From junk to jam: 5 minutes in the kitchen with Rubies in the Rubble

Posted by Ella Buchan on 11 May 2016

Jenny Dawson left and Alicia Lawson HERO.jpg

When passionate foodie Jenny Dawson launched Rubies in the Rubble it couldn’t have been further away from her old life.

A former hedge fund manager, Jenny walked away from the money markets to start making her own chutneys and conserves – with a twist. She would only use produce that would otherwise end up on the scrapheap.

Committed to spreading the message of sustainability and reducing food waste, Jenny also runs a blog with recipe ideas and tips for using up leftovers. Within a year she had been joined by business partner Alicia Lawson and the business was beginning to boom.

Together they share Sainsbury’s ‘Waste less, Save more’ vision of drastically reducing the amount of food we throw away and helping people to change the way they think in the kitchen.

Rubies in the Rubble

We chatted to Jenny, based in London, about scouting around for used jam jars and loving ‘ugly’ vegetables.

What’s the idea behind Rubies in the Rubble?

“Right from the beginning I was passionate about creating a premium brand that truly celebrated nature and everything that we have.

Our aim is to raise awareness about the need to value our food supply – seeing it as a precious, natural resource rather than a cheap commodity."

Rubies in the Rubble

What inspired you to set up the company?

“The idea for Rubies in the Rubble came after a very early morning visit to a wholesale fruit and veg market on my bike one frosty day in November 2010.

I fell in love with the market - such a diverse range of people living by night and sleeping by day. A world of farmers, wholesalers, restaurant owners and market sellers trading anything from durians to Brussels sprouts. But just along from the bustle of the traders were the piles of unwanted fruit and veg - mangetout from Kenya, mangoes from the Philippines, tomatoes from Turkey, cranberries from California - which bypassed the bustle of traders and headed straight for the bin.

What really saddened me was that many of these, though potentially with a short shelf life, were perfectly edible.

I did some research and found we are wasting a third of all the food we produce, while 1 billion go to bed hungry.

My part of the solution was to create a premium food brand, making delicious products from fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded."

Rubies in the Rubble

How has the business progressed?

“We started in charity kitchens in London, using them when they were free in the evenings and weekends, and collecting old jam jars from cafés and restaurants, cut-off materials for labels and selling our medley of various-shaped jars on market stalls.

We then built a porta-cabin kitchen on site at New Spitalfields Market in 2012 and had two fun years working with unsold produce from the market. In 2014, we reached the capacity of our kitchen and started working directly with large-scale farmers."

Rubies in the Rubble

How do you source your ingredients?

“We work directly with farmers and packhouses to take fruit and veg that fails aesthetic standards, or is simply in glut.

We work with the seasons and oddities, I suppose. Just because a farmer has a great apple harvest doesn’t mean the demand for apples goes up to meet it. Or an oversized pear, a banana off the bunch or tomatoes that are too ripe to sit on a shop shelf for 14 days, waiting for a buyer.

We’re not talking about bad food. It’s about taking the best, but sometimes the ripest or the oddly shaped one from the field that currently doesn’t have a place in our supply chain."

Rubies in the Rubble

Are people often surprised to hear about how the chutneys are made?

“People really resonate with unnecessary food waste and have got behind the brand. But that’s partly down to my mother’s chutney recipes – they’re pretty addictive."

Rubies in the Rubble

Have you always been frugal in the kitchen?

“Yes! My sister would always tell me off for not slicing up wrinkled carrots, leftover mushrooms or apples that were on their last legs and mixing them into her salads. I’ve always loved trying to make the best of everything we have and making sure nothing is wasted."

What advice would you give to people wanting to cut down on food waste?

"Know what’s in your fridge when you shop. Plan recipes or meals around what you have.

Get creative, substitute veg or grains in recipes to incorporate what you have. Use your freezer well.”

Rubies in the Rubble

What do you think of the Sainsbury's ‘Waste less, Save more’ campaign?

“I love it. It’s a great way of helping people think of ideas to use their leftovers and shop more efficiently.”

What's your favourite recipe using leftovers?

“Banana ice cream is delicious, or these veg peel crisps.”

Rubies in the Rubble

Any clever storage or preserving tips for people wanting to use up lots of leftovers?

“I always feel people don’t use their freezers enough – they keep everything fresh for the time you need it so there’s never a reason for throwing away half a loaf or extra stew. Make fruit or veg into a fruit compote or soup and freeze it for another day. We have a guide to using your freezer here.”

Are there any ingredients that work well in chutney that might surprise people?

“Nuts! Fruit, nuts and cheese are a great combo. Adding some roasted nuts to your chutney works a treat. My favourite is roasting walnuts for a pear chutney - perfect for cheese!”


Like this? Then try these: 

Revolutionary free app to help Swadlincote save food

Food waste: what you need to know

Why do we throw away so much food?