Mrs Darlington’s products are well known across the country, and with the family’s roots in farming, Emily Ashworth speaks to founder Marion Darlington to find out how their story weaves its way through World War II.
During wartime, it is fair to say that one of the unsung heroes of the era were farmers.
It is said that at the time, about 70 per cent of Britain’s food was imported.
Add rationing into the equation and you have a pretty dire set of circumstances.
But true to form, the farming sector stepped up to ensure the nation was fed, and with tenacity and relentless hard work from Britain’s agricultural force, that figure was almost remarkably reversed.
Slogans such as ‘grow your own’ were renowned for spurring Britons on to do their utmost to help with food supplies, too.
And growing up in an era where food was sparse and everything was used up is perhaps what inspired Marion Darlington and her late husband, Tom, to create their British preserve brand, Mrs Darlington’s, in the 1980s.
Tom lived on a rented smallholding during the 1940s, with his parents William and Mary, helping his dad with milking before and after school while, like many, keeping a few pigs and chickens too.
After the war, Tom ran a small dairy herd near Nantwich, Cheshire, but it also marked the beginning of his successful poultry business, which eventually saw him running about 10,000 chickens.
Unfortunately, Tom faced a battle with cancer in his 40s, which forced him to give up the cows.
Yet, helped by Marion and their loyal, local staff, they managed to keep the poultry side up and running.
But they found they had a surplus of cracked eggs.
Marion, 81, says: “These cracked eggs were previously sold to the egg packing station, but unfortunately, they no longer had a need for them.
“Born in an era of ‘waste not, want not’, I decided to use up our surplus eggs by making my homemade lemon curd, a family favourite, to see if I could sell it to nearby shops.” After a friend displayed Marion’s curd on her cheese stall at the market in Crewe, demand simply grew.
And in that first week, customers were asking for more.
It was the beginning of a new era for the family.
From their humble farming roots during wartime, Mrs Darlington’s preserves are now well loved across the country, from her popular lemon curd, to jams, chutneys, jellies and pickles.
In fact, they now sell more than 2.5 million jars each year in over 15 countries, a mighty success which all came from a distaste for waste.
She says: “There was no strategic growth plan and money was tight.
“Tom didn’t like the idea of a business loan, so he kept the poultry farm going at the same time, feeling it was too big a risk to put all the family’s eggs in one basket – so to speak.
“The business developed slowly by word of mouth and we are proud to have gained many loyal customers along the way.” As the brand grew, Tom converted some of the farm buildings into a large kitchen, but it was clear the business was growing at a rate which needed more expansion and they eventually moved to larger premises nearby.
The business, which now employs 18 members of staff, remains in the family and is run by Marion’s daughters, Wendy and Sarah, just outside Crewe, minutes from the original farm.
But, any new ideas or recipes are, of course, certainly still run past the matriarch of the family.
"Born in an era of ‘waste not, want not’, I decided to use up our surplus eggs by making my homemade lemon curd"
British produce is still very much at the heart of what they do at Mrs Darlington’s, be it Bramley apples from Kent, eggs and fresh vegetables from Cheshire, or sugar from Suffolk.
Back in the early days though, new products were determined by what was available, and farmers used to bring their fruit to Marion knowing that with her inventive spirit, she would be able to create something wonderful.
Marion says: “Originally it was just a question of using up the spare cracked eggs before demand grew and we started buying eggs from another local producer too.
“We were then contacted by a nearby fruit farm to ask if we could use their surplus of soft fruits, so I dug up my recipe book again and started making jams as well.
“We always endeavour to source the best ingredients for the products we make.
“It’s important for us to try wherever possible to source British products, simply because as a nation, we produce some of the best products in the world.
“As a family who still have farming connections, we want to support our industry whenever we can in whatever we do.
“We have, and always will be, extremely proud of our farming roots.”
On May 8, 1945, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, marking the end of the second world war.
It is now forever known as V.E. Day – Victory in Europe.
The bunting was strung across every street in the country; the people danced outside their homes and bonfires were lit as mass scenes of jubilation took place.
And this year, in honour of the 75th anniversary, the team at Mrs Darlington’s has launched their V.E. Day special editions – their hero product, lemon curd, and best-selling strawberry jam.
The female trio have chosen to make a donation from every jar sold, to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) – an armed forces charity which provides invaluable support to soldiers and their families.
Their connection to the commemoration is much more personal than simply paying respects to the thousands that fought for our victory though, as Wendy and Sarah’s uncle William was one of the many brave soldiers rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
Marion says: “SSAFA is a wonderful charity, close to our family’s hearts and I know William and my husband Tom would have been delighted for us to offer them support.”
The jars will feature a new label which reads ‘commemorating 75 years since V.E. Day’.
Wendy says: “Lemon curd and strawberry jam are much loved by families around the country.
“We hope by creating the limited edition jars we’ll be able to make a small difference in the lives of soldiers and their families and give something back to the men, like our uncle William, who gave and continue to give us so much.”