Taste, that most evocative senses. And for many people, the golden door to the past is opened by well-remembered flavours of jams and preserves – combined, perhaps, with memories of foraging expeditions, or helping a much-loved grandparent harvest the veg patch. “The thing that surprised me” says Sarah, owner of Coventry jam and preserve makers Tregunter, “is the number of people who see something and say ‘Oh, my grandmother used to make that’, and you get that sense of memory, and people really enjoying something”.
Tregunter is a jaw-dropping business, its product list totalling no fewer than sixty-five varieties of chutneys, curds, marmalades, jams and jellies all made by Sarah in her kitchen at home. And it was her own childhood memories that inspired her to get started. “I was facing redundancy” she explains “and I was looking for something I could do that was a little bit different. I attended some courses and one suggestion was starting a business that enables you to do something you enjoy. I’d grown up making preserves with my mum, my grandma and my grandfather, so I thought, ‘why not do that!’”
And if you’re looking for that taste you remember, Sarah may well be able to oblige: about half of her recipes are traditional favourites, handed down through her family. “The marrow and ginger jam I make is a really old-fashioned recipe” she says. “It’s super ginger-y because the marrow absorbs the flavour, and it’s by far the most popular thing I sell online. I get the sense that I’m one of the few people still selling it, and I get people saying they’ve been looking for it for years. It’s what they remember from childhood.”
But it’s not all about recreating the past. Many of Sarah’s preserves, including her overall best-seller, are modern recipes, the result of customer requests or her own experimentation. “Kiwi jam came about after a customer request” she says. “It’s green with little black dots in it, and I wasn’t sure it would work – but it’s been incredibly popular, especially with children who think it looks like frogspawn!” And the best-seller? “That would be my blueberry and cinnamon jam” laughs Sarah. “A lot of people do what I do and put it on porridge. You get a fantastic flavour from it.”
Sarah is also very mindful of dietary intolerances and restrictions. “Everything apart from the curds is vegan” she says “and in the curds I use goat’s butter, which also makes them lactose-free. For people on lactose-free diets, it often means they can go back to enjoying something they haven’t tasted for years.”
With chutneys meanwhile, it’s all about the vinegar. “For religious reasons” continues Sarah, some people don’t want wine vinegar; on the other hand, traces of gluten in malt vinegar can be a problem for coeliacs. To make sure there’s something for everyone, I use a mixture of different vinegars, and allergens for every product are listed both on the stall and on the website.” Sarah also uses Stevia, a natural product from one of the world’s sweetest plants, to make a range of sugar-free jams and marmalades, including that stellar blueberry and cinnamon: “I took it to its first market recently – boy did it sell!”
No artificial additives are used in Sarah’s preserves and apart from things like citrus fruits, most of her ingredients are grown in her back garden, donated by neighbours or sourced from local farms and suppliers. I’m keen to know if local provenance has become more important to consumers in recent years.
“Definitely” says Sarah. “When I started on markets, no one ever asked me if I made the preserves myself. That’s something I’m asked at every market now. There’s a lot more interest in how they’re made, what’s in them and where it’s come from. I’m finding that people are much more interested in flavour and quality, and are even willing to pay a little bit extra for something like my preserves, that they know they’re going to enjoy.”
Would you like to sample Tregunter preserves? Visit the website for a full list of forthcoming market events plus online shopping. Selected lines are now also on sale at COGS of Coventry plastic-free stall in Coventry Market.