I regularly come across new products that are being made and sold by people starting their own business but it isn’t often I find someone who is a little older, and should have retired years ago, creating a new business. But that is exactly what Alys O’Shea is doing with her Homemade.Kiwi range of dried foods.
She may be based in Marlborough but I think her story is worth telling, not just because she has started something new when she turned 21 (she was born on the 29th Feb) but because her products are incredibly tasty and available in Nelson.
I caught up with Alys a few weeks ago to find out what is driving her passion for this new range of products. She laughed when I asked her and she said “I used to make preserves when we had an orchard in the Wairau Valley and that started the idea of preserving food by drying it.”
Alys is in her early 80’s and tells me she has had lots of ups and downs in her life, “lots of dramas over the years, I have lost jobs as businesses changed hands or closed down and I had always said I was going to retire at 80 but not doing anything would drive me crazy.”
No matter what life has thrown at Alys she has always been able to immediately turn to something else, “I believe there is always something else to do rather than just wallow in my sorrows, you have to have faith in yourself and believe in what you’re doing. I lost my husband to cancer when he was young so I took my two young children (aged seven and five at the time) to a housekeeping job on a farm.
“The children and I settled into farm life really well and the country women were wonderful to me, they taught me so much, including the importance of living and eating well to survive on the farm. The farmer and shearers had to be fed!”
Alys loved the farm life so much she married a farmer (not the one she worked for) and spent the next 20 years working on the land. When a major downturn in farming came along they diversified into horticulture but the weather in the Wairau Valley wasn’t kind to the soft fruits (apricots and nectarines) they had planted and the stresses involved meant the end of the farm and the marriage.
And this is where I first crossed paths with Alys, even though we didn’t realise it until we chatted a couple of weeks ago. In the late 1990’s she applied for a job as a chef at a winery, Merlin Wines in Marlborough, and ended up learning about wine and working in the cellar door tasting room as well as the kitchen. We were regular visitors to Merlin Wines for lunch and to buy wine so it is inevitable that we met Alys and enjoyed her food during one of our visits.
Her love of cooking resulted in three cookbooks that all sold out, even after reprints, and she now has a large garden at home where she grows fruit and vegetables, “having come from a farming background I grow far more than we can eat and because I hate waste I needed to do something with the surplus so started dehydrating all sorts of things.”
With her new business Homemade.kiwi Alys produces a range including dehydrated fruits that you can use in smoothies or for snacking, packs for soups, vegetable packs you can use to add to casseroles, packs to make fritters that includes a spice bag she makes and even a dried frittata blend.
We make a frittata at home quite regularly so I wanted to know how she could make one using dehydrated products as they always have eggs in them. “All people need to add is the eggs to the dry ingredients or can use dehydrated eggs I make too, this makes them perfect to take tramping or as a quick easy meal to have in the pantry, on the boat in the caravan or camper van – all you need to do is add water.” She also makes a range of snack bars, including a hemp based bar.
A highlight of Alys’ products is that everything is homemade, including the curry powder used in some of the soups, and there are no preservatives and no added sugars in any of her products. They are simply packed with natural flavours and goodness. Alys says “with the dehydrated mandarins eat the skin too, it’s the most nutritious part of the fruit.
“I try and use the whole vegetable or fruit, with cauliflower I use the leaves and stems as well as the centre, there’s so much goodness in them and dehydration enhances the goodness by concentrating the good parts and just removes water.
“All you have to do is add water to bring them back to life, with the soup as well as adding water I also add a can of coconut cream to add richness and creaminess, especially to the ones with curry.”
If you are looking for a handcrafted, dehydrated meal to tuck away in the pantry, on the boat or to take tramping then I reckon you need to include Alys’ beautiful products in your shopping list. You will find them at the Farmers Market stall in Nelson, at the Marlborough Farmers Market or you can email her and she will send products to you. Alysoshea47@gmail.com