Passion for preserves proves a sell-out for Co Armagh woman
Claire Kelly's husband thought it was a fluke when her preserves sold out at a church fair three years ago. Determined to prove herself, she made more and set out to see if she could sell out again.
Three years later, Claire's preserve business, Passion Preserved, is going strong and still gathering momentum. On a typical week she could make anywhere between 150 and 400 jars of her savoury preserves - condiments that are particularly popular with turkey at Christmas time.
And to keep the miles down on her product's food, the former accountant now grows over 100 chilli plants and rhubarb in a commercial polytunnel at her home in Loughgall, Co Armagh.
During the summer, she buys tomatoes from a wholesaler in Drumbeg, and during the winter she maintains year-round production by topping up her supply with Spanish tomatoes.
"I like to grow my own ingredients because then I know exactly what's in it. I've a very savoury palate - I'm the person who'll order the cheese board over the pavlova," Claire said.
"If I look at a fruit I'm always thinking what I can do with it to make it savoury, so unlike a lot of other preserve makers, you won't see any sweet products in my range."
Passion Preserved products are stocked at Belfast delicatessen Arcadia and by top Northern Ireland butcher Peter Hannan - aka, the Meat Merchant. Claire said Peter Hannan stumbled across the range at a mutual friend's house - and liked it so much that he got in contact with Claire and decided to bring her whole range into his shop.
"I like to think of my range as being deliciously different; it's all that wee bit quirky and unusual," she said.
Claire said she started making preserves with Iris, a friend she met at church.
"In the summertime we used to get together and try to make the strangest recipes we could find. We would make our way through quirky cook books and look out for weird things to make," she added.
Flavours include sweet and spicy cucumber, beetroot chutney, rhubarb and date delight, and Sunshine relish - a sweet American recipe picked up from family in Pennsylvania.
Claire built her brand by starting with church fairs and moving on to farmers' markets. She said that her personal approach to business is very much what drives it forward.