Agnes Rose - fruit-infused vinegars and oils from old Lakeland family recipes

The discovery of an old family recipe gave Naomi Darbishire the chance to turn a hobby into an award-winning business. Emma Mayoh reports Photos by Kirsty Thompson

As a girl, there was nothing Naomi Darbishire loved more than going foraging with her family. She spent hours picking fruit from the hedgerows near her childhood home in Whinfell as well as gathering produce from her parents’ smallholding and the tea garden run by her granny, Jess, in Skelwith Bridge.

But it was only after tiring of living in London for 14 years, working as a finance manager for a blue chip company and as a private PA, that she turned her lifelong passion into a living.

It was six years ago that the 41-year-old moved back home to Whinfell. At the time it was enjoying a glut of blackberries and when her mum, Kerry, discovered an old family recipe it sowed the seeds for her business.

She said: ‘For years I had been making jams and chutneys as gifts for my aunts and uncles. I was always out foraging because the hedgerows are full up here. I was brought up doing this and anything I could make from what I found was like magic to me.’

Granny had died but her recipes live on. ‘When I told my mum about having all this spare fruit she told me about granny’s recipe for blackberry vinegar. That was it. I was inspired. Within two weeks I had for the first six vinegars done.’

Naomi has wasted no time in successestablishing her business, called Agnes Rose, a combination of a former family home and the name of a relative.

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She started selling her products at Kendal Market – the same place her family used to sell goods at from their smallholding. Today, Naomi produces 13 fruit-infused vinegars and oils, with some of them made using the fruit she forages. Damsons come from the Lyth Valley and honey from Kendal and South Westmorland Beekeepers’ Association.

She makes thousands of bottles every year and each one features an image done by her father, the artist Stephen Darbishire. Flavours range from blackberry and mint vinegar, Cumbrian Damson balsamic with local honey, lemon oil and garlic oil. The Cumbrian damson balsamic and her chipotle oil have just been named as two gold star recipients in the prestigious Great Taste Awards 2012.

Naomi started producing her oils and vinegars in her parents’ pantry at Whinlatter – much of the new flavour testing and experimentation is still done there. But she soon outgrew the home kitchen and she now has a production unit in Kendal. Every batch is still hand made and all the fruit still strained through muslin to create Naomi’s fantastic products. She loves what she does but the most important thing is that she is continuing a recipe that was once enjoyed by her granny.

She said: ‘I have been so lucky to have such fantastic cooks in my life, my two grannies and my mum. I have been incredibly fortunate to eat their food.

‘Now I am carrying on the tradition. I’m so proud that my granny’s recipe is being enjoyed by so many people. It was her recipe that started it all and I am very lucky to be doing something I love.’

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