Hawkshead Relish launch new cookery book
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 October 2019
Hawkshead Relish founder Maria Whitehead MBE talks 20 years of the company and discussed the launch of her new recipe book
'There was a time when I didn't think we'd make it to the next day,' recalled Maria Whitehead MBE from the now hugely successful Hawkshead Relish she founded 20 years ago with husband, Mark. 'We were working in my parents' café, making relishes to serve with the dishes and then Foot and Mouth hit. We had two young children, four and six, and it felt like it was game over.
'The bank manager called to check how we were as no money had gone into our account for a week and I burst into tears down the phone.'
Those times around the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001 were some of the darkest for Maria and Mark. The public were being told to stay away from the countryside - which in the Lakes meant they were staying away from the town and villages too. But the couple turned disaster into success.
'That same bank manager came to see us and Mark was making his chutney,' said Maria. 'He told us selling the chutney was a good idea and we needed to go back to him with a business plan the next week. We had no clue how to write a business plan, we didn't know what one was.
'When we saw him, I thought he was going to close us down. But he loved our plan. He saved much more than our business that day.'
It's a remarkable story. The couple started making batches of 12. Today, Hawkshead Relish produce between 5,000 and 6,000 jars a day of more than 100 products and export to many different countries, including in the Middle East.
They have been awarded more than 60 coveted Great Taste Awards and are a household name.
Together Maria, Mark, their family and loyal staff at the 16th century barn on Esthwaite Water, where they make the products, have bolstered the profile of the Lake District and have gained a royal fan - Prince Charles.
The couple were both awarded MBEs for their services to the food industry in Cumbria and the Hawkshead Relish name is synonymous with the region they are so proud to be based in. Their full-of-flavour products have attracted a loyal following and leading food industry people including the BBC's Nigel Barden and Hairy Biker Dave Myers are big fans of their products. They have also just announced their collaboration with two Michelin star chef, Tom Kerridge. They have crafted his first ever range of ketchups.
'It really is incredible to think back and realise what has been achieved,' said Maria. 'Everyone at Hawkshead Relish really is a family and it is a joy to go to work every day. Our daughters Izzy and Abbie work in the business and my brother, Thomas, does too. We're a great team and I'm very proud to have been on this journey with them. We've come a long way.
'To have the opportunity to work with one of the UK's top chefs like Tom, too, has been exciting and insightful. Knowing he values artisan British makers is heartening, like him we have a real passion for what we do, for where we live and for the country in which we are fortunate to live. This project has given us an opportunity to showcase a little of what we do to a wider audience and we hope that we have the opportunity to collaborate with him again in the near future, especially as he will be closer to hand when he opens his first restaurant in Manchester later this year.'
To mark Hawkshead Relish's 20 year anniversary, Maria and Mark have launched Embellish with Relish, a cookbook featuring 56 recipes using a variety of their chutney's relishes and sauces. They are treasured recipes that have taken pride on their own dining room table or ones they discovered on their travels.
All the recipes use kitchen staples to create satisfying meals that are full of flavour. The book also tells the story of each recipe and product and the story of the business Maria and Mark have spent two decades building.
They have developed the recipes with Martin Frickel, former chef at the Michelin starred Forest Side, now revamping the menus at the much loved Mathilde's in Grasmere.
'I feel scared and excited in equal proportions about the book,' said Maria. We had amazing numbers for pre-order which was just incredible to know people really wanted it. The recipes are designed for people who are short on time or don't know where to go with what they have in the cupboard. It's for people like me who go home and think "what on earth are we having for tea?" It's about having a go and trying something different rather than sticking to the same recipes. 'It uses our products as a treasure trove of flavours to make lovely dishes and working with Martin was a fabulous experience. It really is mad to think it's been 20 years. In reality this book has been 30 years in the making though, it's how long some of the ideas have been there for. It is wonderful to be able to share them.'