumbrian Pantry a small batch preserves business which prides itself on using local where possible and making sure packaging is environmentally friendly.
Alice Murray is the preserve-maker extraordinaire creating classic preserves with love and care and David takes control of the photos and delivery duties. Firm favourites of the range include Northumbrian Red Onion Relish and Chilli Relish, but with 6 new products recently launched, including Strawberry & Tellicherry Pepper Jam and Smoky Tomato & Chilli Chutney, there is more to enjoy.
The village of Simonburn is a perfect spot for preserve making. It is a beautiful settlement nestled between Bellingham and Hexham with views of Northumberland National Park. It is famous for being the setting of Catherine Cookson novels in a TV mini series adaptation of her books. The unspoiled beauty and quietness is a haven of inspiration which has been utilised in the packaging and flavours of Northumbrian Pantry‘s preserves.
How did your business begin? Can you tell us your history/origin story?
Alice is originally from Northumberland, having grown up in Simonburn in the North Tyne Valley. With spells in Edinburgh, and most recently living in Botswana, working in safari tourism, we returned to the region in 2014 with the view of setting up an enterprise for ourselves.
In our late 30s, it seemed an exciting time to draw on all our experiences and skills learned to set up our own business. Alice has been chef trained and David has a financial background, so we set ourselves the focus of something in food and drink. After the best part of two years researching the possibilities, we decided upon a preserves business.
There is a walled garden and orchard where Alice grew up filled with the likes of plums, apples, pears, damsons and rhubarb. It was what really inspired us into using the wonderful ingredients from the area, and allow us to create and trial recipes. We have outgrown the walled garden now but much of the ingredients found there is in our recipes.
We launched the business on the 1st September 2019 with the view of focusing initially on the Christmas fairs and markets, as well as approaching a handful of shops. Very quickly we found ourselves running out of stock and after two months had to take on our first member of staff. Since then, we have had the challenges of 2020 and principally no events to sell at, but the retail support has been phenomenal allowing us to expand regionally and retain our staff.
What values are at the heart of your business?
Our core value is creating the highest quality and flavoursome recipes. We are painstaking in getting the right blends of flavour and also only using the highest quality ingredients. All our recipes are created by hand, and, in the case of Jellies, using time honoured traditional methods. Cooking in small batches is central to creating that extra flavour so we are committed to cooking in this way.
We live in a very small village, of around twenty houses, so community is at the heart where we live and work. We now employee two staff, one who lives thirty metres away, and the other in the neighbouring village. Supporting the community is more than just a value for us, its day-to-day life in the valley. Agriculture is one of the main sources of employment, so we are very keen to diversify that with a food business.
Conservation and sustainability are also a key philosophy for us. We spent our time in Botswana working for a conservation organisation and we look to build our business in a sustainable way from the start by using as many local suppliers as possible to limit our overall footprint. All our jars are partially recycled, and labels made of paper, and we use cardboard packaging only. As we develop this will become more of a challenge but working sustainably is a key objective.
What does your product range include?
We currently have seventeen jams, jellies, relishes and chutneys. This does vary throughout the year depending on what ingredients are available seasonally. Our best sellers are our Northumbrian Red Onion Relish (an old family recipe) and our Chilli Relish which we were awarded a Great Taste Awards Star last year.
We look to create unique and one might say ‘boutique’ recipes that are quite different from our peers. We have just launched a Strawberry Jam with Tellicherry Black Pepper. These are larger than normal black peppers have a more citrus and floral flavour perfect to combine with strawberry.
At Christmas we have a festive range such as Christmas Chutney and our very unique Damson and Mulled Wine Jam which sells out very quickly.
Perhaps our signature pickle is “Hannah Glasse’s Paco Lilla”. This is an Indian Relish or Piccalilli which is based on one the first documented piccalilli recipes in the 1870’s in a book written by an ancestor of Alice, Hannah Glasse. She grew up in the same house as Alice in Simonburn so we always wanted to create a recipe in her honour.
Where can people buy your products?
Are range can be found in over fifty regional retail delis, farm shops, and tourism centres as well as on our online shop. We look to space ourselves out and we also attend some farmers markets such as in Morpeth.
How can your customers enjoy your product at its best?
The pairing options for our recipes are endless. They are created to be paired so all tastes are catered for. Cheese features centrally as a pairing for the chutneys especially and we were in many many a hamper at Christmas. All our recipes are vegan friendly also so we get a positive following from vegans. Think of deli foods, BBQs, Sunday Roasts, festive occasions, the list can go on and on.
How are you involved in the local food/drink producer community?
We are member of Produced in Northumberland and we are also working with Food and Drink North East, they are providing us with consultancy support.
How does your location influence your business and product range?
Our location was really the routes of the recipes that we created using local apples, pears and plums. One of the most exciting seasonal specials is our North Tyne Valley Crab Apple Jelly with the fruit being picked entirely in the surrounds of the village.
We are about a mile from the centre of Hadrian’s Wall. It is a very dominant feature of the area and has a positive tourism influence. Our 3 pack gift sets feature the walls graphics on them. Our jars were selling very well to the tourist market pre-Covid so we are hoping this will pick up later in the year.
Why do you think people should shop locally?
Ultimately none of us live in isolation and certainly of recent times we have realised how important it is to all of us to be connected. There has been a considerable shift to a ‘buy local consciousness’ which is incredible really. It reflects how community is so important to us.
What excites us is that so many people are now experiencing wonderful local foods, and although they are paying a premium, they are really learning that there is far better quality and flavours to be experienced than in the supermarkets. The regional artisan cheese market is a great example. There are some incredible cheeses of the highest quality to be found outside Tesco. With preserves there is a huge difference between factory made and small batch, if someone is shopping in their local deli then they might pick up a jar and then experience the difference.
As children we used to get excited about trying exotic foreign foods. Today it’s more exciting to see what’s available locally.
What is your favourite local food or drink?
We live on and are surrounded by farms so at the risk of being hounded out of the village by the farmer it would have to be the finest local beef or lamb. Reared in the rural hills, grass-fed and free range in the next field. A roast leg of lamb with Mint Jelly and garden potatoes please.
How could Foodful help promote your business?
It would be great to pair our recipes with other local foods in a feature. Cheese, charcuterie, deli foods.
We’d also love to write some features / co write even on ingredients such as crab apples or how to make jelly
Hat-Tip to the Producers
Thank you to Alice & David Murray of Northumbrian Pantry for their time answering these questions. The only question to ask now is which jar is your favourite? You can find Northumbrian Pantry preserves on our new online shop and in local shops across Northumberland.
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