Cheryl Russell has no doubt as to the key moment which finally made up her mind to go all out working on her home based business. Having set up an honesty box outside her smallholding to sell preserves made from homegrown produce, she was absolutely stunned to receive a post card sent by a delighted customer from, of all places, Sierra Leone!
Cheryl laughs as she recalls the address used to send the postcard; ‘To the lady who sells jam, in a stall by the walking path over the old disused railway bridge, in Bere Alston…’. Somehow, against all odds it arrived!
Shortly after, Cheryl chanced upon a photo with a favourable review of her stall in an edition of Devon Life magazine. She recalls thinking, “I’m being told something here” and that was the moment she decided to give her all to establishing Kingston Preserves.
What the Sierra Leone postcard sender didn’t realise, not that it particularly matters, is that the correct address for the stall was Kingston, a former daffodil farm whose history is acknowledged by the image of a lone daffodil flower on the label.
Cheryl and husband Simon moved to Kingston in 2011 and undertook an extraordinary amount of work to bring it back to being productive. Today, the couple work five acres for growing produce and manage two acres of woodland. With greenhouses and a poly tunnel cleared and brought back to life, the couple have also planted an orchard with traditional, local varieties of fruit tree.
Simon sees to the growing and gardening whilst Cheryl is the cook, for her this is a natural progression. She trained as a chef in the 1970s before embarking on an eclectic career including stints as a Civil Servant, Counsellor and Therapist. For all the highs, lows and different directions of career life, her one lifelong passion has always been cooking.
For Kingston preserves, Cheryl has set out some impressive standards. Her preference and priority is to use only produce grown at home. For more exotic recipes, requiring ingredients that simply cannot be grown in the Tamar Valley, Cheryl sources as close to home and ethically as possible.
She does not use additives or preservatives, preferring instead to use natural ingredients and selling to customers who appreciate the need for sensible storage and usage after opening.The range of preserves available is quite extraordinary, making the Kingston offering truly unique and appealing to a wide range of personal preferences.
You can opt for something a little more traditional, or perhaps try something new where sweet and savoury ingredients combine to make delicious and versatile additions to a meal. Personal favourites (for us) include Cheryl’s chilli jelly (delicious with meats and cheeses) and cider apple butter.
Different flavours of curds, pickles, jams, jellies and chutneys form the mainstay of the product range, but there are also seasonal product lines and Cheryl is happy to discuss the possibility of bespoke recipes with prospective customers. Where to start and what to try first? Cheryl recommends trying her marmalade or the undisputed best seller of the Kingston Preserves – mango chutney.
I’m curious where the inspiration and ideas for the product range comes from. Cheryl points to her Anglo Indian heritage but also the fact she has been cooking since the age of six and has amassed a huge amount of cookery books.
She tells me, “I love the way flavours combine and experimenting with new ideas. Plus, I read a lot. I don’t know how many cookery books I have but for our kitchen refurbishment there had to be a unit dedicated to book storage”!
Cheryl is justifiably proud of the way Kingston Preserves has grown since those early honesty box days. On the face of it, she and Simon have achieved the ‘good life’ dreams many people have by restoring a smallholding back to life and bringing to market a range of home grown products.
However, as a former smallholder, I’m struck by a sense of foreboding of just how much work must have gone into Kingston and surely continues to this day. Cheryl confirms this by telling me, “It takes an incredible amount of time and hard work, many people would be astonished if they knew. I could never charge for my time”!
It’s very much a way of life which Cheryl has, and continues, to work extremely hard for. She is happy with the growth and success of Kingston Preserves, but having worked so hard is determined to keep the standards as they are and not risk losing control by expansion or moving beyond being a home business.
Yet even now, despite being a member of the Guild of Jam and Preserve Makers and for all her success, Cheryl’s mindset is that she is still learning and there are still many more ideas and delicious experiments to try!
Exciting though that may be, it makes choosing which preserves to try next even more difficult!
To stay up to date with the latest products, markets and events Cheryl will be selling at, follow the Kingston Preserves Facebook page. You can discover more about the full range of Kingston Preserves by visiting the Kingston menu website page.
The Kingston Preserves Instagram Account is well worth following and features some amazing photos of when Cheryl recently met the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall!
Within the Tamar Valley, Cheryl regularly sells at the Tavistock Pannier market (every Friday) and, slightly further afield, at the Ivybridge Artisans market twice a month. Kingston Preserves can be purchased from the Village Shop and Bakery at Bere Alston and Cheryl also sells from home.