I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2004 with a BSc Hons in Food Science and have worked in a wide variety of technical roles in the food industry, including product and process development, R&D, and food safety and quality management in both consumer and ingredient food processors. The majority of my career has been based in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), operating in the artisan and or premium end of the drinks and juice industry where sensory quality and distinctiveness are essential. During this time I have spent much time working closely and collaboratively with ingredient suppliers and growers, to ensure supplies of high quality, interesting and authentic produce can be sourced in a sustainable way. I am a firm believer in the value of integrated food supply chains, am passionate about quality, integrity and authenticity in food products and believe that these attributes are best achieved when growers and processors know each other and work together.
I am passionate about flavour and sensory science, an interest that began with my undergraduate research project, looking at the effect of the viscosity of sauces on flavour release and perception, and this interest has stayed with me throughout my career.I have applied sensory evaluation techniques in most of my roles to inform product development, process development, quality control and marketing functions. In 2016, I came back to the University of Nottingham as a Sensory Scientist in the Enabling Innovation Team which supports local Food and Drink SMEs with food science consultancy- this is my current role. The role involves working between academia and businesses, to translate scientific knowledge and principles into a form that can be practically applied in a food business. Knowledge transfer is another theme in my career which started when I completed a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of Lincoln and Belvoir Fruit Farms Ltd. It was during this time that I entered the fascinating world of elderflowers, delivering an MPhil thesis about the links between elderflower processing conditions and flavour in drinks and I became captivated by people’s love for this quintessentially British flavour. So, whilst my career moved on to other products and places I continued to collect information about elders, even experimenting with growing a few myself. Whilst living and working in Herefordshire, working on blackcurrant and apple processing, I realised that people, more often than not, still came to talk to me about elderflowers and this has developed over the years into me offering specialist consultancy services within the field of elderflower processing and sourcing.
I live in Melton Mowbray, with my partner, Adrian, and most of my spare time is spent working on my perennial garden or allotment and preserving and processing the produce that comes from that!
I am extremely grateful to my sponsor Thatchers Cider sponsoring my project.
Cultivating elders for the UK processing industries
Elder is a wide genus encompassing many edible species. In the UK, our native elder is Sambucus nigra. Elders are multi-ingredient-producing plants, increasingly being incorporated into farmed or managed systems, owing to the diverse and interesting sensory, chemical and potential health promoting properties of their flowers and berries, from which value-added products can be made.
It offers another layer of diversity to the farm and your diet, and a way of incorporating productive trees onto your land. This study shows the different ways elder can be managed on your land, from adding it as a secondary or tertiary crop alongside existing conventional fruit growing, reutilising the equipment and labour you have, to setting up lower input orchards, combining it with other crops in a mixed orchard or agroforestry system, to wild managing a patch on your land whilst enjoying its other ecological benefits and exploiting its beauty.
What started out as a very specific study aiming to learn how to cultivate elder for a flower crop resulted in the discovery that the opportunities with elder are much wider. Elder cultivation is very much under development around the world, although in areas such as the US, research in this area is already advanced. Contrastingly, there has been little investment in studying this area in the UK. During the study there was a realisation that the real key to knowing how to grow elder is not about following a prescribed list of treatments, but more about understanding the botany of the species, how it likes to interact with its local environment (above and below ground) and the fundamental principles behind how you work with it and your land to select or recreate optimal conditions. Deeper understanding provides a toolkit to apply to one’s own land and operation and allows adaption of approach to ensure a long term, sustainable crop. To date knowledge exchange in this area in the UK has been largely unheard of, yet the value of collaborative working for growers and processors is highlighted as being key to the developmental success in other parts of the world and in creating support mechanisms that aid sustainable growth.
Whilst elder can be managed within conventional agricultural fruit orchards, an observation was made that many people involved in elder growing or research were often practitioners of agroecological and regenerative agricultural principles. It was concluded that this was no accident; elder’s perennial status challenges the grower to longer term thinking. Once in the ground, crops of flower and or berries are taken from the same plant, year on year, for around 20 years (or even more), so preparing and maintaining the land and growing system to be rich in organic matter and promoting soil microbiology and health, wherever possible, appear to be helpful strategies to build resilience from the start and keep bought-in inputs minimal in the long run.