From a small kitchen in our Lady’s Island Co. Wexford in 1988 Ellen O’Leary started Wexford Home Preserves, using the same recipes she had done for years. Soon, just as well as they spread over hot buttered toast, the word spread about Ellen’s great tasting handmade jams and marmalades.
To satisfy the a constant stream of people calling to her door, together with husband Sean, Ellen began stocking a few local shops. The business grew faster than a patch of wild brambles, and soon Wexford Preserves were a staple on the shelves of 23 Superquinn Stores all over the country along with a number of Supervalus and many independent supermarkets.
When the couple retired in 2008 that could have spelled the end for this sweet story, but instead the jar jam was passed along to Ellen’s nephew and his wife, Tom and Laura Sinnott, who started a whole new chapter for Wexford Home Preserves and brought the business to new sugary highs.
Laura says, to sweeten the deal, they bought the business under one condition: that Ellen continued to work for one more year to teach her the secret recipes.
“We follow Ellen’s secret recipe’s which are family recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother and everything is still the same.”
“She taught me everything she knows from the different way that different types of fruits bubble when they are cooked to knowing when a fruit is soft enough to add sugar. I really missed Ellen when she had to leave us. We had great fun in the kitchen.”
Ellen’s traditional recipes are what gives Wexford Home Preserves a lead in the jam jar wars, explains Laura: “from sourcing the ingredients locally to preparing the fruit by hand, cooking in small open saucepans, hand stirring our jams and marmalades, filling, capping and labelling. The entire process is very manual for us, and this is what gives our preserves that special homemade taste, or as a lot of people say the “just like my mam or granny used to make “taste.”
Along with favourites like Irish Poitín Marmalade, Wexford Blackberry & Apple Jam and Strawberry & Vanilla Jam, Laura says their best-seller is Three Fruit Marmalade which she explains is born out of an intensive two day process:
“We buy our lemons, oranges and white grapefruit fresh from a local supplier. This fruit is washed, quartered, every single pip is taken out by hand, and the fruit is shredded and soaked overnight to soften the skins. The following day the fruit is cooked slowly to soften the rind, sugar is added and the marmalade is brought to a boil and bottled immediately.”
“Another huge factor in the great taste of our preserves is that our fruit is local,” she explains. “90% of our fruit is sourced locally and I am convinced that this really does make a difference, for example when our Simply Better Handmade Irish Blackcurrant Jam won three stars in the Great Taste Awards, the judges comments were “the taste of the blackcurrants would slap you in the face” and “this blackcurrant jam is food for the Gods” – so there you go, the proof is in the pudding!”
While the Wexford Home Preserves range has accumulated numerous awards, Laura is referring of course to the pinnacle of their preserve perfection: their prized Handmade Irish Blackcurrant Jam produced for Dunnes Stores’ artisan producer range Simply Better.
On the other side of this successful partnership, Daragh Lawless, Simply Better Marketing & Design Brand Manager, explains that Wexford Home Preserves came onto their radar as soon as they began the project to redevelop the Simply Better range in 2013. “We felt they were the perfect supplier for Simply Better and began working with them to develop a range of handmade preserves and Christmas condiments.”
Laura admits at first they were hesitant: “At the time we thought we wouldn’t be able to produce the volumes that they would be looking for to stock Dunnes Stores nationwide, because you have to remember all of our preserves are handmade in small saucepans.” Though with encouragement and support from the Simply Better team the Sinnott’s committed to the partnership and haven’t looked back since.
“We love working with Dunnes Stores and the Simply Better team. Simply Better has been great for us. We had been dreaming of expanding our business in 2012 and in 2013 we did it, we moved to bigger premises, and I got my purpose built kitchen! So it really gave us the drive or push we needed to expand.”
Since then the relationship has gone from strength to strength, and the range has flourished. “Our sales have grown year on year and we have added additional products to the range each year,” says Daragh.
Together with Tom and Laura, Simply Better created a range that now includes Strawberry, Raspberry, Gooseberry, Rhubarb & Ginger, and Blackcurrant preserves, a zesty Three Fruit Marmalade, and a Christmas condiment collection featuring Handmade Brandy Butter, Handmade Cranberry Sauce and their now award winning Handmade Orange & Honey Ham Glaze.
“When the Simply Better Handmade Irish Blackcurrant Jam won three Stars in the Great Taste, I can’t describe how proud we were and still are,” Laura beams.
“This is every food company’s dream. It says, yes you are making a fantastic product, keep doing what you are doing and do it to the best of your abilities.”
The Simply Better team were just as proud of those three stars, but Daragh says he was not surprised: “They produce each and every batch of preserves and condiments with great care and they are always consistent so the award was well deserved.”
That level of consistency and great care comes hand in hand with early morning and long days, and Laura says the first five years in business in particular were uphill battle:
“I have to admit, it wasn’t easy but we worked very, very hard. It meant long hours, 5am starts, and we wouldn’t get home until 7 or 8pm at night. We did everything ourselves pretty much. Sundays were spent taking pips out of oranges and lemons, so we could get ahead for the week and start cooking marmalade from 5.30 am on a Monday morning. I look back on it now and I am glad we did it, I am glad we worked our socks off because it is worth it. We are very proud of our company and the products we make. It is only in the last three to four years we are getting recognition for our preserves and it really motivates.”
Despite the hard work, just like the sticky sweet succulence of their preserves the success and satisfaction it has brought Tom and Laura has proved that Wexford Home Preserves was a business worth sticking to.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.