Christmas spice

PUBLISHED: 17:26 01 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:23 20 February 2013

Selsey Herb and Spice Company Ginger Beer Plant.

Selsey Herb and Spice Company Ginger Beer Plant.

Selsley Foods has some wonderful ideas for making the festive season that little bit spicier... they can even offer 'Christmas in a bottle'. Genius!

Christmas spice

Selsley Foods has some wonderful ideas for making the festive season that little bit spicier they can even offer Christmas in a bottle. Genius!

You can book yourself a winter-sun holiday to escape the current chill. Or you can feast on warming spices, says Natalie Hunt, who runs Selsley Foods with husband, Paul. They produce homeinspired chutneys, condiments, syrups, sauces and kit products, which will keep out the cold and make perfect Christmas treats.

Natalie, spices are a pretty good way to warm up our winters, arent they!

Definitely. Cardamom is a favourite of mine. When you taste a product that has cardamom in, you get those heady, floral, fruity scents coming at you, which transport you to your own tropical island! We produce an Aromatic Apricot Chutney, for example, which actually smells of cardamom because we like to use whole spices wherever we can. Ground spices, by contrast, start to lose their flavour and smell very quickly.

You have some brilliantly unusual ideas I know your cardamom and lavender marmalades are very popular. How do you come up with them?

We inherited some of the products when we bought the business from friends of ours - it used to be Selsley Herb and Goat Farm. We kept those two marmalades because they are so different and have huge appeal. The French, with their fields of lavender, are big buyers when they visit Stroud Farmers Market. But weve introduced lots of new products, all of which I develop in my kitchen at home. A good example is our Spiced Plum Chutney with Sloe Gin, which was a dog-walking inspiration! A couple of years ago, we had a lot of damsons from the two trees in our garden, and I suddenly wondered whether I could do something using the sloe gin I make for fun. So I messed around with some spices and came up with a recipe that, oddly enough, worked first time. Theres cinnamon, cloves and lots of winter warming spices; but adding sloe gin in fairly vast quantities made it amazing. We swapped to plums because theyre available most of the year. Its a genius product for the Cotswolds: the hunting-shooting-fishing brigade love the fact that it works well with game.

Where do you find your recipes?

The internet is a very good source and Ive a stock of recipe books, old and new; but I look abroad as well, often to Australia and New Zealand. When the Victorians moved out there, they took a lot of fruit trees mulberries in particular so their recipes tend to include familiar ingredients. Because they then had different spices available, they played around with recipes more widely. Ive found it really interesting, learning how spices came to this country.

How do you test your new products?

We use friends as guinea pigs; theyre particularly useful when it comes to tomato-based products because Paul doesnt like tomatoes! One of our best-sellers is Tomato Chilli Chutney with Roasted Garlic: the roasted garlic was the result of a friends comment in the early days. Our chilli jam is a bit different: I was tasting other peoples, thinking there was something missing. For me, it turned out to be a bit of onion. So few people include it but I feel it gives ours extra body and bite.

You sell at Stroud and Stow farmers markets and county-wide food fayres, as well as in delis and farm shops

Yes. I make small batches of all of our products in my kitchen at home for the farmers markets, and then we use people who are prepared to make artisan-sized quantities for us to sell in shops. In fact, one of the biggest challenges always lies in taking a new product from the kitchen to more commercial batches, while maintaining integrity: these products are our babies and its hard to allow someone else to tweak them! Weve learned when to dig our heels in and when to allow some changes to be made.

And youve won awards!

Im very proud of our fruit syrups, which are marvellous with everything from desserts to champagne. Our Raspberry & Redcurrant won a two-star gold in the Great Taste Awards and our Sour Cherry & Vanilla has a one-star.

Tell us about your Christmas in a bottle.

Thats our mulling syrup, which is just wonderful. Its so simple to use a combination of eight parts of your chosen drink (usually red wine) and one part syrup. You can make one glass at a time or, because its non-alcoholic, give it to children mixed with Days Cottage apple juice, for example. People say a dog is for life not just for Christmas and the syrup works the same way!

All of the spices are natural so, instead of putting sugar and cinnamon in your apple pie, use mulling syrup instead. Last year, I discovered that if you add a tablespoon to half a pint of whipped cream, its absolutely to die for with mince pies. I also make a cranberry sauce with so much port in it that I wouldnt recommend you drive afterwards!

Selsley Foods products are available at Stroud and Stow-on-the Wold Farmers Markets, at independent farm shops and delis throughout the county, at many food festivals and events, and through mail-order at (01285 760716), where you can discover the full range.

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