A fruitful partnership

Chef Jake Winter is the new face of Wild & Fruitful, the West Cumbrian jam-making business behind our Farmshop preserves and seasonal fruit compotes.

If you want to know where to find a Keswick Codlin cooking apple tree or help yourself to a crop of wild gooseberries, Jake Winter is a good person to know. The 22-year-old chef has been foraging for produce in the parks and hedgerows around Keswick in the Lake District since he was a boy, when his granny would take him out blackberry-picking and teach him how to cook.

“Whenever I go out for a walk, I always take a bag,” he says. “You never know what you are going to find.”

His love and knowledge of his local area, combined with the skills he learned during five years as a chef at country-house hotel Lyzzick Hall, make him a worthy custodian of a local food producer that is very close to our hearts. Together with David Seymour, owner of the Lingholm Estate and Kitchen on the banks of Derwentwater, Jake is now running Wild & Fruitful, the Cumbrian preserve maker with which we work in partnership to create our Farmshop label jams and preserves.

Wild & Fruitful was founded 20 years ago by Jane Maggs, a landscape architect and environmentalist. She started it to use up the surplus fruit going unpicked in West Cumbrian hedgerows and gardens, motivated by a determination to reduce food waste.

Our Farmshop Buyer Alexander Evans was her very first customer, first at his Made in Cumbria shop at our sister business Rheged, and then in the Farmshop at Tebay Services. In 2017 Jane and Alexander worked in partnership to launch a range of preserves under our Farmshop label featuring local fruits and wild ingredients. With her knowledge of wild plants and enthusiasm for edible ‘weeds’, Jane created unique combinations, such as blackcurrant extra jam with meadowsweet and a strawberry conserve infused with the Turkish-Delight-scented leaves of Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’. 

When Jane sold Wild & Fruitful in 2020, Jake inherited a binder full of hundreds of typed-out recipes. “One of my lockdown projects was converting all the recipes from pounds and ounces to grams and kilos,” he says.

While streamlining their range of jams, conserves, curds, chutneys, sauces, relishes and pickles and ensure their commercial viability, Jake and David are also determined to remain true to the ethos of Jane’s original enterprise: making jams and preserves by hand in real pans using as much locally sourced, foraged and surplus produce as possible.

Autumn will find Jake and David in the Lingholm estate orchard, picking Marjorie plums and heritage apples while peeking through the branches towards the summit of Catbells. Before that, when the blackcurrants arrive, Jake will be picking them up from his neighbours and taking delivery of carrier bags full in return for a few jars of jam.

“People are happy to give it to a good home,” says Jake, who does his best to ensure that no donation goes to waste.  “We have invested in more freezer space so when local fruits are in season we can preserve them to use later.”

While not limiting themselves to local and seasonal ingredients – recipes in their newly branded Wild & Fruitful range included mango chutney and lemon curd – Jake and David make use of as much Cumbrian produce as they can get their hands on: rhubarb from neighbours’ allotments, damsons from the Lyth Valley, strawberries and tomatoes from Cochranes Nurseries at Longtown near Carlisle, elderberries foraged from the bushes that grow metres from the back of their production kitchen in Maryport.

The Lingholm Estate itself has a vegetable garden supplying tomatoes, carrots and beans. “We’ve got loads of runner beans, which I’m planning to come up a recipe for – maybe a pickle,” Jake says. The more you pick them, the more they grow.”

As a chef he’s in his element in the production kitchen, where he directs Jane’s original team. He loves coming up with new recipes and flavour combinations, working with other local producers such as Keswick Brewery and The Lakes Distillery to create new products to add to the rebranded Wild & Fruitful range. He and David have just launched Wild & Fruitful English Lakes Honey, new in our Farmshop, which is gathered from hives at Lingholm and in the Borrowdale, Newlands and Lorton valleys.  

They’re still working closely with Alexander to make our Partnership products to Jane and Alexander’s original recipes, which include a South Indian-spiced ‘Fusion’ piccalilli, Sticky fig and rhubarb relish and cheeseboard favourite Pear & walnut chutney with port. 

“In Jake, Jane found someone who will do his best to stick to her principles, who knows the value of the provenance of the produce he is getting in,” Alexander says. “He wants to do the best by his producers, just as Jane did, and he has kept the essence of what Jane was trying to do.”

Crucial to this essence is the handmade process. “Every batch is slightly different,” Jake says, explaining how he and his team still peel and chop whole fruits and vegetables by hand to retain the character and texture of the final product. They make everything in batches of 20-30 jars at a time, using the same stovetop method you’d use at home – just with bigger pans.

“I use my eye and senses to know when things are ready,” he says. Choosing which of the Lingholm plums to put into one of the seasonal fruit compotes that he makes for our Kitchen – where it is spooned on top of porridge and sandwiched in our Victoria sponge cakes. Or knowing when the strawberry compote, made for us with Cochranes’ Cumbrian strawberries, has reached the perfect point – gently set but retaining some fleshy fruitiness. These instincts have become second nature to a chef who made and sold his first jams as a teenager in his parents’ Keswick B&B.

