In deepest Bedfordshire, there is something growing, in more ways than one.
I am of course talking about Edible Ornamentals, the Chilli growing business owned and run by Shawn and Joanna Plumb, who now have the likes of Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Waitrose on their stockist list.
So what makes this company tick? In early September, my wife and I were able to take part in their “Tasting Tour” of the nursery (I will mention how to book later).
So here’s what I thought and a little background to the company.
Edible Ornamentals started selling and growing Chillies part time in 2001 and made various chilli products until 2007 when they purchased the present site in Chawston, which was an old flower nursery and in significant disrepair.
With a lot of hard work they have built Polytunnel’s to house their range of Chillies all sown and grown by them on site. They also now have their own range of Sauces and Chutneys to sell alongside a vast range of fresh chillies from Padron to the fiery Bhut Jolokia.
Being a Chilli grower myself, I was keen to see how the “big boys” did it.
Upon arrival we were made very welcome by one of the staff, even though they were very busy, it was a Sunday afternoon and they had stalls at a couple of events that day plus the nursery had some casual shoppers looking through the plants for sale.
I was impressed by the friendliness of the staff, who seemed genuinely interested in what they were doing and us as visitors. We were encouraged to have a coffee or a juice in the plant sales greenhouse while we waited for the other tour guests, which was very welcome after our 150-mile drive to get there!
Joanna appeared and said hello, I had met her on several occasions at Chilli Festivals and her passion for Chilli’s just bubbles out of her!
Before we knew it everyone was there and we started.
Jo begins by talking about types of chilli and seeds, compost, how to sow, transplant etc, all delivered in a very simple to understand way but in no way condescending. I was pleasantly surprised that I’m doing things the right way at home!
The tour seems to attract a wide demographic of people with a wide mix of questions, all comfortably answered.
After this segment we were taken to the “Pick your own Polytunnel” which is a great concept and as far as I am aware the only one of its kind in the UK. We were given a plastic bag and 5 minutes to pick what we wanted from the array of plants here, I was immediately struck by how well tended the plants were, with lovely dark green leaves.
Jo explained that the watering and feeding is computer controlled and the concentration of feed is worked out by panels, which report how much sun there is so the watering is adjusted all by itself, very clever stuff and not something I can replicate at home unfortunately.
We were then taken to the Commercial Tunnels and were shown a tunnel completely full of Tomatillo plants bursting with fruit.
I had never seen these growing before, and for anyone who hasn’t seen them, the fruit is like a green tomato in appearance covered in a papery husk which splits as the fruit ripens, the fruits stay green and taste a little like a cross between melon, cucumber and tomato, these are used for salsa’s and other Mexican dishes. We were able to pick some of these too.
Next we saw two other tunnels with various varieties in their rows, all described by Jo, the Dorset Naga, Bhut Jolokia, Serrano, Poblanos were just a few, and again we were allowed to pick a couple of each for our bags.
We then moved on to their commercial kitchen where the sauces are made, bottled and labelled, industrial chest freezers packed with pre chopped up harvest from the previous year. Chillies freeze well for cooking later and do not loose any of their heat, and for these guys, freezing excess is essential, they try to cook with fresh during the cropping period but need to maintain the cooking during the winter months and this is the only way.
Talking of the sauces, our last port of call is the shop, a log cabin which houses their full range of sauces and various other chilli related products. The walls are adorned with press cuttings of Jo with various celebrities who have visited the Nursery, Jo is no stranger to the camera having appeared on a few TV shows including Gordon Ramsay’s current teatime cookery show.
It is here that we get a tasting session going through their range of sauces from mild to hot, then Jo produces a selection of fresh chillies and cuts them up for tasting, gradually building up again from very mild to the Bhut Jolokia.
At no time did I feel we were rushed and there was some great discussion generated as we went along. The tour lasts between one to one and a half hours.
I hear that Jo and Shawn have just received planning permission for a coffee shop too which will only add to the experience.
So in summary, this is the perfect place to visit for anyone, from a chilli newbie to a seasoned Chilli head, if you have never grown chillies or are an experienced back garden grower, this tour will teach you something. The guys at Edibles really know their stuff and have a real passion for what they do coupled with a really relaxed laid back approach, which I love.
Tickets are available direct from the website and are for two priced at £35.00 or alternatively can be bought through Virgin Experience Days and then booked online through Edibles own website.
These would make the perfect Christmas gift, and can be booked for later next season. Tours are run from May to the end of September.
Unfortunately the only criticism I could find is that they are located too far away from where I live!