Wrights Culinary Delights

Farmers Mixed Meadow HerbThe Wright family just can’t stop having ideas!  It was son David who had the initial idea for their business, Wrights Culinary Delights, sparked by an interest in food and his travels to places like Morocco and Brittany.  Here he found markets with piles of jewel-like spices, and interesting mixtures of herbs and spices to rub on to meat, or flavour sauces.  Weary of life in front of a computer, David decided to take the plunge last November and, aided and abetted by his parents, Ian and Kate, he started selling their spices and salts at local markets.

What lured me into buying some of their products was the taste of the dip they were offering at the Malvern Farmers Market (tip for food sellers, greedy people like me cannot resist tasting your produce!) I tasted their Mexican Fiesta Dip, a nicely spicy combination mixed with natural yoghurt or cottage cheese – easy and delicious.  Then I noticed that they had a variety of salts, including sea salt with seaweed, something I had been looking for.  But on the way I saw a lime sea salt which smelt absolutely divine, perfect for fish, I thought, and an interesting one labelled “Bonfire”.  This turned out to be a smoked salt with charcoal added, similar to the Hawaiian black lava salt that you see in expensive delis.  These are ‘finishing salts’ that aim to add an extra taste dimension to your food. But what really grabbed my attention was a wild garlic salt that they have just started marketing, unlike many herb products it smelt fresh and vibrant – the next best thing to wild garlic itself!Fresh Herb Sea Salt

The ingredients for all of these are sourced from around the world, but the family do buy their fresh herbs from a grower in Pershore, and dry them themselves – which probably accounts for their freshness and vibrancy.  They also buy whole spices, not ground ones, and grind these as they use them – so none of that dustiness that you so often get with spices that have been hanging around for ages.  Ian Wright has also created his own smokery in the garden so that they can smoke their own ingredients to just how they want them.  Apparently the smoked black peppercorns are the perfect addition to fresh asparagus and butter!

But the ideas keep coming.  When I visited them at  their ‘spicery’ in Colwall I saw yet more new products, including a oak smoked salt that looked like demerara sugar and had a sweet, almost molasses aroma – watch out for that one!  Inspired by trips to the USA the Wrights have developed some rubs which would complement the great meat we have around here: Smoked Hereford Apple and Worcester Spicy Cherry.  And, hot off the press, they are now thinking about some barbecue chips with spices such as cinnamon or star anise in them that, when you cook over them, impart a subtle flavour to whatever you are cooking. Perfect for when summer finally arrives.

David of Wrights Culinary Delights
David of Wrights Culinary Delights

David is currently selling the products at a variety of farmers markets, see the list below, but you can also buy them at Handleys in Ledbury. Selling like this means they get to talk directly with their customers, allowing them to get a handle on which products people are coming back for and making it easier to judge their next step.They have recently started speaking to local chefs, so expect to see their products on restaurant & café tables or menus soon!   Stepping up production and deciding on packaging and branding could be the next move, but they are not in a hurry, preferring to allow the business to grow organically and not to over-reach itself.  Whatever their next step is, it seems that this family team will never run out of ideas and that many of them are likely to be delicious!

See Wrights Culinary Delights at:

June 9 Teme Valley Market, Knightwick
14 – 16 Three Counties Show, Malvern
15 Malvern Farmers Market
29 – 30 Shobdon Food Festival, Shobdon Airfield
July 6 Hereford Farmers Market
6 – 8 Cardiff International Food Fair, Cardiff Bay
14 Teme Valley Market, Knightwick
20 Malvern Farmers Market
19 – 21 Gloucester Quays Food Festival
27 -28 Taste of Worcestershire

New Shoots at Roots!

072  Changes are afoot at Roots, the cafe and farm shop on the Hereford Road just outside Ledbury. Their kitchen has recently been moved and modernised, but more importantly so has their menu! Some old favourites have stayed, but alongside the jacket potatoes and sandwiches are some interesting seasonal soups and specials. I particularly liked the sound of beetroot & orange soup, although cauliflower & gorgonzola served with a pickled pear relish also got the taste buds going. Both are served with their own Orchard Loaf – a light wholemeal made from locally ground organic flour with just a splash of their own apple juice……. Starting to feel hungry?!

Linzy Outtrim, the manager there, says that the new menu was definitely a team effort. Linzy came into the business three years ago “to water the plants” and just sort of stayed. Like others in the team she got interested and involved, learning new skills along the way. It is obvious talking to her and the others that all the staff there are passionate about fresh, local, seasonal produce and can’t help but get involved in all aspects of the business. They love the challenge of dealing with the occasional glut of fruit or vegetables that come from the organic farm over in Rushwick, keeping the buying in of non-seasonal produce to a minimum. Recognising that for a lot of food outlets the vegetarian option is often an afterthought, Roots has made a deliberate effort to turn that around. While they do offer meat (the menu I saw included a sausage & bean hotpot) vegetables are the stars. And with a choice of cauliflower & chickpea curry, roasted vegetables, homemade hummus and a delicious looking vegetarian quiche and selection of salads on offer, who is arguing?

