An act of preservation; Kit Bamford is winning celebrity fans with his fine pickle recipes including an unusual runner bean chutney, writes Richard McComb.
Stella McCartney can't be faulted for her taste in fashion and her palate for pickles is equally infallible.
The British designer is one of the many fans of Kit Bamford's traditional chutneys and preserves, which are made in a small farm unit near Pershore.
As well as running a burgeoning pickles and preserves empire, Kit is a skilled outside caterer and has been called upon to cater for McCartney when she is in residence at her Worcestershire pile.
"I left behind a few jars of pickles," says Kit. "She liked them."
Kit's Kitchen was set up in 2000 in Upper Wolverton Farm, Egdon, and like all good businesses its future was hatched over a pint.
Kit, who lives nearby, got chatting to farm owners Tim and Colin Caldicott in the nearby Berkeley Arms. "They said they had a family recipe for apple and onion chutney that they thought could sell. It was a great grandfather's recipe from his time in the Indian Army," recalls Kit.
He already had his catering business, cooking for weddings, private parties and major events at stately homes, and gave the recipe ago in his professional kitchen at The Birche at Shelsley Beauchamp.
When he started, there would be 20 saucepans on the go to fill 300 jars. Today, Kit's Kitchen does 1,000-jar batches.
Although making the chutney started as a "hobby business" the popularity of the product meant bigger premises were soon required to cater for the demand. A rural diversification grant was forthcoming and Kit's Kitchen re-located to Upper Wolverton Farm, while K B Catering remained at The Birches.
The apples still come from the farm's Bramley trees but the product range has grown gradually to include 11 chutneys, pickles, dressings, sauces and preserves, nine of them award-winners.
Stand-outs for me include the pickled red cabbage and the divine, and multi-award winning, pickled shallots. The runner bean chutney has been known to win over sceptics of the veg, which is sourced in the county.
Strangely the least popular line, a barbecue sauce comprising tomatoes, onions, molasses, garlic, red pepper and spice, took the top prize this year in the condiment and preserves section of the Diamond Awards run by Heart of England Fine Foods. Bromsgrove-born Kit, 42, who has worked as chef in London, the United States and Devon, thinks he may need to work on a sauce re-branding. He says: "It's actually a great three-in-one sauce. You can use it as a dip, a marinade or just to add flavour to a lasagne or cottage pie."
Kit's right-hand woman is production manager Julie McFarland, who is busy sticking labels to the latest batch of balsamic salad dressing. Julie is in charge of the cooking, which has its eye-watering moments, such as when she has to peel 225lb of onions for the next consignment of chutney.
How does she cope with the stinging eyes and tears? "You just get used to it. The trick is not to rub your eyes."
Kit adds: "We have rubbed her tear ducts out." He is aware that he could grow the business at a fast rate but he does not want to lose the loving attention to detail and commitment to quality on which the success of Kit's Kitchen relies. And by being a small producer, he likes the fact that he can react to demand quickly.
Kit says: "The creation of a recipe can be very, very quick. In a couple of weeks we can get something together. We cook in small quantities so we can do it quickly."
There is no doubt that the business has benefited from consumers' despair at the uniformity of big brand supermarket products. Kit says: "I think people are becoming more adventurous. They are kicking the bland into touch. A lot of products don't have a lot of flavour. They have a lot of filler and are made for a mass market."
Nothing stands still. New products are tested out on regulars at the Berkeley Arms and there are high hopes for the red onion and orange chutney. Initially I'm unsure of the combination but Kit explains how it goes brilliantly with game, goose, duck and pat. Suddenly it all makes sense..
* Information: www.kitskitchen.co.uk
Kit Bamford of Kit's Kitchen, Worcestershire