OPIES: Peerless pickled walnuts producer to make preserves feast for menus all year round

OPIES: Peerless pickled walnuts producer to make preserves feast for menus all year round

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Walnuts

Opies produces pickled walnuts (Image: NC)

The fifth-generation manufacturer and distributor, which spans three sites surrounded by lush Garden of England orchards in Sittingbourne, Kent, is having more than a moment too. Growth is up 10 percent year-on-year for the firm, officially called Bennett Opie, and turnover is forecast for £37 million in the early 2020s. From jars of stem ginger, capers, gherkins, cherries, onions and lemon slices to chutneys, sauces and compotes the company is renowned as a taste maker and store cupboard stalwart, supplying both the food service and retail sectors in equal measure.

Opies’ best-selling boozy fruits in alcohol-infused syrups, such as prosecco and bourbon, are festive dessert naturals with ice cream. But the company’s signature line remains its pickled walnuts. 

As the UK’s only commercial producer, “it’s a cornerstone of our business,” says executive chairman William Opie. 

Regarded as a delicacy in Victorian times, the pickled nuts were lauded by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers and have become more of a crowd-pleaser again in recent times with the renewed appreciation of heritage ingredients among foodies and celebrity chefs.

Mary Berry gave them the ultimate approvals rating when she declared she would “sooner have a pickled walnut to a chocolate”.

William Opie

Bennett Opie executive chairman William Opie (Image: NC)

Kent walnuts

Kent walnuts (Image: NC)

Our pickled walnuts are a labour of love and unsung Christmas hero, but not just a complement to festive cold cuts. We are on a mission for customers to find inspiration all year round for our products

Bennett Opie executive chairman William Opie

Yet the nuts’ sweetish, tangy flavour and soft, ‘meaty’ texture, the result of specific harvesting and processing, often come as a surprise to newbies. 

Walnut trees can take a decade to produce crops suitable for pickling.

Opies sources some of its supplies from two local growers with the nuts hand-picked while still green and before any shell is formed. 

More hand-preparation follows followed by pickling with the company’s super-secret, spiced malt vinegar recipe widely regarded by chefs as inimitable. 

Apricot meringue parfait

Apricot meringue parfait (Image: NC)

“Being told that was a great relief,” admits Opie. “Our pickled walnuts are a labour of love and unsung Christmas hero, but not just a complement to festive cold cuts. 

“They are just as good enhancing cottage pie, pasta and risottos. We are on a mission for customers to find inspiration all year round for our products, to this end we’ve invested in a new swing tag on the jars with recipe suggestions.”

Next year the business celebrates its 140th anniversary and has kept to the same bank, Barclays. “It has done well by us. We’re very aware we are older than many of our high street customers such as M&S, Tesco and Waitrose,” adds Opie.

Stilton and walnut scones

Stilton and walnut scones (Image: NC)

Now employing 100 staff the business has ambitions to expand exports – Opies’ capers have a big following in China.

Increasingly focussed on eco packaging such as lighter weight jars and lids, the company benefits from drawing water from its own well and has recently installed a new energy-saving heating system.

“We are looking to celebrate many more milestones in future as a family business,” says Opie. “Current times are very challenging, but with the support of free trade and certainty, there is so much more we can achieve.”

b-opie.com

Sausage rolls

Sausage rolls (Image: NC)

And here’s a flavour of what Opies can create…

Best Ever Sausage Rolls

Create gastro pub luxury sausage rolls at home by adding Opies Pickled Walnuts to the sausage meat. Enjoy hot for supper and if you have any left over, they are delicious eaten cold the next day for lunch. 

Makes 6

Meal occasion: Lighter bites and salads, Midweek meals, Events and occasions. Quick & Easy

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Allergens: gluten, eggs, walnuts, sesame seeds

Ingredients

  • 350g sausage meat
  • 50g Opies Pickled Walnuts, drained and chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 320g pre-rolled sheet puff pastry
  • 50g caramelised red onion chutney
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp black onion (nigella) seeds

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C
  2. In a large bowl mix together the sausage meat, Opies Pickled Walnuts and sage. 
  3. Unroll the sheet of pastry onto a lightly floured surface. Divide equally, measuring across the shortest edge, into 3 rectangles 23cm x 12cm (approximately).
  4. Spread a third of the chutney onto each pastry rectangle. Divide the sausage meat into 3, roll into a long sausage and place on top of the chutney. 
  5. Brush the long edge of the pastry with egg, fold over the top and press the cut edges together at the side of the roll. Repeat until all three are made. 
  6. Brush rolls with egg and top with the seeds, cut each one in half and slash the tops with a sharp knife. 
  7. Place on a lined tray and bake in the oven at 190°C for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden

Hints and Tips: As an alternative at Christmas, replace the onion chutney with cranberry sauce. If you are feeling artistic, try plaiting the pastry and make this into one large sausage plait.

