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Meet Sarah Puckett of Puckett's Pickles

 

Meet Sarah Puckett of Puckett's Pickles

 

Located just outside Easingwold is a little gem of a place full of wonderful aromas. It’s a back to basics affair with everywhere decorated in pristine white with the odd flash of a neon yellow logo about the place and, from behind the desk, I am are greeted by the wonderfully warm Sarah Puckett! I’ve arrived at the Pickle Palace!

We’ve all seen Sarah at Farmers’ Markets far and wide, on TV on James Martin’s Home Comforts and decorating fabulous Christmas trees on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, but there was so much more we needed to find out about the woman behind Puckett’s Pickles and her amazing produce.

After some home baked muffins, Sarah and I settled down to chat and we started at the beginning.

The Puckett’s were from Devon, where Sarah was born, and a seafaring family – going back generations. Her father was a ship’s captain and sailed the seven seas. He, and the generations before, would bring back ‘strange’ ingredients from their travels. Her Carrot & Cardamom chutney, with its rich and exotic flavour, is from a recipe of her Great Great Grandmother and in proper family tradition has been passed down the generations. Puckalilli is a play on words on her Grandma Puckett’s recipe and currently a special edition - so get your hands on it quick!

We talked more about Sarah’s fondest childhood memories and reminisced about her mum’s fridge clearing suppers, with leftover meats, cheeses and anything else lying idle in the fridge, which she named ‘Bubble & Squawk’ and it would be served with Sarah’s father’s stash of pickles. Some plates were more successful than others! Talking to Sarah about family it was plainly obvious that her mum has been hugely inspirational to her – creatively gifted and with many talents, it was down to her to give Sarah the kick up the proverbials that she needed to launch into pickles!

Sarah’s career was in the main spent at Pret A Manger which eventually brought her to York when she was promoted to look after the North of England. Covering an area from Newcastle to Nottingham, York seemed the ideal place to settle and we're glad she did! In her 15 years with them, she had a number of career highs, including opening the first branch in New York and delivering sandwiches to Buckingham Palace, no less!

Whilst at Pret she was well known for supplying her colleagues with her pickles and chutneys made in her spare time and was overwhelmed by their feedback and their encouragement for her to take a leap and set up her own business. What was the worst that could happen? Knowing that Pret were happy to welcome her back with open arms, she decided to set up on a shoestring and run her little business from home. How things have changed in these six years since taking her leap of faith. In her first two years her products had won 7 (yes, 7!) Great Taste Awards – the acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink and seen as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world!

This got us chatting to what Puckett’s Pickles have in the pipeline. Sarah is so inventive and creative with her flavour combinations, so I wanted to hear about anything new! Sarah is very happy to share – she’s so passionate about what she does. Christmas is coming and so the recipe is being developed for pickled brussel sprouts! This takes me back to Sarah’s Christmas story about the family tradition of sprout puree for Christmas lunch, and then served cold as a pate for sandwiches after the event! The family showing their true creative bent with that recipe!

There’s also going to be a new addition to the ketchup range! Spiced Curried Parsnip, which sounds amazing for those Boxing Day Turkey sandwiches! Her ketchup was developed with Tom Kerridge and his Michelin-starred pub, The Hand & Flowers, in mind – she has worked with him before with her chutneys and pickles, and has used him as a sounding board for good honest feedback and it’s been invaluable – from those early days to present. Part of the customer feedback that Sarah receives is that they love the chunks of fresh ingredients, the colour, aroma and of course the spiced flavours. But the downside is that once the jar is opened and a teaspoon is in they don’t last more than one sitting! Sarah has listened and is to produce some of the range in larger jars! Result!

With Sarah’s journey in mind, I wanted to find out what was her experience of being a small business in such a big industry. This is something that Sarah admits she doesn’t find intimidating, in the main because of her vast experience gained at Pret. Her own advice is to know what you want to do, stick to your guns, and be authentic, at all times. Keep it simple. Do what you do well and stay true to that. Wise words.

We had a good chat about women in business, entrepreneurs, branding and all things in between, citing Jo Malone as someone who has got it right, but not without mistakes being learnt along the way! Despite Sarah’s accolades, she is taken aback by our reaction to her ongoing success story and admits she leans towards beating herself up over the things she hasn’t achieved yet! There’s a ‘to do list’ and I’m confident they will be ticked off!

It’s evident that Sarah, being true to herself and authentic, is also so very supportive of the local foodie community and what they do. You only have to look at her social media feeds to see this. She puts this down to everyone she supports and collaborates with (including us!) being totally passionate and bonkers about what they do, and there’s been many things her fellow artisan producers are doing that tickle her taste buds! Too many to mention!

This got us chatting about Great British, seasonal food and provenance. Sarah shared how we need to go back to basics – that applies to our diet, the way in which the food industry works and educating the next generation. With her strong connections to food, I wanted to find out what Sarah thought made Yorkshire such an abundant larder and gave it its strong connections to food and drink. Again, those fond early memories were evoked, as Yorkshire felt very much like the places of her childhood, Perth and Devon, with its expansive arable landscape and strong farming heritage which makes it such a fabulous food haven.

So, if not Yorkshire where would Sarah choose to live if based solely on its culinary offerings? The answer is obvious! Brixham in Devon – in a heartbeat! It’s the place where she grew up, feels grounded and so at home. But put Sarah on a beach anywhere with her partner and her dogs, Timmy and Fudge, and she’s in her happy place. It’s in her blood you see.

One of the questions I always like finding the answer to is our guest’s foodie guilty pleasures, and for Sarah it has to be cheese everytime! I wondered if her ultimate foodie experience would also involve this treat, but it was to be a simple experience that Sarah would choose. A kitchen table with her favourite and closest people around her, perhaps a Saturday evening or a lazy Sunday afternoon, dogs contentedly lazing, views of the garden, conversation flowing, no champagne or caviar, but something as simple as roast chicken, but the best roast chicken dinner ever. Perfect. Taking Sarah back to those warm and fuzzy feeling, fridge clearing suppers around the table with the family, where no-one left the Puckett table hungry.

I went away with a smile on my face, knowing Sarah a little better, and feeling that she has got it all right. The stripped-down design of the production unit, the simple food pleasures and her offering, seasonal eating and the importance of loved ones. It’s all about back to basics. She’s not wrong.

 

Butternut Squash Dal with Carrot & Cardamom

600g (prepared weight) cubed, peeled butternut squash
2 tbsp Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil
1 large onion finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground turmeric
1.2 litre veg stock
300g split red lentils
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp Puckett's Pickles carrot and cardamon chutney

Method

Drizzle the rapeseed oil into a large pan and set onto a medium heat. Gently fry the onions then add in the garlic. Add the butternut squash and gently fry for a few mins until the squash starts to get a little colour. In a small dish mix the spices then add to the squash mixture. Add the lentils and stir so the spices cover everything in the pan, then pour in the stock. Bring to a simmer and keep on a low heat for 25-30 mins until the butternut squash breaks up easily. Use a fork or a potato masher to gently break the squash into the lentils.

Finish by stiring through the carrot and cardamon chutney.

If you fancy you can always add in some spinach towards the end of cooking to get a few more of your 5 a day!

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