Meet The Vendor
Angharad, The Preservation Society
Kicking off our regular 'Meet the Vendor' series is Angharad Underwood from The Preservation Society. From her kitchen in The Wye Valley, Wales, Angharad has won recognition from the Great Taste and World Marmalade Awards, and has also been on the judging panel at the World Jampionships (best name ever!), the Great Taste Awards and the British Sandwich Awards.
I'm a farmer's daughter, and had competitive grandmothers - they both always wanted to make the best damson jam in the family! My mum always made jam too, so I dabbled from a young age, but it never felt like something I wanted to do with my life, it just was just part of my childhood.
About 15 years ago I was at a friend's house and her mum had made mango chutney. It was a revelation to me, that I could just make preserves out of all the things I liked! That really kicked it off as a hobby.
At that time I was working for a major supermarket, a challenging job - high pressure, target motivated, spending my days concerned about percentages and delivery times. I was pregnant with my second child, and wanted a change.
One day my sister-in-law called - they'd just rebuilt her rural village's hall, were setting up a market, and asked if I'd sell my preserves. From that point, there was no going back. I learned the 'business' side as I went along thanks to some great support, but for the first few weeks, I'm pretty sure I was selling illegally without a licence... I didn't kill anybody though!
The Preservation Society has come a long way since then, but we still make our preserves traditionally, in small batches using the open pan method and plenty of time. Most batches take about 6 hours to cook before the jars are hand filled, hand lidded and labelled. We're a small artisan kitchen and love it that way.
In December 2014 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Everything about it was terrible, but one of things that hit me hardest was being told that I'd lose my tastebuds. That was my business, my entire job was based around tasting. Whilst going through treatment, blackcurrent jam turned out to be really important to me, as its 'zing' meant I could still taste it.
During this period, the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff were an incredible source of support to me and my family. I decided that I wanted to give something back to the amazing people that treated me, but realised that I was probably never going to swim the Channel! So instead, money from every sale of our award-winning Blissfully Blackcurrant Jam goes to the Centre. We've raised over £12,000 so far, and hopefully reminded a few people to check their Boobs, Moobs and Nuts along the way!
In 2018, I was invited to Dschang, Cameroon, where I had the pleasure of teaching 40 amazing women how to preserve. The fruit and veg produce in the region is incredible, but with unpredictable electricity making refrigeration unreliable, a lot goes to waste. These initial trainees have now gone on to teach the preserving techniques to over 400 others in the region. We're a global society here at TPS!
As told to Mark Jones, September 2021