Philippa James visits Pennine Way Preserves
PUBLISHED: 20:33 11 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:20 20 February 2013
Philippa James visits a business on the edge of Bowland where gorgeous lemon cheese is made the traditional way
When it comes to food hygiene Margot Humphreys is not a lady to mess with! As I was handed my hairnet and pink tabard - daily colour-coded for cleanliness - her husband, John, ushered me into the production area. As I wrestled with said net she booms: Will you please go out of here and sort your hair out. Thank you!
While I back out, she adds: Its my name thats on the jars, and everything has to be right. Duly admonished, and quite rightly so, I go back to reception and net my hair. Ena Sharples would approve.
Inside Pennine Way Preserves at Inglewood, near Garstang, the air was filled with the deliciously sharp aroma of warm lemons as John handled two impressive copper pans once used by Brierley, Collier and Hartley Limted, of Rochdale. He staggers the filling process to keep the production running, putting the liquid through a sieve and into a holding tank. This is wheeled over to the tiny production line, headed by Margot, who does the extremely hot filling process.
In animated fashion, she shows me how much upper arm exercise is involved and wonders: How come I do this all day, every day, and I still have blooming bingo wings? With up to 3,000 jars being hand processed in a day I wonder, too.
I am introduced to Lynne One, lidding the jars, who has worked here for 25 years, and Lynne Two, who seals them. She is the baby of the gaggle of girls having only worked here for 11 years. Belinda, also on bottling, who has over 20 years service, says: When we started we all had kids at the local play-group, we all Drinrinrinklived within three miles and now were all grannies. Margot chips in: If they do anything wrong, they get five years detention!
She and John start at 6am, preparing everything for the day so their ladies can hit the ground running from 7.30am. Finish time? When weve done everything for the day, says Margot. She adds: These are the best ladies in the world, they dont work for us, but alongside us. There is an enormous sense of pride in what we all produce.
Pennine Way Preserves was started as a small scale business just under 40 years ago by Margot and a relative, Margaret Humphreys.
John sold the preserves to stalls at Lancaster Market, green grocers and delis and the interest grew. As grocers disappeared the products started to go into health-food stores, garden centres, Booths, and even the local Asda.
The company also produce own label products, biscuits with marmalade and lemon cheese, plus Christmas hampers.
I asked John about the difference between lemon curd and lemon cheese. Apparently curd is more likely to have colours, preservatives and stabilisers while cheese is a pure product.
Margot says: We have natural ingredients in everything we do and thats why the colour of the jams can vary, according to the harvest. We try to source as much as possible locally, and we freeze the fruit we cant use when its in season and at its best. As one batch was emptied, John comes through holding bowls of golden blocks.
This is Dewlays pure best butter and we get our granulated sugar and whole egg from Bako in Preston.
I then meet Sheila who is described as our labelling machine. The labels are not self-adhesive, but wet glued individually and Sheila has been doing it for 23 years. Colleague Eileen has been shrink-wrapping for 28 years!
The ladies come through, clutching their sandwiches, Margot nods towards them, and concludes: We treat everyone as we would like to be treated.
I step towards the door saying Id leave them to their lunch hour. Lunch hour? asks Margot. We take as long as we need for our sandwiches, then its back to work!