Often when people think of women making preserves, the stereotypes that come to mind are of WI competitions, bubbling pans on pristine cream AGAs, and home-grown strawberries harvested from the kitchen garden. That doesn’t sound too bad actually… but Bridget Deane is giving the art of making jams, chutneys and marmalades a wholly modern revamp.
Having already had a successful career in television, Bridget had spent 10 years producing and directing BAFTA award-winning primetime documentaries in the UK and US when she set up Fat Lass Preserves. Her love for television production was transferred into a love for producing preserves, all alongside writing scripts for radio, theatre and television programmes such as Emmerdale. It wasn’t long before her culinary passion became her primary focus. ‘I still write now, but I have to admit that the Fat Lass business has taken over really,’ says Bridget. ‘I make artisan jams and chutneys with a modern twist. That is, I use traditional preserving methods, but I don’t make typical flavours. Fat Lass Preserves is all about producing quality food, using top-notch ingredients with all the tasty bits left in. Food created to reinvent your perceptions of preserves. Food to be enjoyed without guilt.’
It was the encouragement of those closest to her that pushed Bridget to take her passion for growing fruit and vegetables and turn it into her next career move. ‘About six years ago I got an allotment and started using the surplus vegetables to make preserves as a hobby,’ explains Bridget. ‘Then friends, and friends of friends, started asking if they could buy them, which ignited an idea – soon afterwards Fat Lass Preserves was born. The first shop to stock my products was an independent artisan deli called Boda Home in Whitley Bay. Jade who runs this amazing shop was a great support and when they sold really well, it gave me the confidence to approach other retailers.’
Bridget is now selling her range of preserves in 12 different locations across the North East, including gift shops, farm shops and artisan delis, but she still produces all these jars on a relatively small scale in the heart of Newcastle. ‘My business is still based in my flat and I cook everything in my little kitchen. Although this may have to change soon as the business is getting so busy, that my flat is constantly full of boxes and jam pans,’ she laughs. Even though she can’t grow everything on her own allotment now, due to a busy schedule and growing demand, Bridget still finds time to visit this green space to enjoy some down-time; ‘It’s my favourite place – a little, de-stress paradise.’
When sourcing ingredients elsewhere, Bridget is still very conscious of the provenance of the produce. ‘All my fruit and vegetables come from North East suppliers, my vinegars are British and even my glass jars are made in England,’ explains Bridget. ‘I feel it’s important that even small businesses support other British companies wherever possible.’ Using local ingredients and being eco-friendly go hand-in-hand with the ethos behind Fat Lass Preserves, and Bridget even applies this to the way her jars are packaged to be sent off to customers. ‘I think having a local approach to the business is very important. Using local newspapers to wrap our jars of preserves was an idea I had which I thought might appeal to Geordies living out of the area who can order a little bit of the North East with their preserves. I’ll be honest, I thought it might be a rubbish idea, but customers seem to love buying the products ‘Geordie gift-wrapped’. Plus, it’s a good way of using up all my old newspapers,’ laughs Bridget. ‘Being eco-friendly is very important to me, for example I use a car scheme for all my transport. It’s a local company called Co-Wheels, where you can hire a car by the hour – since I’m based in Newcastle city centre it’s perfect for the business. Also, all our food waste is composted on my allotment, so I have the fruitiest smelling compost in Fenham.’
Bridget’s most popular preserves fly off the shelves whenever they’re available. ‘My seasonal strawberry and lavender jam is a massive seller,’ enthuses Bridget. ‘But as I only use British strawberries, it’s only around for a limited amount of time. I already have some customers and stockists who’ve placed an order, so they’ll be first in the queue when the strawberries arrive this summer.’ Yet for those with less of a sweet tooth, Fat Lass Preserves also produces a vast range of alternative chutneys and savoury jams. ‘My tangy aurbergine and pepper is really popular,’ says Bridget. ‘I’ve converted a lot of aubergine-haters. It contains crushed coriander seeds and cayenne paper, so has a warm, sweet taste and is also great on bacon sandwiches. Most of my preserves have quite unusual flavours, like my lemon and fennel marmalade, sweet tandoori onion chutney, dark Belgian chocolate and pear jam or even my carrot jam which is a World War II recipe that works with both sweet and savoury – plus kids love it.’
