2014 is a very special year for Brendon Hill Crafts - we will be celebrating 30 years of making preserves! A rather unexpected birthday, as 10 years ago, both Derek and I were happy in our full time jobs in Barnstaple and had no intention of taking over the business when my parents decided it was time to wind down. However, just one day of helping out at a Food Fair in Porlock, and with so many lovely comments, as well as the expectation that we were going to become jam-makers, our minds were well and truly flummoxed! Many hours and cups of tea later, and our minds were made up - we would love to take over Brendon Hill Crafts and continue to run it as the small family business that my parents had built from scratch!

Brendon Hill Crafts was originally born out of necessity. David Jessup (my father) had been made redundant from Clarks Shoe Factory in Minehead, and as a family, we moved out of our large town house in Minehead to a small and remote miner’s cottage at Sminhays, on the eastern edge of Exmoor. An income was needed from somewhere to support the family - I was at college in Bridgwater, and my younger sister and brother were still at school in Minehead. Although Mum (Liz Jessup) worked part-time at Porlock Library, that in itself was not sufficient to live on.

Mum has always been very good at cake-making and preserve-making, winning prizes regularly at the Minehead Flower Show, and in addition, she had been making fudge for local shops since I was born. Dad is a self-taught artist - he sold his first picture at the tender age of 14! He became hooked on oil painting after watching his Assistant Scoutmaster, who worked for Winsor & Newton, and with the kindly gift of a starter set of oils, Dad set off on a journey which continues to this day. So it was that with these combined skills, Brendon Hill Crafts was born!

Over the next few years, we all attended Community Markets twice a month, selling cakes, bread, preserves, fudge & truffles. Dad’s artistic work was valuable in creating pictures for table mats, coasters and trays, as well as paintings, prints and cards. Gradually, the preserves became more and more popular, not just at the Markets but also with passing motorists outside the house, who stopped to buy jars from the table at the front of the house - indeed, we still have a good number of loyal customers who well remember the ‘table by the road’!

Over the next 20 years, the business continued to grow, with occasional help from younger daughter, Karen, who made candles, Christopher, who helped with fudge-making, and myself, tackling the labelling of the jar mountain!

Derek and I took over a flourishing business, with a good reputation; certainly a daunting task, especially given that neither of us had any experience of cooking or running a small business. It was a steep learning curve, but gradually over the space of a year, we worked with Dad to learn how to make each item on our product list, and how to understand where we went wrong! The background running of the business has had to be learnt as we went along, confronting issues as they arose, and with Mum and Dad on the end of the phone! They are still very much involved with Brendon Hill Crafts, continuing to keep the book-keeping up to date, as well as Dad‘s involvement with the artwork.

Throughout this time, Dad’s painting and drawing has been both a source of joy and income, and now, in a ‘sort of’ retirement, continues in the form occasional workshops and tutorials, and sales of paintings, prints and note cards from the Exmoor Producers’ Shop in Minehead. He believes that art, it’s appreciation and execution, is a gift that can be tapped into by everyone, irrespective of technical ability, and the therapeutic benefits are proven. It continues to be a major influence in his life, and unlike the more physical aspects of ageing, shows no sign of slowing down!

Since becoming involved with the business, we have entered a number of products into the Great Taste Awards and the Taste of the West Food and Drink Awards. We have been absolutely delighted to win a number of gold, silver and bronze awards from both, as well as Best Speciality from the South West in the Great Taste Awards 2005 (Raspberry & Redcurrant Fruit Cheese), and Best of Preserves from the Taste of the West in 2009 (Taunton Jelly).

In recent years, we have been pleased to work with the RHS Garden at Rosemoor, making a number of different preserves using ingredients grown in the fruit and vegetable garden - this presents us with a challenge at times as we never know what produce we are going to get! In addition, Dad has produced a set of note cards depicting the seasons in the Garden at Rosemoor, and the Autumn picture of the scarecrow also adorns the labels on the preserves that we return to them for sale!

Our preserves are used by many tea rooms across Exmoor, West Somerset and North Devon, many of whom also sell jars alongside. We also have a wide ranging customer base selling jars - independent shops, post offices, village stores, and tourist attractions, plus the National Trust in Selworthy, many National Trust properties in Devon, RHS Rosemoor in Devon, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.

We have been able to introduce a number of new preserves this year, which we hope our customers will enjoy. One particular change we are making during this special year is to gradually phase in new labelling for the jars - all the labels will display Dad’s unique artwork, showing the iron ore mine logo, and the tops will continue with the very recognisable stags head.

We will be attending a number of shows as usual during the Summer, Autumn and leading up to Christmas. These are always great opportunities to meet our numerous customers and visitors and to showcase our complete range, together with tasters of the more unusual or popular lines. Details of dates and venues can be found on our website - www.brendonhillcrafts.co.uk.

In spite of all the changes over the years, Derek and I have not changed the original principles set up by Mum and Dad, continuing to make everything by hand, in small pans, hand-filling and hand labelling each jar. We then personally deliver to all our wholesale customers - a good chance to catch up with them, and an opportunity to escape from the kitchen for a few hours! We are very proud of this complete family business, and look forward to carrying on for many years to come.

Ruth De Maid 2014