My passion for gardening, coupled with my love of cooking, inspired Belcour Blue Mountain Preserves, our line of all-natural, specialty food condiments. First, we made the bottles of condiments as a hobby giving them away to friends and family as gifts. People loved them so I started making more of them, instead of twelve bottles, I would make forty-eight. I bought a large stainless steel pot and started stirring up more concoctions.
I set out to make the types of fruit preserves like the lovingly handmade ones made by old uncles and aunts. I began making small batches in the kitchen, using family recipes such as my grandmother Mimi’s tomato chutney, and my father-in-law’s marmalade like the ones we were given at Christmas. I loved being in the kitchen and creating new products. We started sending jars of the condiments and sauces to family members and asking for their feedback. I knew that I was onto something when requests came in for cases of the products. We started to sample and sell at local food fairs and bigger food events.
The recipes evolved over many iterations, and I have incorporated many people’s ideas and suggestions to form the final products. The Honey Jerk and our Pepper Jam with honey and herbs were happy accidents. Our translucent Pepper Jam, which I originally intended to be a Pepper Jelly, is made with a savoury mélange of peppers, fresh herbs, and honey, but infuriatingly, it would not gel. One day my cousin said, “Why don’t you just call it Pepper Jam then?” And so it became our Pepper Jam. We discovered that different people became attached to different products. My husband, Michael, put our Honey Jerk Pepper Sauce on eve old-fashioned way, without the use of artificial chemical additives or preservatives we believed was healthier and it became our mission. We employ these time-tested techniques to offer healthier and tastier products.
As we have expanded to selling to supermarkets and larger stores, complete strangers message or now email us, telling me which of our products they cannot live without. I am always thrilled to get these emails or calls. Our house and farm are now the site of a full-fledged working microbusiness with honey bottling going on in the honey room and women either labeling or washing and peeling massive crates of fruits and vegetables. We buy peppers, fruit, and herbs from farmers all over the Blue Mountains and increasingly from across the island.
Our journey to become food manufacturers led us to learn how to process food safely in a commercial setting. Moving our production from home to factory-made took us one step further towards becoming a commercial brand. The sauces and preserves are now available in supermarkets and select specialty stores throughout Jamaica.
During the cooking process, we added fresh herbs, Scotch Bonnet peppers, ginger and pimento, and a little our Blue Mountain Honey to all our creations as a means of “rounding up” their flavours. Honey adds a unique flavour and has become Belcour’s signature ingredient. Our products have a two-year shelf-life and are proof that chemical additives are unnecessary to making these condiments. Preserving food using traditional techniques without adding chemicals or additives became our mission.
Some years after moving to Belcour we turned the seven-acre property into a productive farm. We grow pineapples, citrus guava, and a large variety of fruit trees.
In 2006 we decided to buy two colonies of bees. They arrived one Sunday morning while we were having breakfast. We settled them in the pineapple field and about a month later reaped our first bucket of honey. We drained the honey through a muslin cloth into a bucket on the back veranda; we had to do this in the evening when the bees had gone to sleep. We gleefully ate large chunks of the delicious comb until we were drunk from the sweet honey. A year later we had 10 colonies and were still learning to become bee farmers. A kind friend gave us a two-frame hand-cranked spinner that was a step up from draining the honey into a bucket. I applied for a grant a year later through a bee-keeping initiative run by the EU and got a ten-frame electric spinner. By then we had thirty hives and I had begun making the sauces and jams.
The multiflora honey was so delicious because the bees fed on a wide array of blossoms of trees and flowers on the property. We started selling it at fairs and then experimented with adding a small amount in each batch of jam or hot sauce to as Mike said “round out” the flavour. We found that the honey made everything more delicious. The seasons vary and the bees like all animals are affected by the weather and the flavour of the honey changes with the different blossoms each season. Our bees are fortunate to have a river nearby where they can drink during droughts. We now have fifty hives at Belcour. Our honey is in high demand, but cannot sell very much of it as we have to reserve it for use in our Belcour condiments.
Honey is our “secret” ingredient and one of the reasons the products taste unique and so delicious. Bees are mythical creatures and it may sound strange to say be we love our bees and we think they care about us too as we hardly ever get stung. Beekeeping is a lot of work and Mark Evans is now our chief beekeeper. Honey was the first product we sold.
Our bees feed on mango, guava, ackee, citrus, avocado, Spanish elm, ebony, a variety of palm blossoms, and the myriad flowers from our garden to produce a delicious multiflora, honey. In addition, the activity of the bees greatly increased the yield of our ortaniques and guavas. Natural honey is one of the world’s most beloved foods and the structure, order, and sense of purpose of the bees are wondrous to observe.