11 January 2002

Just pudding on the style

A North Yorks couple are enjoying the sweet smell of success, as Wendy Owen discovers

THERE are puddings everywhere in the business unit close to Graeme and Rosemary Robinsons rented farm in North Yorkshire.

Sticky toffee, chocolate eclipse, lemon drizzle, apricot and vanilla – the names alone are enough to pile on the calories and the puddings themselves are delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that what started out as a few puddings made to fill up a friends craft fair stall is now a thriving business where turnover is rivalling that of the farm.

Rosemary Robinson, who has always loved cooking, says the success of Just Puds has taken her by surprise since she started making and selling puddings two years ago. She is now assisted by two part-time staff and her husband, Graeme, helps out whenever he can spare time away from the familys arable farm.

"Right from the start the stall attracted a lot of interest at farmers markets," says Rose-mary. "Shops and restaurants approached us for orders and customers kept coming back."

The Robinsons used to keep cattle, pigs and sheep at Lamb Hill Farm, near Masham, but livestock numbers had dwindled and after the foot-and-mouth crisis they decided to sell their animals in favour of the arable crops and their blossoming new enterprise.

The business was set up with just £100.

"We looked into getting grant aid but it seemed there was an awful lot of paperwork involved and it would take a long time to actually get any money. We knew that Just Puds had potential but to expand further, we had to move out of the farmhouse kitchen."

There were several reasons why the couple chose to rent a unit away from the farm, rather than convert a building at home.

"As tenant farmers, we wanted independence for the new venture and we felt renting a unit would give us flexibility to move into bigger premises if the idea took off. It has turned out to be the right decision, partly because it means we can leave the work behind when we go home at night."

At present there are 18 different puddings, all hand-made and served in containers ranging from single portions to catering-size, ready to reheat in the oven or microwave. The best-seller is the sticky toffee pudding, which comes with a rich sauce, and there is also a range of fruit crumbles which are varied according to the season. All the ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible.

"The idea is to have a pudding with a homemade look and taste and we encourage people to pass them off as their own," says Rosemary.

She was initially apprehensive about her new role and was slightly nervous about dealing with the public at first.

"I had been a housewife for many years and I had lost some confidence through being at home for so long," she explains. "But now I feel it is the best move I have ever made and I find the whole thing really exciting. I have to restrain myself because I have so many ideas and I could easily come up with a new pudding every day."