081So, with wonderful bread made by Tony Wetherall, cake classics such as coffee & walnut, lemon drizzle and Victoria sponge, good coffee and tea, local juices and much more, there really is something for everyone. Customers are currently being invited to make suggestions for the children’s menu that is being developed. The team are just brimming with new ideas. A craft group on a Tuesday morning invites people to bring along any project they are working on, have a cup of coffee and enjoy the company while you are being creative. More special events along the lines of the ‘make an Easter bunny finger puppet’ held in March are also planned. Cooking demonstrations – already happening over at Rushwick – are being devised; starting perhaps with some ‘how to’ basic cooking techniques. I liked the sound of their ‘Foodie Nights’ too – three or four course meals with a theme, such as the Apple Evening held last autumn with apples in every course.

And I haven’t even mentioned the shop! A good selection of local produce; fresh fruit and veg, chickens from Rushwick, Just Rachel’s ice cream – I could go on and on! Such a lot happening, and all served with such enthusiasm and passion for what they are doing. Don’t take my word for it, go along and see for yourselves, you will not be disappointed.

An Interview with Caroline Handley of Handley Organics and The Apothecary

Handley Organics Exterior
Handley Organics Exterior

At a time when everyone is paying greater attention to the sourcing and provenance of what they eat, it is very appropriate to be talking with Caroline Handley who has been a staunch advocate for fresh locally produced wholesome food for many years and who owns the shop Handley Organics in Ledbury’s Homend. Caroline says:

I became interested in the connection between food and health when I was diagnosed with cancer and my consultant advised me to eat an organic diet. I created a vegetable patch and started growing for friends and family. I became passionate about organic produce and the patch grew and grew. Eventually I decided to start a business from it and Handley Organics was born.

Today, 25 years on, the enterprise includes a 32-acre Soil Association-certified organic farm near Bromyard producing fruit and vegetables, a wholefood shop at 82 Homend and the more recently opened Apothecary. There is also a monthly stall at the Talbot Market in Knightwick and Caroline supplies local pubs and restaurants with seasonal fruit and vegetables. She is the main grower on the farm, supported by two full-time and one part-time members of staff. In the summer, she employs up to 40 fruit pickers.

Caroline Handley - the main grower
Caroline Handley – the main grower

Handley Organics aim is not just planting a few fruit and vegetables in a healthier way – it is more ‘global’ than that. For Caroline, growing organically is a way of protecting human health and the environment. She says:

I strongly believe that it’s not about making a premium, it’s about wildlife, protecting our ecosystems and providing people with safe, healthy food from a trustworthy source. We work tirelessly to produce excellent crops of exceptional quality vegetables – to do this properly is hard work. It’s not just a job; it’s a whole way of life.

I am a firm advocate of local sourcing and believe that shopping locally for fresher, healthier, less-travelled food supports our local producers and shop-keepers. Buying local organic food helps people reconnect with the land, the source of their food. When you eat with the seasons you can enjoy more unusual and traditional varieties and local specialties.

The benefits of buying local, organic food are:

  • It’s good for the environment – less road and air transport, less packaging, less pollution and less waste.
  • It’s good for the local economy – keeps money in the local area, creating jobs and businesses locally and giving farmers and growers a more economic return.
  • It’s good for the community – making links between people in the urban area and the countryside.
  • It’s good for your health – fresher food with improved nutrient levels, containing fewer contaminants.

I took a look around the shop at 82 The Homend, Ledbury. There is a wonderful array of vegetables supplied by Caroline and other organic growers. She also stocks a large range of wholefoods including tinned, jarred and pre-packed foods from Suma, Essential and Infinity together with a fantastic range of herbs and spices (fresh in season) sold loose or pre-packed. She keeps a range of teas and coffees from the best and most respected suppliers and baking products from the likes of Marriages and Doves Farm. There are tasty looking cakes and pastries from local producers and pre-packed bacon, gammon and mince from Cridlan & Walker, a prominent local organic meat producer. In the chiller units I discovered milk, local cheeses, butter, fresh yeast and many other choice products, some even handmade by Caroline. Loyalty Cards are now available from the shop which offers real savings in these challenging times.

Caroline - home baking
Caroline – home baking

Handley Organics used to stock a range of non-food products. Caroline had a dream of creating an ethical and organic shop selling everything from the very best in herbs and supplements through to natural remedies, organic and ethical products for hair and skin care, toiletries and make-up, essential oils for aromatherapy and massage and ethically sourced household products. In 2010 this dream was realised when she opened The Apothecary Shop, also in Ledbury’s Homend, providing a tranquil place where customers can source products and information about natural remedies and treatments for health and wellbeing. There is a cosy treatment room at the back which is used by local practitioners for a range of alternative therapies.

