‘The beet goes on’
‘I grew up cooking from scratch with Mum and we weren’t allowed to waste anything,’ says Frankie Fox (J 92-94). Her mother loved to cook and her father was a plant and mushroom expert who enjoyed foraging near their home in rural Berkshire. ‘We used to go on long walks looking for mushrooms, and we knew about secret places where the chanterelles grew.’
Fox moved to London for university and later worked in finance, but in 2012 she returned to the countryside with her husband and their two children, Thomas, now nine, and Jemima, eight, moving into a house with a large garden in a village near Bishop’s Stortford. When her father died soon afterwards, she replanted the garden in homage to him and started growing beetroot, runner beans and fruit canes. She also began to teach Thomas and Jemima about the process of growing vegetables from seeds. ‘I wanted them to not be afraid of food,’ says Fox. ‘If you know what’s in it then you eat better, you don’t waste it and you’re less fussy.’
When their first harvest came in, in 2013, they had a glut of beetroot and Fox began exploring how to preserve it. Tomato ketchup was a family favourite, so she experimented with making beetroot ketchup, settling on a recipe that tasted both sweet and earthy. ‘My hands were red from peeling beetroot,’ she recalls. ‘And the kitchen looked like something out of the film Psycho.’
She named her ketchup brand ‘The Foraging Fox’, a further tribute to her late father, and began exchanging it with friends and family, who gave her apples, quinces and other produce from their gardens in return. It became so popular that she started selling it at a food fair in West London, and in 2015 she began making it in bulk, enlisting a manufacturer and inviting a friend and former colleague to be her business partner.
They now produce 100,000 bottles a year, which are sold in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s as well as small delis and food halls and Fox has developed smoked and spicy flavours in addition to the original sweet-earthy variety.
The beetroot is now grown on a larger farm. Once harvested, it is cooked with apples, red-grape vinegar, golden sugar, olive oil, salt and a combination of spices that Fox keeps secret.
She explains that the acid of the vinegar and the salt act as natural preservatives. ‘We’re relying on natural processes, how we’ve traditionally preserved things,’ she says. ‘I don’t think good food needs extra ingredients.
‘It’s the same process as when I prepared it at home, but in larger pans,’ she adds. ‘It started from a place of grief and now I’ve created a legacy.’
Originally printed in the Telegraph Magazine 05.01.2019