THURSTON: Creating cordials from Suffolk’s hedgerows
- Credit: Andrew Partridge
Hedgerow Cordials is making delicious award-winning drinks from ingredients largely foraged from the Suffolk countryside. Sheline Clarke spoke to Charlotte Grant, the entrepreneur behind this charming business
Charlotte Grant says she has always enjoyed making jams and preserves, jellies and chutneys from hedgerow fruit and surplus produce from the garden.
But when a friend introduced her to Mulberry cordial, Charlotte had her ‘Eureka’ moment and hasn’t looked back since.
“I thought making a drink was a great idea so my cordial obsession began and I started cordiallising everything; my house became filled with weird concoctions made from just about everything I could lay my hands on,” she said.
That was three years ago. Since then Charlotte has worked to perfect her recipes and take her cordials to market through farmers’ markets and foodie fairs throughout the county. She was also able to get her products into the Suffolk Food Hall, after writing to owner Oliver Paul and persuading him to give her cordials a try.
Now, she is making the range available to buy on line in the hope of reaching a much wider audience and establishing them as a favourite drink for children and adults alike.
She has transformed her hobby into a fledgling business and, so far, loves every minute.
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“There’s a lot of interest in local food at the moment and there’s a lot of interest in foraging. Farmers’ markets are brilliant because you can put tasters out the front and people are really honest with you and generally they all go down brilliantly and it’s a really good way of trying out new flavours.”
Today the range of cordials produced at Charlotte’s home in Thurston near Bury St Edmunds, includes seasonal favourites such as Suffolk raspberry, pear and cinnamon, her award-winning chilli and lime, which won a national gold start in the Guild of Fine Food Great Taste Awards 2012, elderflower and strawberry, wild nettle, rhubarb and ginger, sloe and apple, to mention just a few.
The idea to start selling the cordials came back at Christmas 2011 when Charlotte decided to try and sell a few bottles at festive fairs.
“At the time they were in basic little bottles with hand written labels but we found that they sold really well and people seemed genuinely interested in the product. There’s a real resurgence in people looking for an interesting soft drink for grown-ups, like the chilli and lime, which packs quite a punch. Having said that, children love them too, and that helped give us the confidence to grow the idea and dip into larger fairs and last year I took Hedgerow Cordials to the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival,” she said.
Until July last year Charlotte was developing her business alongside a part time role as an environmental educationalist with the Wildlife Trust. When that contract ended, she decided to give Hedgerow Cordials 100 per cent of her time.
“I decided that this year I am really going to go for it,” she says brimming with enthusiasm for her hobby/business.
“We can’t forage everything,” explained Charlotte, “but all the ingredients for the seasonal specials are – so all the nettles and blackberries and sloes, for example. Where I can’t forage I try really, really hard to support local fruit farms, so the raspberries are from a nursery up the road and the pears and apples from a fruit farm in Woodbridge and the sugar is, of course, Silver Spoon so all from East Anglia. Chillies, limes and ginger are more difficult but I am always on the lookout for local providers.”
Charlotte is constantly developing new flavours and experimenting with different methods of boiling and steeping to get the best from her natural ingredients.
At the moment she is waiting for a ‘nettle surge’.
“Just normal nettles,” she laughs, “most people think are a garden pest, but I go round searching for them! You need the nice young shoots – you don’t want to be eating old nettles – I’ve even started cultivating my own patch. Nettle cordial is quite labour intensive, you need to give it some time, but it is seriously delicious.”
Launching her products online seems a natural next step for Charlotte to win more customers and to convert people who perhaps tasted her cordials at food fairs into regular buyers. It also means she can make her seasonal specials more widely available.
Her business, like her ingredients, is growing organically. Her boyfriend and antique restorer Ross Bennett works with her one day a week and has been responsible for the website and design elements of the brand and business.
“I didn’t really know how to get started,” said Charlotte, “and I had little deals with shops but getting support from the Food Hall was great. Oliver Paul was very helpful and advised me to try this and that.”
As well as having a degree in literature and philosophy and a PGCE, Charlotte is also a graduate of the School for Social Entrepreneurs and was among the first cohorts of this Ipswich-based enterprise.
“I went there with an idea of foraging and working with young people because there’s a therapeutic aspect to the whole berry to shelf idea which I think could be of huge benefit to lots of people. I love being outside and I love gardening and want to share that with other people and I want to work with young people and I was able to develop that there – it was a really interesting experience – and an idea I would love to return to later, when the business is more established.”
But for now all of Charlotte’s efforts are focused on the year ahead and her big push to get Hedgerow Cordials on the map.
“This is the first year of doing this full time so I am booking booking booking big markets and fairs – I will be at South Suffolk, Suffolk, Aldeburgh, Bury, Thriplow Daffodil Festival, as many as I can really, it’s a big marketing push, and the money making area, and so this year is all about getting the name out there. The fairs are brilliant – at Aldeburgh last year there were coach loads of people coming in from all over and it was brilliant to see such a big event and local food being so appreciated.
“I would love to get into more shops but I think it is really important for people to get to know your product before it is sitting on a shop shelf and for me to go out and meet people and tell them all about it and why it’s great – I really love that side of things. I am a foodie, I love food, and I am interested in meeting like-minded people and seeing what they are interested in and whether they like what we are doing.
“Fairs are exhausting but I do enjoy going out and giving people samples and seeing what they think of the product and getting feedback.”
So what about the long debated issue of trying to turn a hobby into a business?
“It didn’t worry me because I thought it will be brilliant and I will be there every day doing what I love, but there are challenges to it.
“I love what I do but of course – like with any job – there are days when I come out and think – phew, another 20 litres to boil up and that’s a lot!
“And I must admit at the weekends I am not always making jam any more! Having said that there are lots of plus points of turning your hobby into a business and I could see for some people it might ruin it or whatever, but even when you are feeling fed up you have got to just look at it and think I am really lucky that I got to turn something I love into something I do every day. As with any job you get fed up sometimes – that’s life and I think the positives outweigh the negatives on that one.”
n Charlotte’s online shop is now live. Bottles cost £3.50 plus postage and packaging. For larger orders of 12 bottles or more, postage is free. For more information and to see which fairs Charlotte will be attending visit the website.