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Happy to be in a pickle
2:40pm Tuesday 29th October 2013 in Features
MAXINE GORDON meets the York culinary entrepreneur hoping to make a packet from pickles.
IT’S the cabbages in Sarah Puckett’s window boxes that give the first clue that a proper foodie lives in a house like this.
“My window boxes do get noticed,” smiles Sarah, who set up her business, Puckett’s Pickles just over a year ago.
It’s a proper cottage industry – Sarah makes all her chutneys from the galley kitchen of her three-bedroom home in York.
Now is the busiest time of the year – produce is in abundance and the festive orders are flying in.
“Christmas is coming at me like a juggernaut,” says Sarah, with a hearty laugh. “I have to triple the amount of pickling I do in the run-up to Christmas.”
That equates to a few hundred jars every week. On her four-ring hob she can only fit two large pots – called kilners – which means she can only cook two batches at a time.
Each batch takes three hours to cook and there are about 15 to 20 portions in a batch.
By any calculation, she is a busy lady.
And it’s not as if you can chuck all the ingredients in the pan and go off and do your ironing or put your feet up and watch Loose Women on the telly.
“You can’t take your eyes off chutney or it will start to burn,” says Sarah.
With beetroot, onions tomatoes and cauliflower all in season just now, it’s a bumper time in the kitchen.
Sarah buys as much of her produce as possible locally.
They go into her seven staple chutneys, featuring the likes of beetroot and orange; pear and apricot; carrot and cardamom, as well as classics such as piccalilli and picked onions.
Seasonal pots include redcurrant and port, ideal for Christmas, and pumpkin chutney which is Moroccan-inspired and features cinnamon and smoked paprika.
Food lovers can try the fruits of her labours by picking up a jar at Love Cheese on Gillygate, the Haxby Baker, the Farmer’s Cart or at Weetons in Harrogate.
But she is also selling further afield, including at the prestigious Neal’s Yard in London as well as online (puckettspickles.co.uk).
Sarah is proud of her pickles. She gave up a high-flying job in catering – she ran the north of England for Pret A Manger – to launch her business.
She shares much of the same ethos as Pret, with the emphasis on quality produce, made locally.
Accordingly, Sarah asks a premium price for her pickles – at £3.50 for a 200g jar.
“I use organic, British cider vinegar, not acetic acid, and no artificial flavourings or colourings.”
Each pot comes with a few recipe ideas, showing the potential of these anything but humble pickles.
“You can top chicken breasts with some of the Spiced Tomato Chutney, top with some cheese them put in the oven – it’s totally delicious,” says Sarah.
“Or add a couple of spoonfuls to jazz up a spag bol.” For something more adventurous, Sarah suggests adding some lemon juice to the Carrot and Cardamom Chutney, “to loosen it a bit”, then spread it over a butterflied leg of lamb.
“You get a really nicely spiced leg of lamb, which you can serve with couscous.”
For home-made pizzas, instead of the tomato sauce base, use the Pear and Apricot chutney instead and finish with some Harrogate Blue cheese and Yorkshire Prosciutto.
When it comes out of the oven, scatter with fresh rocket.
Sarah began making chutneys as a hobby, using old family recipes.
She still has cookbooks belonging to her Grandma Betty and some of these old recipes have inspired Sarah’s chutneys.
Food was a huge and happy part of family life, recalls Sarah. The best meal of all was the “fridge clearing supper” when leftover meat and cheese was served with an array of pickles from the store cupboard.
These came from all over the world, brought home by Sarah’s dad, Jeremy, who was a sea captain.
“As a child, these were the best meals,” says Sarah. “Because we were grazing, conversation was better and it was more light hearted and fun.”
Sarah hopes to capture that essence in her produce.
She says: “I want customers to see Puckett’s Pickles on the table and know they are in for a really good meal.”
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