My name is Shirley Jarman and I founded Eggardon Country Cooks along with my business partner and life-long friend Judi Gifford in 2016. Judi came up with our name when we took over and renovated a small unit at Brown’s Farm near Nettlecombe which lies at the foothill of Eggardon Hillfort in West Dorset.
Our food concept came from wanting to make a difference to the lives of people who required help with their meals by providing hot nutritious lunches that weren’t processed but cooked fresh every morning and delivered hot straight to the tables of our customers. Like a Meals on Wheels Service with good quality food and innovative menus. We wanted the food to be just like it used to be when food was simple, no food miles and of course in season.
Our partnership was a great combination, Judi worked with the NHS for many years working in social care. She worked in the community helping older people who needed extra help in their homes. She loved the interaction and relished the sense of doing something worthwhile. In the early days she played a crucial role by meeting up and connecting with our customers to assess their food issues and their requirements.
I have over forty years’ experience working within the catering industry and this has been my main profession throughout my life. I have worked my way through the ranks in restaurants, kitchens and cafes from washing dishes, chopping vegetables, cooking and all kinds of management. I lived in Berlin Germany for fifteen years in the eighties and nineties which introduced me to world cuisines and different food cultures. My last job was working as a Senior Food & Beverage Manager for the National Trust at Studland Beach which is a fantastic place to work and I have loved for many years.
My passion and understanding for fresh food came at an early age as I was brought up with my two brothers on an arable farm in rural Lincolnshire. This was in the sixties where I remember my parents working all hours to keep our farm together but, in those days, money was always tight. I remember most of our meals consisted of the food my Dad provided each day from the fields such as rabbits, hares and pheasants. We foraged the hedgerows for edible berries and picked field mushrooms from the set aside meadows. The highlight of the week was when the baker, grocer or butcher drove up our lane in their vans to deliver our ordered goods. Once a month came the “corona man” who delivered bottles of ginger beer and pop! That was our treat for the month.
Around the farmhouse we had an enormous garden and grew all our own fruit & vegetables. During the growing season I witnessed my mother spending hours sowing, harvesting and tending the lovely vegetables that ended up on our plates. I still haven’t forgotten the taste of those fresh and unprocessed vegetables today. At harvest time we would all help pickle onions and red cabbage, make chutney and preserve what we could to make the produce last over the long winter months. It’s funny what sticks in your mind as a child growing up.
Eggardon Country Cooks has had its trials and tribulations and was never going to be an easy business to successfully develop. I was working full time for the National Trust which was a demanding job to say the least. I cooked in our kitchen during my two days off to keep the business ticking over. Christine joined us in 2017 and we were then able to trade for five days a week. We cooked our lunches and rallied our friends to try them out just to make sure we were providing the best quality hot lunch we possibly could.
Judi was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She initially beat the disease for a few years but unfortunately, she had to retire from her NHS role when the cancer returned. It soon progressed to a terminal status but bravely Judi continued as best she could delivering food and meeting our customers. Judi had a very strong personality, a sense of duty that you could only admire and she certainly refused to be beaten. Our partnership ended abruptly when she lost her fight in March 2019.
Everything stopped then for a while…
I finally decided to continue with the business during the summer of 2019. In November last year we had a fantastic opportunity to take over Lovely Lunches who were based in Symondsbury and had been providing hot lunches around the Bridport area for over nineteen years. This was the business injection we needed and since then we haven’t looked back!
We now have a fantastic team of people who are all dedicated to our cause, whether its cooking or prepping the food or out delivering our Lovely Lunches to all our lovely customers.