“We wish you a Berry Christmas, we wish you a Berry Christmas!” Now don’t start getting worried, this isn’t about undertaking some kind of festive personal hijack.
It’s all about getting into a jam talking with the jam and chutney producer who recently won yet another Deliciously Yorkshire Taste award
Berry Christmas is a strawberry and raspberry jam with orange liqueur that is one of 200 lines produced by Bracken Hill Fine Foods at West House Farm, Elvington near York. There are also two other members of their seasonal family Yuletide, Breakfast Marmalade with calvados and Boxing Day Chutney with caramelised red onion and cranberry with claret.
Bracken Hill was the name of company co-founder Neil Maycock’s grandfather’s farm in Holderness where he often milked cows before he went to school and when coming home at night after moving from Hull to Patrington when he was 11 years old. Neil had pursued farming as a career after leaving school and studied at Bishop Burton College. His move further west towards the York area ultimately saw him swap dairying for jam making.
“I’d grown up with a traditional mixed farming background and after college I’d taken a job as cowman for Chris Wright and Charles McNeil at Thorganby near Wheldrake, not far from where we are now.
“When milk quotas came in during the 1970s it changed everything and their British Friesian herd was not really viable.
“The future of dairying as I saw it wasn’t something I wanted to stay in. I’d enjoyed the times when dairymen knew all their cows by names and I could see it was getting a little impersonal.
“By coincidence there was a van driving job that came up just at the time I was thinking that way. The job was with Village Green Preserves in Wheldrake and was only for six months, but I stayed and ended up managing the business.”
Bracken Hill jams and chutneys came about when Neil and wife Gill decided to focus on supplying outlets other than supermarkets. They took stalls at farmers’ markets, agricultural shows, food festivals and began expanding their farm shop supplies.
Ironically, they rented premises at West House Farm, once a dairy farm and where Gill, who comes from Bardsey near Wetherby and whom Neil met while at Bishop Burton, used to work feeding calves. Where their office is today was at one time the milking parlour. It seems that dairying in some way, shape or form has forever played its part.
“Quality produce has always been our top priority,” says Neil. “Where possible we will source locally but we have grown so much that in order to meet demand and get the right quality we now import a large percentage of the fruit we use.
“The best fruit we used years ago came from the Angus glens around Blairgowrie and Perthshire. We have our own orchard in Sutton upon Derwent growing mainly apples including old varieties such as Pippin, King of the Pippin and Ribston.
“We’ve planted a lot of trees including the Dog Snout, Hornsea Herring and Acklam Beauty which are Medlar trees that produce a fruit somewhere between a haw and a pear that is made into a jelly similar to quince and can be used in desserts. “We also grow pears, damsons and plums, but every week we take in one tonne of onions, one tonne of apples and one tonne of other fruit and you don’t get anywhere near that from our orchard of about three-quarters of an acre.
“We buy strawberries and raspberries from Spillman’s near Thirsk and we will still buy from other Yorkshire producers including rhubarb from Oldroyd’s and chilis from Wigginton, but the volume we now need and at the right quality has seen us look to Poland where they have an excellent reputation for their soft fruit.”
Neil is calm about the current governmental negotiations over how trade will be affected when the UK comes out of Europe.
“I was around before we went into Europe and I don’t see Brexit as a long term worry as I see no reason why we can’t buy as we do now. We’ve just got to get these next two years out of the way. We will still want to buy their produce and they will still want to trade.”
While Bracken Hill Fine Foods has grown substantially from its early days to now employing a team of 14 with Neil and Gill’s son Peter also involved they haven’t forgotten or left behind their roots.
“We’re very fortunate to have won at least one category every year in the Deliciously Yorkshire Taste awards since they started; and we’ve won a number of World Marmalade awards, but we still know that awards are one thing and having our produce available at farmers’ markets and in farm shops is vital.
“We currently have stands at the Humber Bridge and Stokesley farmers’ markets and our jars are on display at farm shops such as Keelham in Skipton, Beadlam Grange near Helmsley and William’s Farm Kitchen in Hornsea.
“We try to ensure that where each farm shop stocks our jams, marmalades, chutneys and other produce that there is a radius where no-one else has them to provide a degree of exclusivity.
“We’re proud to say that we’ve never needed a salesperson on the road to sell our produce to outlets. Our business has built on the back of customers tasting and enjoying.”
Supplying the trade with produce is another important aspect of the Bracken Hill business.
“Other manufacturers come to us for the elements they require for their main lines such as pork pies that are made with onions and chutneys.
“We currently also supply Thomas the Baker and Yorvale ice creams with fruits.”
Neil is keen to pay tribute to his team behind the scenes. “Our business couldn’t bear fruit without all their efforts – and we work hard at being jammy winning awards!”