The Apothecary shop
The Apothecary shop

So whether you are looking for wonderful tasty, life giving local food or something to make you look or feel better, Handley Organics and The Apothecary have it covered for you on the High Street in Ledbury. Caroline says:

We see ourselves as trustees of the land and everything has to be taken into account – the wildlife, conservation, human values and an ethical business style.

Handley Organics:


The Apothecary:

Bitter, Dark & Gold

logoAsk Ant Stevens if his background is in brewing and he smiles, “It’s a long story….” But we are sitting at a small bar in the Ledbury Real Ales brewery just outside the town, got a pint and a half in front of us and time doesn’t seem a problem. What comes through the story of how he and his wife Kate have ended up here brewing delicious ales in their converted garage is a real passion for the stuff, a passion that even led him to buy and run a pub in Croydon – which taught him a lot, he says. With his inside knowledge of the industry plus a degree in Biomedical Science and Microbiology he understands the chemistry as well as the practicalities of good brewing, and of course the extensive research arduously undertaken on his travels round the globe also helps!

The beers themselves all have a lovely bright hoppy bitterness to them, a rather old-fashioned taste that I love. There are three; the classic satisfying Bitter, a lighter Gold with a smooth refreshing taste and a Dark which has an almost Guiness-like intensity but is not heavy at all. They are available at various hostelries in and around Ledbury; the Oak at Staplow, The Feathers, the Green Dragon at Bishops Frome to name but a few. It is also rumoured that Ledbury Real Ales will be the official beer for the Ox Roast in June.

Iphone photos - up to June 2012 1319Ant is proud of the fact that his beer is as local as it possibly can be, with hops from Pridewood Farm at Ashperton for the Gold, from Stocks Farm at Suckley for the Dark, with the Bitter using both. Although using local malt is difficult because of the small quantities, the Stevens hope to be able to do this further down the line. And it is good to know that Ledbury Real Ale comes in casks made by Hereford Casks, possibly the last remaining cask maker in the UK.

Ant and Kate have big ambitions for Ledbury Real Ale, but are sensible enough to know that what really matters is the taste and the consistent quality of their brew, and to allow the business side of the enterprise to develop at its own pace. Ant says that at the moment he seems to spend more time cleaning than brewing as cleanliness is absolutely critical to reproducing a consistent taste, particularly at this scale of production. But as with any excellent product, expansion is inevitable, and, driven by local demand, this year will see them going from one barrel production to six, something that many people in and around Ledbury will be very pleased to hear.

Iphone photos - up to June 2012 1308Ledbury-DarkLedbury-GoldLedbury-Bitter    Iphone photos - up to June 2012 1402

Christmas is coming ‘someone’s’ geese are getting fat…..

Before the popularity of the turkey goose was the Christmas celebration bird of choice. Easy to rear for anyone who had a piece of land or easily purchased from the many butchers that abounded on our high streets. That’s before freezers made their appearance – both commercial and domestic! Now it’s out on our butchers’ shelves again, albeit sparsely. More of a ‘niche’ buy. Probably because people are wary of cooking it and for a one off piece of meat it doesn’t have the versatility of the turkey when it comes to post Christmas dining……

So this is the brief tale of a local farming family who have a history of rearing – alongside the main farming activities – and supplying our local butchers with the Christmas goose – and what that entails….. It all starts around the end of May. At one time the eggs were hatched on the farm but now it is more practical to buy the goslings at around four days old from a supplier. They purchase around one hundred in number. To begin with they are kept under lamps and artificial light and fed on poultry crumb for four weeks. During this time there is a natural wastage of around 10% – survival of the fittest! Once ‘in feather’ they can be released on to the fields and for seven months they are free to roam. Protection is all important. Predators abound. A watchful eye is kept and the birds come in every night…. At the beginning of December the birds are brought into the sheds, corn fed, and on the 20th they are ready for dispatching. Until recently that was a hands on affair but to make life easier a professional gang is now hired to perform the task as well as the plucking.

An interesting note was that now ‘wet’ plucking makes feather removal ‘cleaner’ but when ‘hand done’ the down from the goose could be retrieved and sold for eiderdowns and pillows. A lucrative by product. My friend made me laugh when she said she was educated on those proceeds! Now her ‘by product’ is goose fat. The fat inside the bird once removed, she renders down and ‘jars’. A local friend makes the labels… Our local butchers market it and we get the benefit of making great roast potatoes…!

So the 20th has arrived and this labour intensive season is coming to an end for another year. The geese are individually dressed and made table ready. Giblets included – so important for that meaty gravy…! All that is left to do is the delivery of the birds to butchers – around Ledbury and Bromyard. I say ‘all’ ‘cos it’s an early morning call for the driver…..

