Deep in the heart of Essex, Royal Warrant holders Wilkin & Sons produce Tiptree conserves. Last year, they celebrated 125 years of jam making with a visit from HM The Queen. Tiptree jams are a British favourite both in the UK and abroad, as food writer Rose Prince says; it is proper English jam.
Ever since Arthur Charles Wilkin made made his first jam in 1885, the tradition of jam making at Tiptree has been handed down through the generations to the current chairman, Mr Peter J Wilkin the great grandson of the founder.
The Wilkin family have farmed fruit at Tiptree for nearly three hundred years. Fruit that is currently grown includes raspberries, strawberries, medlars, quinces, mulberries and plums. These traditional English fruits are picked at the peak of their condition. Visitors to the factory are amazed to find that every single fruit is hand sorted before it reaches the copper boiling pans. Interestingly, the world-renowned Little Scarlet strawberry, only grown on Tiptree's estates, is noted as James Bond's favourite conserve in Ian Fleming's 1957 novel From Russia with Love.
The transition from fruit farming to jam-making came about in the 1880's when Arthur Charles Wilkin began feeling frustrated that by the time the fruit he was sending to London reached the city it was in a poor condition. He read something by the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who recommended producing jam so that people could consume vitamin-C all-year round. So he and two friends formed the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company and began to make jam. They sold their first jar to an Australian, who bought a batch and took it all the way home with him. Some of the first batches were also sent to William Gladstone, who wrote back. His letter is on display at the Tiptree Museum, founded fifty years ago by John Wilkin. In 1905 the company was renamed Wilkin & Sons Limited to avoid confusion with 25 other companies trading as Britannia.
Tiptree does not only make jams but also curds, chutneys and even tomato ketchup. In fact Tiptree's tomato ketchup recipe - abandoned a century ago because it seemed unpopular - was reintroduced five years ago and is now regularly among the top 10 selling Tiptree products.
In 1911 Wilkin & Sons received their first Royal Warrant from King George V. In 1954 further success came in the form of a Royal Warrant from HM The Queen for the supply of Jam & Marmalade.
- Why do you do what you do?
We have a single-minded determination to be the best - best product, best service, best employer, best business in our community.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
We're very proud of our staff and their loyalty and understanding of what we do. More recently, it has been incredible the way our farm team have managed to turn the farms from a loss making concern to a forward-thinking and profitable business in their own right, providing more fresh fruit for jam making than at any time in the past thirty years as well as building a successful business supplying fresh British fruit to the retail market.
- What is your most memorable moment?
When Her Majesty The Queen visited to mark 125 years of jam-making at Tiptree. Her Majesty took time to chat with around sixty current and retired employees. Within months of the visit, we were celebrating 100 years of Royal Warrants for Tiptree.
- If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food?
British food offers some of the best quality available; buying British food creates British jobs.
- What is your favourite food and why?
Local asparagus - sensational food, ready in minutes, just add butter. Seasonality makes it a real treat to look forward to each year.
- What are your predictions for the future of British food?
A slow realisation that driving down the price of food is not in the best interests of the consumer for the long term.
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
Great. British. Food.
- Beat the recession tip?
Buy better; buy wisely; buy less.
- What's on the menu this evening?
Toasted real wholegrain bread from Chelmsford market. A plate of local asparagus. Some of the very first 2012 Tiptree strawberries, a glass of cold Aspall Imperial Cyder.