Open up a jar of Hawkshead Relish, handmade in the pretty South Lakeland village of Hawkshead. Enjoy a condiment blending regional delicacies such as damson with toasted crushed spices from the East.
Wrapped in a classic black and white packaging, the story of Hawkshead Relish is firmly rooted in the whitewashed and black framed windows of its namesake village.
We were invited to find out more.
The village of Hawkshead, built around a handsome little church that hugs a thimble of a hill, is a miniature landscape itself. Once it was a bustling wool trade filled with lots of cottage industries. Today the narrow jumbled streets lined with 17th Century whitewashed buildings. There are no pavements or signposts. Instead, you will be drawn along rounded buildings, just as heavily-laden horse and carts would have done. Passing under overhanging gables from which by-gone traders would present their wares, will take you to several small medieval squares that are also so delightfully petite.
Within this tiny warren, there are in fact 38 buildings of historical importance and it is well worth reading up on the village prior to a visit. Here’s our Hawkshead Cottages Things To Do guide, that might be of interest. Much of Hawkshead is owned and preserved by the National Trust and together with being car-free, being in Hawkshead is like wandering through a Medieval village.
Inside one particular building is a story that lives on today. That is the tale of Hawkshead Relish.
Sitting on the main central square is one of Hawkshead’s most famous businesses, the award-winning Hawkshead Relish. Starting life in 1999 in this delightfully tiny little building was a busy café and restaurant owned by Mark and Maria Whitehead and was where the world-famous Westmorland Chutney was first lovingly prepared. The ambitions, as well as the flavours coming from this little quaint café, were always big.
The Whitehead family, with two young kids in tow, decided to throw themselves into their innovative relish business. After 2 years of successful café trade, they had to take a window out to get the 300-litre relish making pan in!
Little would they know that some 8 years later they would have to move to a more spacious kitchen, leaving the café behind as a shop. Keeping things in Hawkshead, they moved production just down the road. They set up into a converted 16th Century cruck barn, with 4 ginormous pans. The kitchen is purpose-built to sit like a giant freezer within the building, not touching the walls of the Grade I listed building. It is home to the original pan.
This pan, that would make 11 ½ jars of chutney, seems miniature in comparison to today’s vats that contain a whopping 600 jars a go. The 30 strong team of Hawkshead Relish staff were responsible for 28 tonnes of chutney this August alone.
Whilst today the scale is much larger than Mark and Maria’s original set up, the cooking process is exactly the same. All 600 jars made a day are hand-produced from ingredients sourced locally. They also use local suppliers for exported delicacies, such as dried fruits, sugars and incredible spices.
Hawkshead Relish was a finalist for the 2017 Grocer’s New Product Award, losing out happily to mass-producers Heinz. This family-run business are committed to an artisan product. They associate themselves with like-minded producers, such as the award-winning Anglesey Sea Salt.
And it is with these spices where the real story of Hawkshead Relish began. Medieval Hawkshead was home to a thriving woollen trade, where the region’s famous wool and yarns were traded for rum, dried fruits, sugar and spices. And it was these ingredients that inspired Maria and Mark’s first relish, the Westmorland Chutney. It was made from diced onion, acetic acid, sugar, apricot, dates, prunes, ginger, salt and allspice.
The Whiteheads still travel to India regularly to ensure they use the freshest and thus headiest of seeds, roots, fruits, barks and flower buds, such as allspice, chilli, cinnamon, cassia, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
Today is far from the end of Hawkshead Relish’s journey. Recently, glossy magazine Vogue caught onto their latest chocolate MUDD collection. The exclusive Couture range of jars, imported from Italy and that will bring elegance to any dining table, have the attention of Tatler’s socialites.
Hawkshead are the winner of over 50 great taste awards. They supply over 500 shops in 20 countries and work with some very high-end grocery brands to create bespoke own label chutneys and sauces.
The brand currently offer 120 products. All of which are 100% gluten and nut-free, so ideal for allergy suffers. No bulking agents, such as water or flour are used, and no artificial colourings either. The 2017 Black Garlic Ketchup, for example, owes its super-rich colour to a very slow, low heat and high humidity cooking process. This was a recipe that took a year for Mark to perfect. Perfect it is. Just add some chunky potato wedges – reet grand!
We hope that this tale has piqued your interest in the pretty village of Hawkshead as much as it did us. Thank you Hawkshead Relish for a wonderful visit and tasting session. We hope to see your zesty Five Fruit Marmalade on the breakfast tables of our Hawkshead Cottages. We love that Mark created this preserve especially for Maria, packed with fruit to her exacting taste.
With daughters Izzy and Abbie at the helm too, the story of Hawkshead Relish is warming and impressive. 330K jars of sticky, sweet, tangy, sour and spicy goodness is impressive! We can’t wait for the next flavour innovation and for what it’s worth, we love the recognisable black and white packaging that your original monochrome printer created.