Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine

The best guilt-free snacking

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Shirlee Posner introduces essence readers to a very timely and healthy producer of alternative snacks – Cut and Dried Fruit based in Ockley.

In a garden nestled in the Surrey Hills is a purpose-built kitchen. The back wall is home to a row of small commercial dehydrators. Each dehydrator contains tray upon tray of fruits and vegetables slowly drying at 50°C. The low heat gently evaporates moisture to leave layers of perfectly crisp, nutrient-packed vegetable and fruit crisps. Packed, sealed and delivered to farm shops in Surrey and sold direct at Ockley Farmers Market, Cut and Dried Fruit’s small business has slowly been gathering speed and this year it’s ready to blossom.

The world is full of crispy, salty snacks that those of us wanting to follow a healthy diet try to avoid at all costs. Cut and Dried Fruit has resisted the urge to deep fry and spray on salt and sugar-laden flavour powders; instead the company set itself the task of producing a range of 100% fruit and vegetable crisps which are dried over a 24 to 36 hour period resulting in colourful, flavour-packed crisps that are, well, just cut and dried.

Fruits and vegetables have a high water content, so the yield is 20g of dried product for around every 200g of fresh product. This represents a pretty efficient way of packing in an individual’s five a day! Drying carried out at low temperatures over a long period means the nutritional integrity of the food is retained too. Once water has been removed, the products crisp up giving a crunchy texture and satisfying mouth feel.
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I came across this company nearly six years ago when Cut and Dried Fruit was the subject of one of my first blog posts. Well overdue for an update, I caught up with owners Claire and Mike Esposito and was delighted to find that whilst the packaging and logo might have changed slightly, the ethos behind Cut and Dried Fruit has not budged an inch.

For the original article, I visited the garden kitchen which had just been installed with a small business grant. The spotlessly clean kitchen had a workbench for preparing raw product and was kitted out with a food processor, sink, prep area and a wall of dehydrators. I visited on beetroot prep day, one of the messiest vegetables of all time to prepare (plastic gloves are a must), and is the only product in the company’s range that has an extra ingredient: vinegar, which Mike says gives an added layer of desirable flavour. All the products are washed, peeled and sliced prior to drying with the food processor offering consistent slice thickness and speed. The most labour intensive element of the task is single layering the raw product, preferably not overlapping, so it dries out and maintains shape. Strawberries and pears seem to behave themselves better than parsnips, carrots and kale, which curl up and form unruly twists and swirls. After drying, products are removed from the machines, cooled completely, packed and labelled.

While I watched Mike cutting and layering, he told me that he and his wife Claire had started a similar business in South Africa before fleeing from unrest in 1991. It was just before the referendum and there had been attacks on families and farmers close to where they lived. With both Claire and Mike having British parents, they also had British passports. Leaving all their belongings behind, they arrived with just two suitcases to start a new life. Claire says they were driving in the Surrey Hills near Dorking after seeing a rental property and just fell in love with the area. At the start, the couple fitted their business around full-time jobs and two young children. However, when Mike’s contract ended, he decided to concentrate on Cut and Dried while Claire carried on working.
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During my first visit, I got to know the products and I would not have been surprised that in the difficult economic climate small producers have faced in the last few years that this small business might have been a casualty. I am delighted to see it hasn’t and I get the feeling this might be Mike and Claire’s time to flourish. There has been a growth in plant based diets and a trend towards clean eating has been accelerating rapidly over the last couple of years. It seemed timely that my first article for 2018 should tap into the ‘New Year, New You’ health drive.

In the few weeks leading up to Christmas, I noticed that Cut and Dried Fruit had a new Instagram feed and a lot more posts on social media. Meeting up with Mike at a food fair last November, he explained that his wife Claire, who helped him start up all those years ago, was now working full time with him. They have revisited their product range, changed the logo and added new lines. The business is in a new phase of evaluation and the future is looking rosy with both of them now for the first time focusing on growing the business.

