Getting to know ‘The Woman Next Door’

Sarah-Jane Bell attaches a label to one of her homemade jams.
Sarah-Jane Bell attaches a label to one of her homemade jams.

In this all too frantic world, Sarah-Jane Bell offers a refreshing perspective on food.

With a love of all things homemade, she wants to inspire others to enjoy and appreciate cooking and eating experiences. Originally from Kent, but now living just outside Ballycastle, Sarah-Jane’s love of food was inspired by a year spent in France as a student.

“This year really opened the doors for me in terms of food - to try new things and tastes. It opened my eyes to cooking and how we can socialise through food,” she said.

After completing her degree, Sarah-Jane began working in Human Resources before choosing to settle in Ballycastle with her husband, John.

She continued to nurture her love of cooking and decided to set up a blog to share her ideas and experiences with others. With a focus on simplicity, and a belief that anyone can cook, craft and grow, Sarah assumed the title of ‘The Woman Next Door’.

“I wanted it to be clear that I am just a regular person. I’m just me and I hope the things I’m talking about people find useful and helpful,” she said.

The blog was Sarah-Jane’s first step at sharing her food experiences in a public way, but it was a Mother’s Day present which encouraged her to take this further.

Among a hamper of homemade goodies she was putting together, there was a pot of strawberry and pink cava jam. This piqued the interest of many of her followers who wanted to try it for themselves.

Before long, Sarah-Jane found herself with a stall at the Naturally North Coast and Glens Artisan Market, where her products proved to be a resounding success.

Joining the Market was a turning point for Sarah-Jane. Not only did it help her reach new customers, she was able to form valuable connections with other traders.

“It’s a fantastic network to be involved with, and I feel very much a part of it,” she said.

Sarah-Jane remains a committee member of the Market, and also belongs to Causeway Coast and Glens Food Network.

Having started off with a single pot of jam, her products are now stocked in the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre which attracts close to one million visitors every year.

Sarah Jane’s love of the handmade is matched by a commitment to seasonal produce, and she aims to use local fruit as much as possible.

“The Casement family at Magherintemple have a beautiful walled garden where I’ve got plums and raspberries. They are so kind to me. It’s a stunning garden and the children love coming with me to help with the picking. A lot of people give me damsons as well, and I’ve even had people stop me in the street to ask if I’m the ‘Jam Lady’ so they can give me fruit they have growing at home. My flavours have evolved depending on what items I’ve received,” she said.

Sarah-Jane’s time in France is also the inspiration behind her ‘Apero Club’ evenings. Based on the French pre-dining tradition, they offer a combination of socialising, making and eating as she explains: “I try to do it on a different theme every time so I have an Autumnal evening coming up and festive events planned for December. We break off into pairs, with each making something for the group to eat.

“It’s a different eating experience and it really encourages people to get together. I want people to realise they can make nice things, and it’s even better to do this with others,” she said.

You can follow Sarah Jane’s blog online at www.thewomannextdoor.co.uk or via Facebook and Twitter.

For more information about Causeway Coast and Glens Food Network go to www.causewaycoastandglens.gov.uk/foodnetwork or email foodnetwork@causewaycoastandglens.gov.uk