Her passion for experimenting with ingredients and pushing the flavour boundaries was internationally recognised recently when Bridget was awarded a Silver Star in the World Marmalade Awards 2019 for her Gin Cocktail Marmalade. Yet this particular accolade came as a bit of a shock. ‘I’d actually forgotten that I’d submitted the marmalade into the competition because the business just keeps me so busy! So the award took me completely by surprise,’ says Bridget. ‘The Gin Cocktail Marmalade was the first marmalade I ever made, so it made it extra special and a real confidence boost to win a Silver Star. It’s amazing to think that it’s now officially one of the best marmalades in the world.’ The marmalade itself is an extremely versatile version of a store-cupboard staple. ‘The Gin Cocktail Marmalade can be used on toast, or I use it to create a gin and champagne cocktail that I call a Fat Lass Tickle,’ laughs Bridget.
Bridget actually puts her winning flavour combinations down to a lack of professional culinary training. ‘I think because I don’t have any formal training in catering I’m not frightened to experiment – I don’t know what the ‘flavour rules’ are and, up until now, all my experiments have been successful,’ she says. But Bridget doesn’t stop at creating great flavours, she also looks to make her preserves as inclusive as possible for her customers. ‘About 90 percent of my products are gluten-free or vegan,’ says Bridget. ‘When I’m developing products I always take this into consideration – I have family members who suffer from coeliac disease, so I understand some of the challenges they can face when buying food products. Where possible, I’ll also try to make my products vegan by adjusting their ingredients. For example, a lot of strawberry jams contain butter because it produces a clearer jam, but I no longer use butter in my strawberry and lavender jam so that vegans can enjoy it too.’
The company’s name reflects this inclusive attitude. Tired of fad diets and ‘fat shaming’, Bridget decided to use her business to celebrate curves. ‘The idea of calling my company Fat Lass Preserves came from my personal experience with weight and the negativity surrounding this issue,’ says Bridget. ‘I got to a point in my life when I was sick of eating ‘low fat’ this, ‘no fat’ that, and ‘skinny’ everything else, yet I was still fat and it was having a negative effect on my mental health. So I decided to change my relationship with food. That is, I decided to eat what I wanted, in proportion, meaning I learnt to enjoy food again without feeling guilty. I’m still a curvy lady, but it’s now under my terms.’
‘The word ‘fat’ is often used as a negative, destructive term, but I believe it's time to reclaim this negative and turn it into a positive. Like others, I have experienced public verbal abuse or ‘fat shaming’ comments about my weight, which can have a devastating effect on self-esteem. My aim is that Fat Lass Preserves promotes a body positive message. Good food should be enjoyed by all because, like me, super women (and men) can come in all shapes and sizes. It’s something I’m no longer embarrassed about and I’m now much happier and healthier for it.’
Whether it’s making jams, chutneys or otherwise, the future looks bright for Fat Lass Preserves and Bridget has a whole host of exciting plans on the horizon, alongside developing delicious new preserves – summer cocktail flavoured marmalades will be hitting the shelves for you to try soon. But Bridget still manages to find time to step back into the media bubble every so often. ‘I’ve actually been asked back by BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme to review the news at the end of May – which is a bit nerve-racking if I think about it too much,’ she says.
Despite her busy diary of events, Bridget always finds time to return to her true passion. The North East holds a special place in her heart, both as the home to Fat Lass Preserves and as her backyard playground. When she’s not cooking up a storm in the kitchen she can be found exploring the fishing village of Craster or taking a stroll through Northumberland’s moorland. Yet she also loves to sample her favourite foods from the region, which can’t be put into glass jars. ‘North Shields’ fish and chip shops are my favourite places to eat in the North East,’ says Bridget. ‘I have no guilt when it comes to eating good food.’ As our chat comes to an end, Bridget leaves us with her positive motto ringing in our ears; ‘May the power of the fat lass be with you.’
Stockists regionwide. www.fatlasspreserves.co.uk