Chicken biryani

Chicken biryani (Image: NC)

Chicken and Lemon Biriyani 

Serves 4

Meal occasion: Midweek meals

Preparation time:  45 minutes

Allergens: Sulphites. Check ingredients labelling for curry powder (for mustard) and chicken stock (may contain celery and gluten)

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced
  • 6 skinned and boned chicken thighs cut into 3
  • 5 Opies Lemon Slices
  • 2 pieces of Opies Stem Ginger finely chopped
  • 2tbsp medium curry powder
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1tsp turmeric
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 250g basmati rice
  • 3 tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 700ml hot chicken stock made using a chicken stock cube

Garnish

  • Small bunch of fresh coriander 
  • Handful of Toasted almonds

Method

  1. Firstly, soak the rice in cold water for about 30 minutes. Then rinse and drain. 
  2. Meanwhile, gently fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. 
  3. Now add the chicken, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and bay leaf and continue frying for a couple more minutes. 
  4. Add the sliced lemon, ginger, drained rice, and continue frying for a couple more minutes over a low heat. 
  5. Finally add the chopped tomatoes and hot chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil, pop a lid on and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, do not remove the lid. Cover with a tea towel and leave to stand for 15-20 minutes before serving. 
  6. Chop a little fresh coriander and lightly toast a few almonds. 

Hints and tips: Any chopped nuts would be a fantastic garnish. For a creamier addition try cashew or walnuts.

Peach melba with raspberry sauce and passion fruit

Peach melba with raspberry sauce and passion fruit (Image: NC)

Peach Melba with Raspberry Sauce and Passion fruit

Originally invented to celebrate a performance by dame Nellie Melba, this recipe has an additional twist by adding passion fruit. Made with Opies Peaches in Courvoisier.

Serves 4

Meal occasion: Quick and easy, Desserts and Baking, Vegetarian, 

Preparation time:  15 minutes

Allergens: milk

Ingredients

  • 200g fresh raspberries
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 4 Opies Peaches in Courvoisier and reserved syrup
  • 450 ml vanilla ice cream
  • 2 passion fruit

Method

  1. Place all but 12 raspberries into a small jug; add 2 tbsp of the reserved syrup and blend using a stick blender.
  2. Pass the sauce through a sieve to remove the pips, stir in the icing sugar.
  3. Scoop 2 balls of ice cream into a long dessert glass and top with a whole Opies Peach in Courvoisier.
  4. Pour over raspberry sauce, top with raspberries and half of a scooped out passion fruit.
  5. Enjoy immediately.

Hints and Tips: Any flavour of ice cream will work well in this dish.  If you are short of time, buy a ready-made fruit coulis.

Mixed Berries Prosecco Shots

Mixed berries prosecco shots (Image: NC)

Mixed Berries Prosecco Shots

Deliciously grown-up you’ll not be able to resist them. Made with Opies Mixed Berries with Prosecco. Try serving these as a palate cleanser or make them to help your party go with a swing.  

Makes 8

Meal occasion: Events and occasions, Quick and easy, Desserts and baking

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 2 minutes

Allergens:  sulphur dioxide in wine

Cooks notes: requires 8 small shot glasses

Ingredients

  • 4 gelatine leaves
  • 100g Opies Mixed Berries with Prosecco and reserved syrup
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 300ml chilled Prosecco

Method

  1. Soak the gelatine in a little cold water.
  2. Divide the Opies Mixed Berries with Prosecco equally between 8 shot glasses.
  3. In a small pan gently heat 3 tbsps of water and caster sugar until dissolved
  4. Squeeze water out of gelatine leaves and add to the pan, stir gently until dissolved, do not over-heat.
  5. Put 100ml of reserved syrup into a jug, stir in mixture from the pan and top up with chilled Prosecco to the 400ml mark. Stir.
  6. Pour into shot glasses and chill until set.

Hints and Tips: Use chilled Prosecco to make the jellies set quickly; you’ll also find that some of the bubbles are captured.  Try using Opies Black Cherries in Kirsch as an alternative fruit.

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