You have to put your money where your mouth is and since launching ‘Eat Surrey’ I always give local food gifts. Since getting to know Wild at Heart my dinner party offerings often feature a pot of their Damson Cheese (A firm sliceable jelly which is sensational with cheese) or perhaps Wild Plum Chutney which stimulates both palate and conversation.
The story behind the brand makes a great dinner party tale too!
Ginny Knox and Caro Wilson are old school-friends whose childhood exploits involved country walks and cooking hedgerow finds together. They maintained their friendship throughout university, marriage and children regularly reminiscing about their foraging adventures. Surviving twenty years in the corporate world they clocked up a wealth of useful experience which has been essential to their current success. By 2010, the buzz of commuting to the city had worn thin and Wild at Heart Foods emerged. Switching court shoes for sturdy boots came naturally and so began a new venture combining wild ingredients and stirring bubbling maslin pans.
Part of their success has been recognition that growth in the number of preserves makers on the market has made this sector congested. Using foraged ingredients makes their offer unique, medlars, ruby red intense damsons, elderberries and crab apples are not always easy to find. It also gives a sustainable edge to their business. Caro, who lives in Kent, has worked hard to forge relationships with farmers who allow them to pick wild fruit and garlic on their land. They also discovered that crab apples, utilised by savvy housewives up until the last war, were being left to rot on trees. Traditionally grown alongside eating and cooking apples to pollinate the orchards they were used traditionally in products like jellies. Even though this variety has a very short shelf life and bruises easily Ginny and Caro use them in their award winning elderflower preserve and many of their other bespoke recipes.
If starting your own business isn’t stressful enough Ginny and Caro also accepted a commission from Pavilion Books in 2012 to write a cookery book. The Hedgerow Cookbook was published in 2013 after a year of hard work, recipe testing and writing. The result is a stunning, educational and useable cookbook. My copy is marked up with post it notes ready for summer. The book is a timeless classic and this year it’s being rebranded and sold in National Trust Shops. With a five star rating on Amazon, it’s a tribute to Caro and Ginny’s knowledge and creativity.
With sales increasing steadily since they launched a lot of small producers would have buckled under the pressure. But after two years of picking and processing all their own fruit, wild garlic and samphire Ginny and Caro realised in order to survive they needed to delegate. Today they still pick garlic and samphire but outsource as much as they can. Their products are made to their recipes in small batch production on a SALSA approved unit in Kent, which they closely monitor.
Last year Caro and Ginny added Wild Garlic Pesto to their range of chutneys, jellies and jams. Made with the addition of cashew nuts, lemon juice, rapeseed oil and vegetarian hard cheese, it is the only artisan pesto available with a long shelf life. Unsure of how it would sell they took it on the road to farmers markets and food fairs. To their surprise it outsold all their other products. So, for 2015 they have trebled production to meet demand. Forget the harsh commercial pesto sold in supermarkets this is mild, aromatic and teasingly garlicky. Not containing any basil it has a refreshing personality and it’s become an essential in my store-cupboard. Stir it into mashed potatoes or celeriac, use to marinade chicken, toss into just cooked pasta or brush on foccaccia.
Other favourites from their range include Medlar Jelly (try a spoon in a venison stew or beef ragout) (it has a glorious smooth mouth feel) and Elderflower Preserve (delicious spread on layer cakes or with fresh warm scones). I also recommend their Hedgerow mincemeat with elderberries and crab apples for its delicate flavour and appearance.
Expect to pay a slightly higher price for Wild at Heart products which hardly reflects the huge effort that goes in to collecting their raw ingredients making their products so unique. Damson and quince cheese from £4.00, wild plum and other chutney’s from £4.25 and pickled samphire £4.75. Favourites here include wild garlic pesto and elderflower preserve simply because they have short seasonal availability and they are unique. Ginny and Caro harvest the ingredients when in prime condition and delicately preserve them for us to enjoy year round consumption. Look out for them and food festivals and fairs where you can sample their products and have a chat!
If the call of the wild appeals then look out for these delightful products in farm shops, branches of Cook (limited range of stock) or independent delicatessens. Expect to see more great products from these gifted producers as they have been busy in the kitchen experimenting with new ideas to launch next autumn.
Keep in touch by following their blog and enjoy recipes and updates – details below
www.wildatheartfoods.com Shop online
The Hedgerow Cookbook Pavilion Books 2013 available from Wild at Heart website