“I can’t explain it. I know by touching it when a plum is just ripe, but not too ripe,” he says. “That’s the perfect plum to make a compote.”

Tastes of the plain

Cheesemaker Carolyn Fairbairn and her daughter Leonie Fairbairn produce unique Cumbrian cheeses at Thornby Moor Dairy on the Solway Plain.

After 42 years working with milk, moulds and microbes, one would imagine a cheesemaker to be in complete control of her craft. But Carolyn Fairbairn, who’s been handmaking unpasteurised cheeses on the Solway Plain near Carlisle since 1978, modestly admits to a mere supporting role.

“The bacteria are in charge,” she says of the friendly lactic acid bacteria whose activities are so integral to the quality and flavour of her cheeses. “I’ve got to look after them. I’m just trying manage things so that the bacteria I want are allowed to thrive a bit more quickly than the ones I don’t want.”

She speaks while rubbing sea salt into a batch of round white cheeses that will become Toveys –mould-ripened goats’ milk cheeses that Carolyn named after the late chef and Lake District hotelier John Tovey, an early fan. Beneath the table where she’s working, a lower shelf is crowded with Cumberland Farmhouse cheeses in presses, their moisture being slowly squeezed out.

Once pressed they will be bound in cloth and aged for at least five months in the maturing room, where they are turned once a week. “All the cheeses are alive and I am responsible for their welfare,” says Carolyn. It’s not hard to imagine her giving them a gentle talking-to.

Cumberland Farmhouse, a hard cow’s-milk cheese, is a bestseller in our Farmshop for its buttery texture, full flavour and local provenance. Delivered to us by Carolyn’s daughter Leonie Fairbairn, it takes pride of place on our cheese counter beside Thornby Moor’s hard goat’s-milk cheese Allerdale and the popular Crofton – a creamy mould-ripened cows’ and goats’ milk cheese that has converted many a goats’-milk sceptic.

It is unusual for a small cheese dairy to produce such diversity of styles – Carolyn also produces day-old goats’-cheese stumpies, fresh curd cheeses and a delicate blue, all using locally sourced milk. Despite being the second largest milk-producing area in the UK, the Solway Plain has no strong tradition of farmhouse cheesemaking – historically it was a butter-making area. So when Carolyn, a former professional photographer, started making cheese on her kitchen table as way of using up the milk produced by a pair of rescued pet goats, she began with a clean slate.

“I can’t bear it when people call it a ‘cheddar’,” she says of Cumberland Farmhouse, which is made using milk from a single local herd of Dairy Shorthorn cows. Carolyn created it as a territorial cheese for Cumbria – our answer to a Lancashire or a Wensleydale or Gloucester: a Cumbrian cheese made with Cumbrian milk reflecting the Cumbrian soil and landscape.

“When people talk about wine, they’ll say it’s grown on a sunny hillside facing south and so on. That’s important, and it’s exactly the same with cheese,” she says. “The soil that your forage comes from, and the breed of the animal that processes that forage into milk, it’s important to how the cheese tastes and it’s important for a healthy diet. This is why I stick to my guns. I don’t mess with the milk. I let it arrive at cheese.”

During nearly half a century in which the food industry has become ever more industrialised, sticking to her guns has not always been easy. In 1989 Carolyn became a founder member of the Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association, which was spearheaded by Neals’ Yard Dairy founder Randolph Hodgson to support and encourage farmhouse cheesemakers in the face of increasing regulation and the pressure to pasteurise.

“Working with raw milk leaves you no excuses,” says Leonie, who’s been a champion of gut-friendly real food since her mother sent her to school with packed lunches made from homemade bread and goats’ cheese that had been ripening in the spare room. “You have to have good quality milk. It concentrates the mind from the beginning of the process, which improves animal health and wellbeing.”

She explains why using milk that has not been heat-treated to kill microbes is so essential to the unique flavours and qualities of their cheeses. “A very broad spectrum of bacteria remains alive and active within the milk, and that will go on to be reflected in the flavour and structure of the cheese,” she says. “With pasteurised milk you often get a more upfront and one-dimensional flavour. But with raw-milk cheese there’s complexity and length of flavour. The flavour tends to build on your palette and then linger.”

Our Farmshop buyer Alexander Evans, who began his career behind the cheese counter at Harrods in the 1980s, says he has huge respect for Carolyn and other raw-milk farmhouse cheese producers who have fought so hard to preserve recipes and techniques deeply entwined with their landscapes and places. “Carolyn was a pioneer of making farmhouse cheese in Cumbria when it was dominated by the big dairies,” he says. “She is fiercely protective of what she does.”

Alexander has recently added Tovey and the creamy blue-veined Blue Whinnow to the range of Thornby Moor Dairy cheeses on our counter. But he remains most devoted to the Cumberland Oak Smoked, which Carolyn and Leonie infuse slowly over oak shavings in a smokehouse they built themselves.

He loves to visit to the tar-blackened outbuilding behind the dairy, where smoke creeps out from beneath a rickety wooden door and the pale yellow cheeses take on a deep amber hue. “That incredible sunset yellow colour inside when you open it the cheese,” he says. “There’s nothing better.”