Homely rhubarb jam has risen to the ranks of the Top 50 Foods in the UK and Ireland, thanks to the culinary skills of Helen Gee, proprietor of G’s Gourmet Jams from Abbeyleix.
50 expert judges unanimously agreed that her Rhubarb & Ginger Jam had a “divine and extraordinary taste” and included it in this year’s list, drawn up as part of the Guild of Fine Food’s Great Taste accreditation scheme.
It is one of just three Irish foods and the only jam to make the prestigious list. It was chosen from almost 9,000 food and drink products, blind-tasted by 350 judges, including a Masterchef judge, food critics, and buyers for Harrods.
“To get this is a huge achievement. It’s like winning an Olympic gold medal to me,” Helen told the Leinster Express.
The rhubarb jam was one of 123 to win three gold stars, going on to make the top 50, and is now nominated for the highest accolade, a Golden Fork Award, and for the Best Irish Speciality award, with winners to be announced at an Awards dinner at London’s Royal Garden Hotel on September 3.
It is a long way from Helen Gee’s farmhouse, where all her jams are handmade from fruit grown on their farm, and stirred with traditional wooden spoons in big bubbling pots. Helen hopes it will launch them into the lucrative British market.
“It is a big boost. I hope it will get us into British shops. I have entered for years, and I got one and two stars before, but never three,” she said.
Helen and her husband Cyril started the business at their farmhouse in 1998, growing the fruit themselves.
With help from Laois County Enterprise Board and Bord Bia, they steadily expanded and now have ten staff. They are constantly developing their product range, and recently launched the Abbey Farm brand, supplying to Dunnes Stores, Tesco and Musgraves wholesalers.
Their top sellers are marmalade, raspberry and the award winning rhubarb & ginger jams. They recently launched red onion marmalade, sweet chilli sauce to add to their savoury range of relishes and chutneys.
“There are a lot of things happening lately, we are growing even in these recessionary times. We have a very loyal customer base, other than that we wouldn’t have made it this far. We are launching in Germany next week, thanks to Bord Bia who held a marketing expo for European buyers,” Helen said.
Half of their business is in supplying to the hotel trade, from little breakfast pots to catering tubs. Clients include the K Club, the Ritz Carlton and the Sheraton.
Despite increased business, G’s Gourmet Jams are still made the old fashioned way, and Helen believes this is its unique appeal.
“We have the only handmade product at our level. The jame is made in saucepans with fruit and sugar, pure and natural. When the fruit needs to be picked, we close the kitchen and get a bit of fresh air. Picking raspberries was a nightmare this summer with all the rain though, but we still got a very good crop,” said Helen.