Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sharon's Food Heroes: Take Three

It was the enthusiasm that struck me first. There she was, smiling behind her stand in SuperValu, urging passers-by to try her jellies. None of them could resist. When faced with the energetic Melanie Harty, few people can. And once you've admitted defeated and tasted one of her hot pepper jellies, she's got you in her clutches forever.

Since that day I met Melanie in the supermarket, a slice of hot toast spread with cheese and topped with her ginger hot pepper jelly has now become one of my favourite snacks.  The sweetness of the sugar combined with the sweet peppers and the warmth and depth of the ginger and chillies set off by a tangy, salty cheese - I can't think of a better stop-gap between meals. 

While I tasted her jellies that day in the supermarket, I also asked Melanie about her passion for food.  It turns out that she's originally from Tralee but moved to America in the 1980s where she worked in the food industry.  It was here that she first came across hot pepper jellies, which are very popular there, particularly in the spicy, home cooking of Texas and other southern states.

"They love using them in barbeques, in marinades, dips and sauces and with cold meats and cheeses," says Melanie.

She decided to learn how to make her own and once she had perfected her recipes, she brought her hot pepper and jalapeno jellies to farmers' markets, including the Eastern Market on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  It wasn't long before her jellies - made from entirely natural, simple ingredients - had lots of fans.

"When I returned to Ireland in 1996, I saw that sweet chilli sauce was getting popular," she says.  "That made me think there might be a market for my jellies."

But she didn't start making them immediately.  Instead, she focussed on setting up a restaurant in her home town of Tralee.  The Cookery became an award-winning success, but ten years later, Melanie needed a change.
"I wanted a work/life balance," she explains.  "With the restaurant, it was all work and no balance."

So, once again Melanie returned to her jellies.  Making them at home, she started selling them at markets in Kerry and Cork.  And she found she loved it.
"My passions are food and talking to people," she says.  "This is a great way for me to bring the two together."

She now has six jellies in her range: ginger hot pepper, jalapeno pepper, char-grilled pepper, hot pepper, cranberry and cranberry hot pepper.

And I don't seem to be the only one who likes them either.  Harty's Jellies have won two Shop Awards, Bridgestone Awards and the best emerging food product award at the 2010 Listowel Food Fair.  

I'm looking forward to trying all of the jellies and if you see them for sale, you should try them too.  In fact, if you happen to meet Melanie while she is handing out samples in supermarkets, you won't be able to resist. 

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