Adele Nozedar – author, writer and hedgerow guru explains how she came up with the concept of SweetieFest. This new event will be launched at the Abergavenny Food Festival Christmas Food & Drink Fair on Sunday 8 December.
While researching a previous book about hedgerow plants, I realised that many of the plants, with the addition of sugar, transform from medicinal use to recreational enjoyment. Think licorice, mint, coltsfoot and more. So I pitched an idea for a book about sweets to the same publisher, who subsequently commissioned it. Great British Sweets: A History of Old Fashioned Sweets and How to Make Them At Home will be published by Square Peg (Random House) in June 2014.
Preferring to deal with real people and real situations and to see things for myself, I set off with my best chum on a series of sweetie-related roadtrips in search of the makers and their stories. I’d decided early on that I was going to concentrate on quirky regional specialities, sweeties that are, I think, quintessentially a part of what Britain is all about.
I found that our traditional sweeties are still primarily made by long-established family concerns. Some examples are Fishermans Friend (est 1865, still manufacturing in Lofthouse with colossal worldwide sales), Kendal Mint Cake (since 1869 and going strong) and of course Swizzels Matlow, established sometime just before 1920, and the UK’s biggest indie producer of confectionery (since the sale of Cadburys) and still run by the Matlow/Dee dynasty (Love Hearts are perhaps their best-known brand).
Suffice to say that anyone who has consigned the UK manufacturing industry to the scrapheap hasn’t investigated our sweetie industry. It’s steady, has longevity and many of the places I visited were expanding both in terms of adding new premises and employing more people. Also, according to Mintel, 15% of new high street retail outlets that opened up in the years between 2008-2011 were…sweet shops! I guess the recession might be responsible for that; lowish start up costs, cheap stock and an item that makes the buyer (legally) happy.
I should also mention Grays of Dudley, run by Ted and Betty, a brother and sister in their late 80s and currently employing a mindblowing 5 generations in their small factory in the Midlands, exporting all over the world and with not a single computer on the premises. The documentary photographer, Martin Parr, filmed a 20 minute documentary,’Teddy Gray’s Sweet Factory’ (he shot on film, not digital, and it’s a beautiful thing). You can view it here
Aside from some corporate promotional events there didn’t appear to be any collective celebration of our indigenous sweets, the people who make them and their special stories. Having participated in the Abergavenny Food Festival as a guest performer I thought Abergavenny Christmas Fair of Food and Drink would be the ideal place to launch a special mini-festival which is not just about selling, but about the people and processes behind the product. So SweetieFest has sprung into being. And it’s definitely not just for kids!
As well as exhibitors there will be participatory workshops, sugar sculpting, felt decoration making, toffee demonstrations, mystery blind tastings, and ….. I’d really like to see if a gobstopper will explode when cooked in a microwave! Oh, and we’re hoping to set a new world-record for the biggest ever Curly Wurly!
Hope this whets your appetite. Everything’s coming togther and we will be able to share the full programme shortly.