It is marmalade time. In the dark days of winter, the appearance of Seville oranges brings a taste of sunshine and the promise of brighter times ahead.

At Country Flavour, in Kirkby Stephen, boxes of citrus landing heralds the start of marmalade making and a burst of activity as the rest of the nation drags itself through a seasonal slump. Days are spent cutting and pipping, boiling and stirring, filling and labelling as row upon row of jars the colour of jewels line up ready to bring a sweet hit to breakfast tables.

“The oranges come at just the right time,” says co-founder Jo Keogh. “We aren’t as busy doing other things so we can spend four weeks making marmalade.”

The result will fill more than 500 pans by the end of the season, creating around 16,000 jars of toast topper in their whisky, Seville and vintage varieties to be followed by blood orange marmalade whose fruit arrives soon after.

Great British Life: Country Flavour Seville Orange MarmaladeCountry Flavour Seville Orange Marmalade (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The magic happens behind a redundant shop window between traffic lights in the centre of town. Straight off the street, the first room is currently dominated by oranges – in crates and partly prepared in pans. Shelves are filled with finished products ready to be loaded for delivery.

Continue through the building past the dining table that functions as the office and staff room and you arrive at the hub of production. The sweet smell of marmalade coming from the kitchen fills the air as eight pans bubble away on a hob. More pans lie cooling, their contents ready to be poured into jars, weighed and labelled, all by hand.

‘Homemade’ is a desirable description these days, used for conjuring up a scene of authenticity and passion. It may not always be reliable, but at Country Flavour products really are made at home – Jo and her husband Chris literally live above the shop, and she regularly pops down to the kitchen at 7.30am to get pans of marmalade underway before son Stephen and their other staff arrive.

Great British Life: Seville Orange Marmalade ready for jars at Country FlavourSeville Orange Marmalade ready for jars at Country Flavour (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The Keoghs have lived at the premises in High Street since 1978 but the roots of the business go further back. Chris is the son of Rosemary and Harry Keogh, who ran a three-acre herb farm at Ivegill. Established in 1938, they grew and dried herbs and flowers for pot pourri and sold plants and products like herb jellies and lemon cheese, although Rosemary had started growing herbs at her childhood home in Eskdale, where her father was vicar. “My in-laws had a stall on Carlisle Market and they went to lots of small agricultural shows in the area,” explains Jo, who is originally from Surrey. She and Chris met at Aberystwyth University where he was studying botany and micro-biology and she was a student of botany and zoology. “I worked for Nestles and Chris trained to be a teacher but then we decided we wanted to go into the family business. We weren’t going to grow herbs but we could carry on the cooking side so we looked for our own premises to do that.”

The house and former shop at Kirkby Stephen had been extended by owners just before the Second World War as a bakery and confectionery business. As well as lemon cheese and herb jellies, Country Flavour produced rum butter and marmalade in the early days.

“Chris had started making tablet in the school holidays when he was young that he used to put on the stalls with his parents’ stuff, so he made that as well.”

Agricultural shows had served his parents well, so Country Flavour continued the tradition: Skelton, Penrith, Dalston and Lowther, in Cumbria, and Muker in North Yorkshire and Alwinton in Northumberland, as well as Southport Flower Show.

Great British Life: Jo Keogh making marmaladeJo Keogh making marmalade (Image: Sheena Alcock)

At first they covered six markets a week too – Sedbergh, Kendal, Kirkby Stephen, Milnthorpe, Kirkby Lonsdale and Hawes – although they cut back on such a demanding schedule once two sons – Andrew, a newspaper journalist, and Stephen – had come along.

After studying physical geography at Lancaster University, Stephen worked in a ski resort in Canada and spent months travelling across the United States then Australia and New Zealand. When he returned home in 2004 it was summer so he began helping out in the business, eventually taking over making tablet and fudge from Chris. “After that he just carried on,” says Jo.

Stephen quickly joined his parents as a partner and now runs the business with Jo; Chris does deliveries, helps out at markets and shows, with Andrew assisting as well in the summer. In recent times they have taken on staff: Anne Jorysz, who is full-time, and Lilly Alderson, who works part-time.

It has been in response to demand – in the past ten years turnover has doubled as wholesale customers have increased along with their range, which now amounts to 76 lines. It comes as a shock to Jo. “What? 76? I thought I was busy,” she says.

Great British Life: From pan to jar, Stephen Keogh pouring the marmaladeFrom pan to jar, Stephen Keogh pouring the marmalade (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Some retailers, like JJ Graham, in Penrith, Cranstons, which has five branches in Cumbria, and Tebay Services, have been loyal customers while other successful new partnerships have come along. Friars, in Keswick, takes white label jams, marmalade and lemon cheese and Grasmere Gingerbread Shop has become a major customer too for fudge with exclusive flavours including one topped with its famous gingerbread crumb.

“We used to just make plain fudge, now we’ve got 26 different flavours,” says Stephen. “Really? 26?” says Jo, returning to her earlier incredulity.

“We make the same products, just more varieties of them, and not all at the same time,” says Stephen. “Whereas we used to have one marmalade, then two, now we have ten or 11. It’s the same with jam.”

Jo continues: “It used to be just strawberry when the fruit came in the summer and we made it when we had the time. Now we get British fruit frozen so we don’t have to make seasonal things at what is the busiest time of year.”

