Ever in search of great traditional preserves and chutneys (albeit with a modern twist) we were invited on a lovely tour of Little Stantway Farm small holding by owners Sue and Neil Mantle the other day.
Especially now in autumn – nature’s bounty can be overwhelming. Preserving was a way, in the days before freezers, to tap into the plentiful annual supply as well as to make lots of great tasting sweet and savoury accompaniments to food through the lean months.
This used to be a routine part of life in every residence from grand country houses to the most humble home. But it’s not old fashioned it is still very a modern skills to maintain. Just think for a moment how much supermarket shelf, and your own larder, space is given over to jams, pickles and chutneys.
Intent on keeping this tradition alive (nearly said preserving!) is Sue and Neil Mantle at Little Stantway Farm just outside Westbury. The couple moved to the Forest & Wye 13 years ago from Hertfordshire to their farmhouse home in desperate need of t.l.c. Most of the farms land and barns had already been split up and sold off separately. However, the couple had the house and five acres left and promptly set about returning the plot to work as a viable small holding and a family home.
Neil showed us an aerial photograph of Little Stantway farm from the 60’s. In the photograph the surrounding outbuildings are still obviously in use and associated to the pre-renovation farmhouse. Two other things are also obvious in the image; all of the gardens closest to the house are given over to a cottage veg garden and, in the top right, a plum orchard, heavy in leaf, and at full production density.
Just a few short years later and the image had been re-taken from a similar angle and altitude. This time an open field occupies the space of the orchard and the house garden are derelict and abandoned. All that remains in the orchard field on our walkabout are a two Blaisdon plums and an old but healthy Perry pear tree, all three now merely ghostly echoes of the serried ranks of the old orchard and a farming history temporarily lost. The pears don’t look like Blakeney’s, if anything they are a little more pear shaped with the look of a russet apple – any suggestions aficionados?
It’s true that Sue and Neil started the travels toward being small holder in true TV property show tradition by moving to the country and getting a few chickens. But they have embraced the life much more fully than that. Sheep were acquired and moved in as lawn mowers to help keep the bits of pasture Neil and Sue had cleared, clear while they worked on the rest of it. A few more chickens and it’s all too late – hey presto – you’re a smallholder proper. They also have a very small herd of Dexter cattle, noted for the placid nature, small size and easy handling. A couple of the cows have calved this year and their offspring lie idly beside mum watching our walkabout with bemusement. So in the nature of small holding their stock is slowly increasing.
As soon as they arrived at Little Stantway Sue made a start on her own personal preserving passion. Inspired by her own grandmother “who was a great preserver” Sue took all of the available produce as it came into season from their own small veg patch and made the most of it in her modest farmhouse kitchen. Foraging the farm hedgerows provided blackberries and wild damsons. The Blaisdon plums and Greengages from the garden together with anything Neil can produce from the veg plot is all fair game for Sue to jam, pickle chutney and preserve.
Sues traditional approach and the use of quality produce makes for a fantastic product which initially only spread as far as friends, family and neighbours. Her appreciative neighbours reciprocated and took to leaving the odd bucket of fruit and forage on the farm doorstep in return!
This is a passionate hobby on a rollercoaster ride to becoming a thriving business in true cottage industry tradition. It wasn’t long before a few local shops started to take interest in the fruit of Sue’s labours and Little Stantway Farm produce was born. Sue says her production is small and so she can afford to pot up her wonderful sieved raspberry jam, Blaisdon spiced plum jam and heritage jam made with the purple Belle de Louvains fruit as well as her great tasting and savoury chutney in jars of all sizes from the smallest single potion pots to the more standard 1 pound jars. This offers a lot of flexibility for anyone else wanting to use Little Stantway as a supplier for B&B’s, hampers, wedding favours and pub lunches etc.
One of the greatest things about writing this magazine is when you pose the standard question of “what is in your product range….” And someone answers…”depends what’s available”. All seasonal, all traditional, all natural and all done by Sue whilst looking out of the kitchen window onto the garden – probably just as her grandmother would have done.
We put Sue’s produce to the test.
Little Stantway Farm greengage jam – lovely and smooth with a great little bit of fresh acidity on the back of the palate. A very subtle taste which would be great on toast or with creamy and blue cheeses or savoury.
Little Stantway Farm tomato and chilli chutney – great “hot greenhouse fresh” lively tomato flavour to start and then wait a second or two for the warmth of the chilli to come through in the second wave of flavour. Very nice indeed!
If you’d like to taste Little Stantway Farm produce they are stocked at; Baileys Stores in Newnham, Westbury Post Office, Farm & Country Agricultural, Newnham, The Peepshow Gallery, Mitcheldean and Hubble Bubble Café on Westgate Street in Gloucester.
We spoke to Rae at Hubble Bubble about Little Stantway Farm; “At the Hubble Bubble Cafe we go to great effort to try to source great local produce wherever possible. We also believe in low food miles, using free range/ organic and wild meats, as well as keeping our menu in line with the seasonal produce available throughout the year. We decided to stock Sue’s jams and chutneys because of their great taste but also because of her simply traditional techniques. We love the idea of a woman in her kitchen with seasonal produce and a big pot!
We have had nothing but compliments about Sue’s jams – especially when they are on top of one of our scones!”
Little Stantway Farm Sue Mantle email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07974 751711