LABOUR OF LOVE?Jams and chutneys to die for.?Pic: Elizabeth Toher Photography
When sweet dreams come true
When in Rome. So when in the Caherlistrane kitchen of Liz Loftus of Lizzy’s Homemade Jams and Chutneys there was only topic our conversation could unhinge on. The previous night RTÉ screened the Dolores Keane documentary. The following morning and the programme is now the grist turning the millwheel of national dialogue.
And like the rest of the country Liz and I met on unanimous agreement that it was as fine a piece of television as RTÉ ever broadcast. The Caherlistrane girl, a worldwide household name telling her own story of life off-stage with pure honesty and admirable courage was compulsory viewing.
It was also as good a place as any for Liz and I to start bantering. Whenever Liz is explaining Caherlistrane’s location as somewhere between Tuam and Headford, it’s to Dolores Keane and her instant recognition she turns for a reference point. “Sure as soon as I mention Dolores they know straight away where Caherlistrane is,” she says.
Liz Loftus introduces herself as a blow-in. But the locals have already converted her to their ways as her colloquial pronunciation “Carlastran” illustrates. Born in Manchester to Irish parents – mum Mary is from Cratloe in Clare and her late dad Pat was from Tobermore outside Crossmolina – she knew ‘Carlastran’ would become home even on her journey there for the first house viewing.
“We were driving down through Belclare off the N17 and I saw Castlehackett House and Knockma and the wood. There were huge trees in lush green fields and I remember thinking this place is so much like Dromoland near where I came from. So yeah, I’d made up my mind even before I arrived at the house.”
Her family returned to Ireland when Liz was four. It was in mum’s kitchen she inherited her love of home cooking. “Mum would always have us helping her and allowing and encouragement us to experiment and she also made jam so she’d have us out picking the blackberries and mushrooms and all the different herbs that grow wild in the country.”
Just like Liz herself is doing now in her Caherlistrane kitchen. Except Liz’s talent became the inspiration for a career change that is now her full-time job.
She charts the course that led to running her own business. “I was employed as a Development Worker working with disadvantaged young people, and the majority came from the Travelling Community. I really enjoyed the work and getting one young Traveller girl to complete her Leaving Certificate exam was my World Cup. But 12 years later and all the travelling I was doing to the office in Athlone and to places like Ballina and Navan was demanding.
“Then my daughter Isabelle was born and the maternity leave gave me time to think things through. It was either now or never, so last May I took voluntary redundancy, and I thought why not, I’ll give this a go and see where it takes me.”
But there was always a love of cuisine, Liz explains. “I remember my first date with my partner Alex and us going for something to eat and I wondering what he’d order. It was something like goat’s cheese and cucumber and I thought, yeah this might work.”
And so it did. Alex became her recipe taster and ever the encouraging support she leans heaviest on. Alex’s mother Louise Ferney lives in Tawin, a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic beyond Oranmore. She too forages Mother Nature’s harvests, and along with Liz’s own mum, Mary, they encouraged Liz to pursue her dream.
Liz’s reverie has now become reality. Produced entirely from her HSE-approved kitchen, Lizzy’s Jam and Chutneys are fast becoming a business success. It’s a labour of love. Has to be because, from sourcing the ingredients, cooking, packing and labelling right through to distribution to the many outlets she now supplies, Liz is the only hands on.
“But I always say I’ve a great right hand and it does everything,” she humorously quips by way of explanation as to what motivates her.
Honesty too. “Yeah, I discipline myself to meet the customer’s needs, and if I commit to a delivery then it’s up to me to get it there on schedule. And I’ll make sure it’s on the shelf and properly presented because I care about what I do.”
Outside her backdoor is what she describes as a postage-stamp-size garden. It’s a productive patch sprouting tomatoes, cucumbers, wild garlic, herbs and wild flowers from every nook and cranny.
In her aroma-infused kitchen, there’s a huge stock pot, utensils, jars and a library of recipe books that are the tools of Liz’s craft. From this humble workstation she takes her wares to places like the Claregalway market. Last Christmas, her stall at a pop-up shop was an amazing success. A communicator par-excellence, she’s an engaging storyteller who eloquently waxes her own pitch best.
‘Made with love in Caherlistrane’ is printed on her product labelling, and it’s a sentiment she remains ever true to. Love is the secret seasoning she zests her recipes with. Lizzy’s Homemade Jams and Chutneys are now making Liz Loftus another household name in shops, markets and cafes far beyond a Caherlistrane kitchen.
She knew the day she first set foot here it was where she was destined to be.
From Carlastran. Where Dolores Keane comes from too.