Great British Life: Anne Jorysz weighing fudgeAnne Jorysz weighing fudge (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Country Flavour small batch products mean they make fresh and to demand with the ability to slot in extra production if required. “Because we’ve been doing it for so long we know how much we sell at each market each week so we can plan ahead. We keep the main fudges on the stall all the time and can almost make to order,” explains chief fudge maker Stephen.

Fudge is made with a three-month shelf life, lemon cheese with four months, so they are regularly made fresh, but jams and marmalades can last, unopened, for as long as two years.

They can have eight pans on the go at once in the kitchen, with each pan producing 20 one-pound jars. At capacity they do that three times a day. Stephen has calculated that 24 pans of fudge in one day was the absolute maximum they could produce; since May last year Grasmere Gingerbread has ordered that quantity every week.

Great British Life: Lilly Alderson making Lemon CheeseLilly Alderson making Lemon Cheese (Image: Sheena Alcock)

The growth in popularity of farm shops, like Low Sizergh Barn and Beetham Nurseries, has added to the increase in wholesale business. “We’ve never gone out to ask businesses if they’d like our products in their shops, they have come to us,” explains Stephen. “It’s grown from people seeing them and trying them.”

Mum and son work well as a team. Stephen is in the kitchen on Mondays and Wednesdays and gets to cover Hawes market on Tuesday and Keswick on Thursdays and Saturdays. They also attend Bowness-on-Windermere market on Sundays in summer.

Jo is predominately in the kitchen, although she still enjoys the contact with customers at Keswick Market where they have two back-to-back stalls. Cumberland Council recently announced it had awarded the prestigious Cumberland Markets Trader of the Year 2023 award to the Keogh family, recognising their outstanding contribution to the enduring success of Cumberland’s markets.

Great British Life: Country Flavour FudgeCountry Flavour Fudge (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Councillor Markus Campbell-Savours, Cumberland Council’s executive member for adults and community health, says: “Stephen has been a dedicated stall holder for numerous years and has played a pivotal role in fostering the ongoing success of our markets.

“The markets in Keswick, along with those in our other towns, have proven to be highly successful, making a substantial contribution to the vitality and sustainability of our communities. This greengage tree has gone mad and asks if we want the fruit then, yes, we will take it. I do get asked for crab apple jelly and if someone was willing to pick them we would make that too.”

Some of the traditional recipes have been handed down. “We still use margarine in the lemon cheese which is what Rosemary used to use years ago and it means it doesn’t have any lactose in it, although it does contain eggs – but no cheese!” explains Jo.

Great British Life: Country Flavour's best seller is still its Lemon CheeseCountry Flavour's best seller is still its Lemon Cheese (Image: Sheena Alcock)

“People ask what’s the difference between lemon cheese and lemon curd but actually there is no difference. Rosemary called it lemon cheese and we’ve used that name for over 50 years so it’s stuck.

“All our jams are just fruit and sugar nothing else. Everything is vegetarian and gluten free, apart from the Grasmere Gingerbread fudge.

“People say it all looks professional and we say yes, of course, because we have to comply with all the rules and regulations and inspections by environmental health like anyone else.”


Professional, but still homemade and genuinely handmade. The marmalade fruit, for instance, is thick cut by hand, the pips separated out, then soaked overnight and boiled the next day with the pips added in a muslin bag for their valuable pectin.

Jo says: “You see some products with things like ‘handmade in our factory in Wolverhampton’ on them. By ‘handmade’ they mean someone has stirred a pot.”

While herb jellies are not as popular as they once were – which Jo puts down to people not cooking Sunday roasts as much – the original lemon cheese remains their best seller. If the quantity they make in a year was all put into small jars (they have three different sizes), it would amount to 47,000 jars.

Great British Life: Country Flavour Mint JellyCountry Flavour Mint Jelly (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Stephen adds: “We’ve survived because we have such a diversity of products: fudge, tablet, jam, marmalade, jellies, chutney and honey from local producers when we can get it. It comes in barrels and we jar it here.

“We have got busier and busier. Last year was definitely our busiest year so far. We could grow even further because we stick to an eight-hour day and could increase that, but I have young children and want to spend time with them as well. If the children have something on at school or nursery that I want to see then I can. We know we’re in a very fortunate position.”

Emma is six and Adam is three and the family, including his wife Helen, who does the administration for Country Flavour alongside freelance work in local museums, lives at Morland.

“It’s a real juggling act but we do spend time thinking about how to expand,” he adds. Country Flavour is the quintessential cottage industry, a business where they actually do discuss future strategy around the kitchen table. “We have to decide what each of us wants to do because we are a collective. I try hard every week to balance it, knowing that taking on extra business would impact on the rest of the family.”

Great British Life: (L-R) Anna Chippendale, service manager for arts, culture and heritage; Councillor Markus Campbell-Savours, Cumberland Council's executive member for adults and community health and local member for Keswick, Jo Keogh, Stephen Keogh and market manager(L-R) Anna Chippendale, service manager for arts, culture and heritage; Councillor Markus Campbell-Savours, Cumberland Council's executive member for adults and community health and local member for Keswick, Jo Keogh, Stephen Keogh and market manager (Image: Sheena Alcock)

Country Flavour labels are reassuringly non-corporate too, their font adapted from Jo’s handwriting. “And I’ve never been tempted to put a gingham top on a jar, never,” she laughs.

She also resists entering them for food awards. “But I do think it’s marvellous that the annual World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain, near Penrith, raise the profile of marmalade,” she says.

“I’ve never felt the need to try and win awards,” she adds. “If people have been buying it for 40 years then, to me, that’s the test of a great product.”