Cut and Dried Fruit’s unique selling points are that the products are low in fat and calories, high in fibre and preservative free. This is guilt-free snacking at its finest as the crisps are great to serve with dips and are also gluten free and vegan. Perfect for use in lunchboxes, at picnics, for snacking, garnishing soups and topping salads, they can also be added to baked goods (see the featured recipe for beetroot, thyme and Feta muffins), dipped in chocolate or just eaten straight from the pack.

Claire, more recently, has started to create a product line using the dried fruits and vegetables. In January, the couple launched gluten free quiche for their most local farm shop (Village Greens) in three delicious combinations: spinach and mushroom, spicy butternut squash and carrot and Mediterranean mix, also using local eggs and cheese. Other new products include granola bars, chocolate dipped fruit, fondue sets and Claire says there are plenty more ideas on the way.

All the products made by Cut and Dried Fruit are small batch and a great example of true cottage industry. For the fruits and vegetables, the flavour does vary somewhat batch by batch and during the season, but we can live with that, it’s the way of nature.

For details of stockists, see the website (details below) or meet the producers Mike and Claire at Ockley Farmers Market on the first Sunday of each month.
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Riedel Veritas Sparkling Wine and Champagne Glass Masterclass: Valentines 14th February
The masterclass explains that the Champagne saucer and the flute are not good vessels for smelling and tasting Champagnes or similar sparkling wines. In fact, we want to show the future of Champagne enjoyment with Riedel’s Veritas range. Maximilian Riedel’s goal is to make Champagne flutes ‘obsolete’.

The evening tasting will show three different wines with different glasses, plus some light food to enhance the wines. The two Champagne and two New World Pinot Noir glasses used during the event per person are included in the price to take home. Glassware total RRP £110 per person. Tickets are £120 per head, £200 per couple, £360 per group of four people. Buying tickets in advance is essential as places are limited to 40. Contact Gautam and Raz at 1853 on 01932 428604 to purchase tickets between 11am and 7pm Tuesday to Saturday, or pop in

The 1853 Wine Shop
The Coach House, 2 Heath Road, Weybridge KT13 8TB
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Beetroot, thyme and Feta muffins
I love savoury muffins and these contain two of my favourite ingredients, beetroot and feta. Earthy, salty and with a hint of thyme in the batter, these are perfect served with fresh homemade soup. I use gluten free flour here as most of the people I know seem to prefer it, but use regular if it’s not an issue for you. Everything I bake nowadays is gluten free and luckily flours and mixes today are so good the results are never compromised. I add beetroot crisps into the mix and reserve a few for the topping too!

Makes 12 large muffins

350g gluten-free self-raising flour
One teaspoon baking powder
One teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
250ml milk
250ml plain yogurt
Three eggs
100g butter, melted and cooled
40g cut and dried beetroot crisps (reserve a few for the topping)
100g diced cooked beetroot (not in vinegar), drained on kitchen towel
200g Feta, chopped into small pieces
Two dessertspoons of chopped fresh thyme
Sea salt and ground black pepper

• Preheat the oven to 180°C, fan 160°C, gas 4. Place 12 large muffin liners into a muffin tin.
• Place the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl and combine.
• In a large jug or bowl, whisk the milk, yogurt, eggs and melted butter. Then add this to the flour mixture. Stir everything together well and season with salt and pepper.
• Mix the grated beetroot, beetroot crisps, Feta cheese and chopped thyme into the mixture.
• Divide the mixture among the muffin cases, making sure that some of the pieces of cheese sit on the top of each muffin. Break up the beetroot crisps and add some to the top of each muffin.
• Bake the muffins for 20–30 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or cold.
• These will keep for a couple of days, but are best, of course, served on the day they are made, preferably when they have cooled.

Shirlee Posner,
essence info
Cut and Dried Fruit
2 St. Aubyns Cottages, Coles Lane, Ockley, Surrey RH5 5SX
Telephone: 01306 711587

Shirlee Posner is a food writer and blogger at and provides social media management, web copywriting and food photography.

While I watched Mike cutting and layering, he told me that he and his wife Claire had started a similar business in South Africa before fleeing from unrest in 1991.