Food hero: Fred Thorneycroft

by Webmaster, 22nd September 2020

Fred Thorneycroft launched family endeavour Fruits of the Forage to bring a taste of Cheshire’s hedgerows to the wider community

Tell us about what you do.
We’re a family-owned and -run sustainable preserves company who combine heritage fruits with wild foraged plants to create new flavours. We also make cordials and spirits that capture a taste of the British landscape. Since we started in 2014 we’ve saved more than 10 tons of wild fruit from going to waste, and planted 800 fruit trees in schools, farms and community orchards. Then, over lockdown, we started delivering fruit and veg boxes to homes in our local area, too.

Why preserves?
Making preserves is the traditional way to make use of a glut of fruit and the best way to stop it going to waste. We harvest old orchards with heritage fruit varietes that were traditionally grown for preserving instead of eating.

How did the business come about?
When I was 18 years old I made a chilli jam, using some chillies I’d grown myself, and sold it at our mum’s charity ladies’ evening at Christmas. The money went towards my year abroad and my brother did the same with wild fruit when he was saving to go to Australia. After university I searched gardens, hedgerows and old farms for apples to make cider and realised just how much fruit was going to waste.

Why is Cheshire ideal for fruit foraging?
Cheshire has a strong history of marketgarden farming, and many local farms had fruit orchards. Damsons were used not only for eating, but also in the textiles industry in Manchester, so there’s an abundance of them. It’s become a real journey of discovery for us, and we’re using damsons, sloes and apples, as well as more unusual things like hogweed and wild garlic. We began exploring old farms and market gardens in Cheshire and the surrounding counties, and have expanded to include traditional fruitgrowing regions such as the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire.

What do you love about your products?
We think about the flavour of wild ingredients and how to make them shine through. We’ve combined elderflower with rhubarb, grapefruit, apple and lemon juice – this combination of flavours makes a truly special summer cooler, dangerous for gin cocktails!

What’s unique about them?
We decide on the characteristics of the fruit – whether under ripe or over ripe, dessert or cooking variety – and think about what kind of preserve the fruit would be best for making. Plums are one of our most important crops, but our favourite fruit is the damson – we use them to make jam, sauce, cordial and our Dam Sloe Chutney! What’s unique about all our products is the traditional varieties of fruit we use – many of which you can’t buy in the shops, and some of which we believe could be undiscovered regional varieties. We combine them with wild plants to preserve a taste of the British landscape.

What’s your proudest achievement?
My proudest creation is our awardwinning Seville Orange & Sloe Marmalade; we’re a Great Taste Producer with 10 Great Taste Awards. But I’m proudest of my family and our team – we’re still here through thick and thin, working together to connect people to nature.

What are your plans for the future?
Scouring orchards across the country, we discovered Britain’s heritage orchards and hedgerows are declining rapidly, and traditional methods of cultivating hedgerows and orchards have been lost from farms altogether. Harvesting fruit is far from the only reason to plant hedgerows. They’re great for biodiversity, reduce soil erosion, provide vital habitats for nature and act as wildlife corridors linking existing habitats. Orchards are also a focal point for communities, deeply rooted in our folk traditions and food history, and preserving them gives the opportunity to rediscover our traditions and ancient beliefs. With this in mind, we want to continue to give back to the landscape by distributing fruit trees to plant new orchards and hedgerows. We donate trees to community groups, schools, social enterprises and tree planting charities, and we also work with farmers to plant trees in fallow areas and hedgerows, and rejuvenate old farmyard orchards.

• Fruits of the Forage. For more information or to place an order, visit www.fruitsoftheforage.co.uk


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