So that’s it folks. My first blog ever and, hopefully, if you enjoyed it, not my last. So go on. Order that goose from Wallers or Gurneys – I’ve ordered mine! A merry Christmas and a happy New Year to one and all.

PS As a footnote from my source – always remember to slice the cooked goose thinly. And another great tip – the unused and usually discarded ‘feathered wing’ from the bird is great for sweeping down the back of the aga or getting in those cobwebby corners!…..she’ll have some to spare…. !

Interview with the producer: Ann Stanier of Once Upon a Tree

Update on 12/12/2016: Ann & Norman have now retired from the business but Dragon Orchard continues to grow orchard fruits and supply Once Upon a Tree.

Update on 28/11/2012: Once Upon a Tree are the winners in the Drinks category of the BBC4 Food and Farming Awards. Congratulations to Ann & Norman, Simon & Hannah!

The Ledbury Food Group sets out to discover more about the people that produce our rich, abundant local food and drink. I talked to Ann Stanier of award winning Ledbury cider and apple juice producer Once Upon a Tree at Dragon Orchard about the development of this successful business.

What is the background to your business?

Dragon Orchard has been owned by my husband Norman’s family for 80 years. It is a small fruit farm of 22 acres and supplied fruit to traditional local wholesalers, markets and food and cider processors. Norman and I returned to live in Herefordshire 20 years ago, after careers elsewhere, to learn fruit farming and take on the family business. It was a time of change. Traditional markets were disappearing and we soon realised that the farm would not be sufficient to keep us.

What did you do faced with such difficulties?

We realised that our best asset was the orchard itself, and we put great emphasis on maintaining its traditional character in our husbandry and our planting. We explored organic options, but decided that our orchard would benefit best from the minimum intervention regime that had always been practiced.

Our first development was our Cropsharers’ scheme. We saw this as a way to re-establish traditional links between producers and consumers. For an annual subscription, Cropsharers receive a generous share of the produce of our orchard. They also enjoy four weekend visits to the orchard at different seasons for orchard walks, visits to local producers and craft workers, communal meals, and seasonal events such as wassailing.

Then, when we needed to replant part of the orchard, we launched a “sponsor a tree” scheme. We found out later that we were early adopters of Community Supported Agriculture.

How has your business developed more recently?

Six years ago, wine maker Simon Day who grew up at the local Three Choirs Vineyard, was back in the area with the idea of applying wine making techniques to traditional cider production, and looking for orchard fruit in Putley. He was attracted to our traditional style orchard and fruit varieties and approached us with a proposal to make cider with our own cider apples. Once Upon a Tree cider production was born.

In the first year of production we won three first prizes for our cider and at Christmas that year we opened the Once Upon a Tree farm shop at the orchard. We now also make perry using locally grown perry pears and our shop is open from March to Christmas annually selling fruit juices, cider and perry, biscuits and cakes, farm-produced preserves, gifts, hampers and local crafts.

What makes your cider special?

It is ‘wine-style’ cider – the apple varieties are kept separate during fermentation and are blended later to obtain a consistency of flavour from one year to the next in our popular blends such as Putley Gold and Marcle Ridge. We do also produce single variety ciders, e.g. Dabinett and even an oaked cider made with Michelin apples.

We make dessert style cider and perry. The fruit juice is concentrated by freezing it at local ice cream producer Just Rachel’s, and then allowing the frozen juice to defrost just enough for the concentrated fruit syrup to melt, retaining two thirds of the volume in the ice as water. The concentrated juice is then fermented to produce dessert style cider which has 8% alcohol and perry which has 12% alcohol.

What does the future hold?

Well we have just opened our second shop, which we have called Three Counties Cider, in Ledbury High Street selling cider and perry from other producers in the area as well as our own, along with local foodie delights and hampers. And this year we are finalists in the drinks category of Radio 4’s Food and Farming awards and are eagerly awaiting the results at the BBC’s Good Food Show at the Birmingham NEC on 28th November. On top of all that, Simon has been investing in our production facilities and we hope to have some new products in the future.

When I visited, apples were being crushed at the orchard press. The bagged up pomace – the solid remains – gets recycled to local pig farmers at Noggin Farm and Alumhurst Farm. Alongside I was surprised to see debris from recent grape juice extraction. In the barn were some plastic wine storage tanks. They had been recently acquired from Three Choirs Vineyard 5 miles away who have converted to use only stainless steel. Next to those were some smaller stainless steel tanks. These came from another local vineyard, Coddington, whose owners have recently retired and sold up.

Whatever happens next at Once Upon a Tree it is sure to be exciting.


Ann Stanier
Dragon Orchard,
Tel No: 01531 670071

Web site: Once Upon a Tree