Despite the ever changing face of the Irish food scene in the last few years, some things just stay the same. For preserve maker Bernie Clarke of Bramble Lodge Foods one traditional old favourite still wins out – Marmalade is consistently her best seller. She has however managed to persuade customers to move away from the seasonal Seville version to her three fruit alternative with grapefruit, lemon and oranges which she can source year round.
Bernie is a wonderful example of someone who has used redundancy to springboard a brand new career. After more than three decades in banking, when most people would be considering retirement, Bernie launched herself into an entirely new career and the world of jams, chutneys, pickles and of course, marmalade.
Although she has an adventurous approach to flavourings, the recipes Bernie uses have stood the test of time. Some go back to her grandmother Maggie in Ballina, who initiated her into the world of preserving. She recalls complaining bitterly when harvesting blackcurrants, tired of picking and not enjoying her blackened hands. The response was to tell her to think of the lovely jam they would soon have. Maggie’s world was one of barter where the proverbial man with the van called to the door selling sugar, flour and other staples which she would trade for jam and eggs. Bernie’s mother inherited the talent, and as a busy mother of seven still found time to not only grow fruit and vegetables but make them into delicious preserves too.
On leaving school Bernie tried her hand at college but after a year changed tack and came home to complete a commercial course. This led her to a position with AIB in Manorhamilton and a career in the training area. She transferred to Dublin with her new husband Michael and planned to stay there, but true to the saying, ‘Man makes plans and God laughs’, life got in the way. Each is the eldest of their family and misfortune struck both sets of parents simultaneously. A combination of ill health and the untimely death of Bernie’s parents brought them home with their two young children in 1984. Engineer Michael found permanent work within a month but Bernie had to settle for temporary duties for quite a few years before being made permanent. Despite that, she feels the move home worked out wonderfully well for all of them.
Roll on a few decades and with the world of banking changing, Bernie opted for redundancy with the idea of setting up her own business. Some friends, who had been the happy recipients of her handmade preserves as gifts were less than impressed: “Will we have to buy them now?” Bernie did a Business of Food course in Ballymaloe and a Leader funded Start Your Own Business course in Sligo. Michael converted a spare room to EHO standards and Bernie’s new career was launched. Today she sells at the Farmers’ Market in Sligo IT, at the Regional Stores, Sherlock’s Butchers and Kate’s Kitchen (own label).
Just now, Bernie is gearing up for the festive season which means mincemeat, Christmas puddings … and Seville oranges!