Jennifer's sparkling new kitchen

Jennifer’s sparkling new kitchen

In a brand new kitchen in Stirling Enterprise Park, Jennifer McEwan of the Wee Kitchen Company is busy creating some unique recipes for her range of savoury jams, preserves, and accompaniments. It’s been an incredible journey for Jennifer, from the day she made her first chilli jam to opening up sparkling new premises this month, and she is this week’s Local Hero.

The Wee Kitchen Company opened just a year and a half ago, with Jennifer initially cooking from her home, then moving to Stirling Enterprise Park in June. It’s a big change: what drove the decision to move out of home? ‘It had got to the point where I was receiving a lot of orders and it was proving difficult to separate work from family life – and to get the kitchen to myself! I felt I couldn’t take the business any further from my home kitchen. It wouldn’t have been fair on my family.’

Crusty bread, mature cheddar with red pepper and chilli jam

Crusty bread, mature cheddar with red pepper and chilli jam

Where did the inspiration for the Company come from? ‘I was a stay at home mum for years – we have five kids. Then everything just fell into place – there wasn’t really a plan as such. I made my first batch of jam around 18 months ago, my friends and family tried it, wanted more, and that was it!’

What’s the best thing about running the Wee Kitchen Company? ‘I love doing events when people are tasting all my flavours and they tell me that they can actually taste the different fresh ingredients.’ (Jennifer will be at Alva Games and the Doune and Dunblane Show very soon.) I also love reading reviews on my Facebook page page. These keep me going when I have had a tough working week working till early hours.’

So things get challenging then? ‘The biggest challenge is trying to run the business alongside family life. I do plan to get help on board soon: at present I’m running everything alone. I’d like to get to a point where I can progress some new ideas I have, like my range of wedding favours. Right now, I work at nights a lot of the time and it can be exhausting. I even have my older children helping me at times – I have to thank them for that. Then you have the guilt of being a working mum – I don’t think that ever goes!’

Fathers Day Hampers, complete with chilli popcorn by Popor

Fathers Day Hampers, complete with chilli popcorn by Popor

Where is her produce stocked? ‘Quite a few places around Stirlingshire – Hogan’s Fine Foods, Aberfoyle Butchers and Deli, Falleninch Farm, Doune the Deli , Michael More ButchersThe Woodhouse Kippen, The Cardboard Box, Rhubarb Lime, and Torwood Garden Centre, for example. All my stockists have been brilliant, though I have to admit it was a proud moment when the buyer for Historic Scotland phoned and asked if they could stock my jams in Stirling Castle. I really like working with local businesses. I’m working with Stirling Whisky Shop at the moment, on a very special new product that will be launched soon. Wrapistry by Cherene help source the wrap, fillings, bows and accessories for my hampers, and I stock some local handmade food products – including even chilli popcorn from a local supplier Poporopo – that go fantastically well in my hampers.’

Fresh produce is the cpore of The Wee Kitchen Company's flavours

Fresh produce is the core of The Wee Kitchen Company’s flavours

I comment that she’s pretty big-hearted to stock the produce of competitors, but it seems that’s just her way – there’s love, laughter and generosity in how she works and cooks. ‘My jams and preserves are fresh, handmade with love, and they are never the same twice. I’m beginning to realise the importance of the seasons in my cooking too. My top sellers change as consumers’ tastes move with the weather. Also, cooking fresh is the centre of everything for me: I buy in season to get the best tastes and to keep costs manageable. Fresh ingredients are naturally variable, so it means that the consistencies and flavours of my products change, no matter how exact my cooking. It’s authentic and, I think, part of the attraction.’

Jennifer’s cooking sounds like alchemy: all bubbling pots, passion, and creativity. Her understanding of her ingredients – chillies especially – is almost scientific. When I ask what product she is most proud of, she simply can’t answer. ‘I like them all!’ she explains. ‘But I am proud of where I’ve got in such a short time – I never thought I could have achieved this.’

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