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“I RETIRED in 2004 after 30 years in the police force, and was thinking about maybe going into security work. Then, on a camping trip in the New Forest, my dad sat me down and told me he wanted me and Rosemary to take over his business, Gran Steads. I couldn’t say no.”
Len and Dot Knox started to make small batches of ginger wine in their small kitchen, which they bottled and labelled themselves. That was in 1994.
Twenty-three years later, Len’s son Chris and his wife Rosemary now make a range of Gran Stead’s ginger drinks on a farm in Mile Oak Road, Portslade, still using the same recipe but on a bigger scale.
“Dad was insistent we make up individual mixes in jam jars and add them to 25 litres of water. When I suggested scaling up and making one big batch he told me ‘It won’t work, you have to do it the way I’ve been doing it or it will all go wrong. They’ve done experiments on this sort of thing at University. I know what I’m talking about.”?Sadly, Len passed away this year, aged 87, but was around to see the mixing tank Chris and Rosemary use to make the drinks in, and begrudgingly admitted it ‘tasted the same’.
“Dad swore by ginger. He used to buy the original wine from a butcher on Shoreham Beach. When they stopped selling it, he asked the butcher to put him in touch with the woman who made it. Turned out she just made the wine for pin money, but her young family meant she had no spare time. It was her great Grandmother, Christina Stead’s recipe, passed down to her by her through the family. Dad bought the recipe and her contacts.”
While the quantity may have increased, and bottling and labelling machines have replaced Rosemary spending hours doing it all by hand, the 150-year-old recipe is unchanged and she and Chris remain a two-person team.
Rosemary said; “We now supply independent stockists including farm shops, delis, garden centres and health food shops across the UK. We also export to several countries including Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus and the Netherlands. We’re still exploring other markets with samples in the Middle East. I’m proud of what we have achieved. The charity Auntie Val’s use our Fiery Ginger in their Seriously Ginger Jam. Auntie Val’s employ people with learning disabilities to make their produce, in her specially designed kitchen. I worked with children with learning disabilities before taking over Gran Stead’s with Chris, I’m delighted to still have links with them.
When asked about any plans to expand the business, Rosemary said “We tick along quite nicely at our own pace, and remain focussed on good quality, healthy produce, made with no allergens, and no nasties. We worked hard to perfect the flavours of the additional drinks we now sell. We really enjoy creating new recipes and have a few more ideas up our apron sleeves.
We’d love to be able to grow our own ginger, but it’s impossible on our chalky downs. We get most of our extracted ginger from Jamaica and our stem and crystallised ginger comes from China. Everything we can do ourselves we do, Chris does everything from the retail shows to mending the machines when they go wrong.”
Rosemary found their mellow ginger wine has helped her in her recovery from Leukaemia, which she was diagnosed with 18 months ago; “Chris has been amazing at looking after me, and running the business solo.
“As well as doing all the retail shows alone, he takes me to every hospital appointment. I drink the mellow ginger wine and add the stem ginger to cooking. It helps with my nausea. People often see ginger as a seasonal drink, but the health benefits are amazing, and it makes a great mixer too. A lot of people rave about how well it goes with gin.”
Although in the early stages of recovery, Rosemary was at the farm, bottling, labelling and pasteurising away busily, while Chris moved crates and loaded up the machines in a silent tango, perfected over the years.
It’s all rather Enid Blyton in the most wonderful way. The farm is tucked away down an off-road mud track in Mile Oak. Chris’s days in the police force stop him from having signs and banners outside “encouraging burglars”, but the ducks are happy to show you to their door.
Their drinks are sold on a rustic farm shop on-site, along with sandwiches and home-made cakes. Chickens and turkeys make frequent appearances, while the donkeys, goats and sheep look in from the field. If you don’t fancy a slop through the mud, you can order their produce online at www.gransteadsginger.co.uk.
Source: The Argus