Oh! My Giddy Aunt: preserving British traditions

A lifetime of collecting and a summer’s glut of fresh produce led documentary film maker Christine (Chris) Hall to kick off a unique small business that’s preserving British traditions and proving to be extremely popular.

Oh! My Giddy Aunt combines two of Chris’ favourite past times – making jams and preserves from recipes contained in cookbooks passed through the generations, and gift bundling them with vintage jam pots and spoons she’s collected from flea markets, car boot sales and antique fairs. Chris says “I feel like I’ve set up a sort of orphanage for unwanted vintage pots, giving each piece a new lease of life and, most importantly a new home.” Here’s how Oh! My Giddy Aunt got off the ground:

A Day in the Life of Chris Hall

When was Oh! My Giddy Aunt born?

I started getting the business underway in June 2015 and my first sale was at the Bermondsey Street Festival in September. I sold out of almost everything on my stall that day and knew then that my idea was one well worth pursuing.

Have you always worked independently or owned a business? 

Oh! My Giddy Aunt is really just a hobby that I’ve turned into a small business. I’ve spent the last 30 years making documentaries – firstly at the BBC, and then for the last 10 years I’ve run my own independent production company, Uppercut Films, with my husband. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing people and to have told some really important stories. I’ve recently given up directing and have taken more of a producers role which allows me to spend more time making jam and scouring the markets for vintage bargains. Thankfully, I love both jobs.

Giddy Aunt Jams

So starting Oh! My Giddy Aunt was quite a tangent for you?

Oh! My Giddy Aunt is a complete diversion and allows me to indulge in some of my favourite pastimes. I’ve had so many food-related ideas over the years and done nothing with them so my husband, tired of all the talk, encouraged me to put this one into practice.

What’s your biggest selling variety of jam?

Raspberry is always a favourite as well as rhubarb, but last year there was a glut of wild damsons in the Sussex hedgerows, so  the Damson jam was a great surprise for a lot of people. When they tasted it’s wonderful bitter sweet flavour they were hooked. The flavour is incredibly intense and works equally well on a fruit scone as it does alongside a chunk of cheese.

Oh My Giddy Aunt Jam

Where do you mostly sell Oh! My Giddy Aunt Products?

I regularly set up a stall on the first weekend of every month inside LASSCO Ropewalk as part of the Maltby Street Market. I have other markets and vintage fairs lining up and details of these can be found on my website. As soon as I get the packaging right to post the delicate china I’ll be setting up an online store.

Tell us about any new or interesting projects you’re working on right now?

I’ve recently sourced some stunning vintage biscuit barrels. These are beautiful British-made objects that are well worth celebrating. So now I’m testing recipes for home-made biscuits to sell with the barrels – presented in a beautiful gift box – ready in time for Easter.

Oh! My Giddy Aunt Jams

What do you love most about your job?

I’ve never considered my work a ‘job’ as such but have spent my entire life finding ways to earn a living out of the things I’m passionate about. Yes, there are days when you’ve got to concentrate on the accounts or make tricky decisions, but mostly it’s about having fun, doing what you love and sharing your enthusiasm with like-minded folk.

What’s your biggest achievement?

This isn’t specifically jam-related, but I was honoured to receive a BAFTA award for the first series of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares that I made with Gordon Ramsay for Channel 4 in 2004. All these years later I find myself remembering some simple lessons Gordon taught me: keep it simple, use the freshest ingredients, and maintain a close eye on the details.

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few …

I have many collections of different things. My current favourite collection is a set (well actually three sets) of stunning Maling lustreware sundae dishes dating from the 1950s. The colours are divine and the lustre glaze makes everything you serve in them look amazing.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection?

The things I treasure the most have to be my parents’ wedding invitation and cake decorations from July 1952. They sit in a cabinet of curiosities I have in my London flat that also contains an assortment of weird and wonderful gifts such as a tiny box full of dried beetles with iridescent shells, a pair of aboriginal sticks used to ward off evil spirits, and a 3D ‘Stereoscope’ viewer from the 1900’s (with a collection of stereoscope cards).

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

Listen to your heart and don’t let others talk you out of something you feel passionate about.

Your secret tip or go-to ingredient in the kitchen?

I never use artificial flavours or pectin in my jams. Instead I keep a container in my freezer where I store lemon pips and use those in a muslin bag to add natural pectin to my preserves.

Who’s your #khoollectcrush?

Designer Paul Smith – I love his classic tailoring and his twist on the conventional. I made a documentary about Anna Wintour many years ago and, knowing how critical she can be about people’s dress sense, I was nervous about what I’d wear to our first meeting. I wanted to look professional but elegant at the same time so I decided on a Paul Smith suit – classically British but incredibly stylish. Anna gave me the once over, smiled and made no comment which as far as I was concerned was a compliment. I also adore Paul Smith’s Mayfair shop which stocks some of the incredible collections of eclectic vintage items he sources – furniture, art, sculptures and homewares. I dream one day of having the ability (and the cash) to own them all.

Urban Favourites

Where do you call home?

I’m lucky to have two homes – one in Bermondsey and the another in Sussex. I love them equally.

What do you love most about it?

Bermondsey gives me the vibrancy of a city with the intimacy of a village, and some of the most amazing food producers around. Borough Market and Maltby Street are on my doorstep – what’s not to love! Sussex is where I relax and indulge in my favourite pastimes – walking the dog, gardening, foraging and cooking.

Your favourite place for coffee?

Fernandez and Wells in Beak Street. They source the most delicious single-origin beans for their coffee, the staff are lovely and I can take my dog in there too, so it ticks lots of boxes.

Best spot for dinner?

Galvins Bistro if I’m in work mode, Palomar for a fun night out with the girls, and our local country pub, the Sussex Ox, for good pub grub in a relaxed setting.

How do you spend a lazy Sunday?

A long walk with the dog on the South Downs (a magical place with some of the most exhilarating views the South coast has to offer), late breakfast by the Aga listening to Desert Island Discs, an afternoon movie in front of a roaring log fire and dinner with my husband.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Manhattan in the 1950s.

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