Behind the scenes of the Derbyshire sweet industry
- Credit: Archant
St Valentine’s Day is surely a good excuse for a sweet treat or two... Claire Bore discovers what Derbyshire has to offer, finding love hearts and award-winning homemade marshmallows along the way
Arriving outside the quaint sweet shop Edward and Vintage in Tissington is a treat in itself. The shop glows with rows of well-known favourites, such as Rhubarb and Custards, as well as the rarer Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge, Pink Champagne boiled sweets or Chocolate Chilli and Lime Fudge. Feeling the almost magnetic pull of the cola bottles, chocolate limes and strawberry lips neatly lined up in old-fashioned screw-topped jars, for once it’s a case of forgetting the raging sugar health debate and remembering the adage ‘a little of what you fancy’. (There are, though, sugar-free options as well.)
The sweetshop is set in a 19th-century cottage that proprietor Dave Walker says is ‘magical’. He adds, ‘Selling sweets in a vintage setting helps to sell memories as much as sweets. We are very lucky to have a loyal customer base, aged from 7 to 70. This is a shop for anyone who loves sweets.’
The premises were previously the village Post Office and when Dave took it over he decided on a 1940s’ theme that is perfectly in keeping. Opening at the height of the recession in 2010, it was originally a small sweet shop and an antiques emporium. However, the popularity of the sweets grew and Edward and Vintage was soon stocking over 200 types of sweets and chocolates, later adding his own delicious home-made fudge in flavours which range from bannoffee and key lime to raspberry pavlova and sea salt caramel.
The shop embraces what was an era of ‘make do and mend’, adding authentic touches such as vintage signage and selling ‘ration books’ that can be bought as a gift to be spent in the shop or online. You can even send a loved one a Tuck Box!
As Dave says, ‘The customer can sit at home and choose their childhood favourites, then we parcel them up and send them.’
It would actually be difficult to live in Derbyshire without being aware of the sugary delights that are produced in the county. Founded 90 years ago in 1928, Swizzels at New Mills is the largest sweet producer in the UK, renowned for lollies and love hearts, refreshers and parma violets that have formed the backdrop to many a walk home from school over the years. Then there’s the Chesterfield-based manufacturers and wholesalers Willetts Sweets. Established in 1927, they continue to supply traditional and boiled sweets like white chocolate jazzels, chocolate mice, mint imperials and fruit pastilles to businesses across the UK.
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The success story continues at Rosliston in South Derbyshire where two-time Great Taste Award winner Jacqueline Dobinson is expertly whipping up a delight, adding a touch of lemon to egg whites and sugar.
Five years ago, Jacqueline moved from London because of her husband’s job and found that she needed a purpose and to meet people.
Jacqueline’s Homemade Chocolates & Sweet Treats was born – mouthfuls of marshmallow and chocolate heaven.
She has achieved fame with her award-winning Sicilian lemon marshmallows. Customers’ comments include, ‘Marshmallows to die for, like eating clouds’, while the hazelnut squares ‘are the best chocolate I have ever tasted’. A qualified chef, Jacqueline began by making honeycomb. Now her products range from milk chocolate hazelnut squares to chocolate vegan fudge. Jacqueline likes to keep things local, using honey from local beekeepers and supplying her products to The Four Shires Farm shop near Tamworth. ‘Local people have given me the confidence and the friendly nudge to get my business off the ground. Without their support I don’t think I’d be where I am now,’ she says.
Further north, on the outskirts of Dronfield, is another small Derbyshire-based confectionary business, Ananda Foods. This small artisan vegan food producer creates marshmallows and marshmallow products ranging from Round Up, a wagon wheel cake, to Totally Toastable marshmallows – products that certainly turn customers’ heads.
As more people are becoming vegan, Ananda Foods’ co-founder Amanda Townend – winner of Sheffield Star Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2012 – identified a gap in the market. ‘Ten years ago, we were searching for gelatine-free marshmallows for our three young children to toast on Bonfire Night. We discovered only one company based in the USA that made them. They proved so popular with everyone that, as keen bakers and sweet makers, we set about producing our own here in the UK.’
Amanda believes a base in Derbyshire has added to the perception of the company. ‘Derbyshire conjures up a vision of beautiful green fields, fresh air and clean living. We like to see ourselves as a green company, providing clean labelled products to ethical and conscious consumers. I think Derbyshire is at the heart of who we are and plays a big part in promoting our ideals and uniqueness.’
This small family company is certified 100 per cent vegan, something that Amanda believes is crucial to their success. ‘Being a vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean that you should go without. Families with small children who have different dietary needs or allergen sensitivities will know what it’s like to go without because of the ingredient list. We wanted our treats to be enjoyed by all – and taste amazing. Our customers make us feel that we are making a difference to people’s lives, enabling them to choose more positively and inclusively. We receive so much lovely mail, expressing appreciation, from people all over the world.
‘I tell people that our products are not really “healthy” but are as healthy as a sweet treat can be – without any animal ingredients. We use the very best high-quality ingredients: Belgian chocolate, the finest genuinely natural flavourings without any polyproline glycol and only pure vegetable colourants. To enhance our marshmallow flavours we coat them in freeze-dried fruit powders. There are no preservatives or artificial flavourings or colourants of any kind.’
As Jacqueline Dobinson says, ‘Go for good-quality chocolate and ingredients with fewer additives and you will find you only need a little to satisfy.’ For Edward and Vintage it’s all to do with variety, ‘We all have a choice. A world of tofu and bran flakes would be a mighty boring place. Enjoy what life offers and be sensible. After all a glass of wine has just as many calories as a bag of sweets!’
Sweet Valentine Ideas
If you’re searching for that little something different for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, why not go for a roam around Derbyshire and sample some sweet somethings…
Try: Raspberry & Rose Marshmallows, Heart Chocolate Marshmallow Lolly bouquets.
Good for: Ensuring everyone can enjoy a sweet treat, these are vegan and vegetarian friendly and some are even gluten free. ‘We love to share moments, tastes, experiences. The kitchen is the heart of the home, sharing food is at the heart of a family.’
Contact: Ananda www.anandafoods.co.uk
Try: Ration book for boiled sweets and fudge.
Good for: Those who like to savour their sweets. ‘Buy a ration book for a loved one and they can enjoy sweet treats whenever they fancy throughout the year.’
Contact: Edward & Vintage www.edwardandvintage.co.uk
Try: Award-winning milk chocolate hazelnut slices or gin marshmallows.
Good for: Those who like their treats home-made, handcrafted and utterly delicious. ‘People think that giving and receiving chocolates and sweets is a lovely thing to do. It’s even more special when they are individually made.’
Contact: Facebook - Jacqueline’s Homemade Chocolates & Sweet Treats
Try: Retro tangy ‘Love Hearts’
Good for: Spell out your love and say it with words. A retro and quirky tangy treat.
Contact: Swizzels www.swizzels.com