If you go down to the woods today you might spot the appropriately named Charlotte Flower foraging among the trees and hedgerows for wild flowers to flavour the handmade chocolates she makes at her home near Aberfeldy. Depending on the time of year, her bars, thins and shards will be infused with Scots pine, elderflower, sea buckthorn, meadowsweet and the like as she endeavours to source ingredients as close to home as possible.
With a background in forestry and community natural resource management, she knows what she’s looking for but can still spend two or three hours a day foraging, depending on the ingredient she’s after. “Beech nuts take a long time to pick, and the squirrels watch me doing that – they don’t like it. But I’m not taking much so it’s ethical and sustainable, which is something I’ve always been interested in,” she says.
“With wild ingredients, it’s very seasonal. That’s why the box scheme is good, where people buy a year of chocolate and every month get a box of what I’ve been able to collect. In autumn its chocolate with sea buckthorn from Gullane, and in summer it might be wild garlic or meadowsweet.”
Given the somewhat dreich Scottish climate, Flower has to go further afield for the rest of her ingredients. She is currently using African and South American cocoa but is just back from a trip to Indonesia, where she was attempting to source quality cocoa beans in accordance with her commitment to using ethical ingredients. “I’ve always been interested in fair trade, and the only way to shorten supply chains is to know the people in it,” she says.
“I was in Bali and Lampung, Sumatra, and brought back beans both from a large plantation and a smallholder who has very good cocoa, so I’m hoping we can work together using the beans from their new fermentary.
“Although it’s an important crop for smallholders and they are very good producers, the market is sewn up by the really big players like Mars and Nestlé, who don’t pay good prices. I don’t know if I’m big enough to make any difference whatsoever, but I would like to work with them long-term. I will pay a higher price but it has to be economical and it has to be good chocolate. I only want to sell chocolate that is delicious,” she says.
After working abroad for ten years in Cameroon, Namibia and Nepal, then returning to Scotland with her husband and young family to settle in Perthshire, Flower worked in a poverty programme for Oxfam before she “fell into chocolate”, a career move many chocoholics would wish to emulate. “I have always been interested in wild food and wondered if I could use it in chocolate, so I did a one-day course in chocolate-making then experimented with moulding, tempering and infusing flavours. I tested it on friends and family until I got it right,” she says.
Flower sells her products at farmers’ markets, food events and game fairs, and says people are happy to pay more for a hand-produced quality product. With more chocolate-makers appearing and increased understanding about single-origin chocolate and directly sourcing beans, the market is increasingly sophisticated.
Now, with the Christmas rush having begun, Flower is making chocolate all day every day for the next couple of months and has taken on an assistant to cope with demand. “It’s great as I was going slightly mad on my own, plus the tasting was a bit too much. I have definitely put on weight since I started making chocolate,” she says. •
Charlotte Flower Chocolates, from £4 a bar (www.charlotteflowerchocolates.co.uk)