It was 10 am and chucking it down, I was sat in my car at the troublesome roundabout of Ditching where a rogue lorry had bought the village to a lengthy standstill for the best part of an hour. Prior to that I had been rooting around under the kitchen sink looking for the stop cock for the water supply thanks to an ill fitted washing machine. I was cursing myself for booking a Spotlight visit in so close to moving house. But as I weaved the car through the beautiful lanes of Fulking into Edburton, with the unmistakable views of the downs watching over me and a loom of smoke rising above my destination I knew my testing journey there would be worth it. I was almost an hour late but yet when I entered the vast shop at Spring's Salmon I was greeted with nothing but friendliness and warmth by Paul who was to show me around this traditional Sussex smokery.
Knowing nothing about the processes of smoking salmon, I hadn't known what I was going to ask about this traditional family business but I needn't have worried - Paul was so passionate about the business he ran me through everything. All I could do was occasionally scribble a few things down in-between marvelling at this incredible place.
Nothing has changed in the way Springs do things - their smoking processes haven't changed in their 50 years. They still use the original oak wood (sourced from Arundel) fired smokers - they salt and prepare the fish the same way they have always done, the only thing different is that the team is smaller. As is such the story for so many traditional businesses - they find it hard to compete to supermarkets. And as I watched Paul open the hood to that smoker I vowed never to buy smoked salmon in the supermarket again.
The smells and sights of these outside burners will always stay in my mind. Paul was so giving and open with his knowledge and while I tried to juggle wanted to listen to every word he said and capture every tuft of smoke rising into the gorgeous textures of the burners I found it difficult to take it all in!
Rising above the back of the site are the amazing South Downs - sheep graze on what looks like a vertical ledge and upon mentioning it, Paul told me that Spring's tried opening a shop in Guildford except as soon as the regulars learned of the Sussex site they would shun the Guildford shop and drive down south for a hit of countryside and fish all at the same time! Those Guildford customers still form a fair part of Spring's loyal customers.
Spring's was formed in 1964 by Geoffrey and Josephine Harris when they had a holiday with Josephine's father, who had a smoking business in Suffolk. They promptly retuned to Edburton, built some smoking kilns and turned the old forge into their work premises. Spring's is now run by their sons David and Martin Harris.
With the name you'd be forgiven for thinking Spring's only smoke salmon but it transpires that actually it only makes up part of their business. Regular orders from restaurants such as Riddle & Finn's allow them to smoke more regularly which is an ideal situation. Riddles & Finn's pate is made with mackerel from Spring's and they also supply smoked chicken, duck and various other meat and fish to Sussex restaurants and chefs.
Spring's use Atlantic Salmon from Scotland and it interested me to hear there is an 8 week window in which trade buy their stock and the longer they leave it in that period the prices go down so some wait until the middle to find a balance between safe and affordable where others risk it to buy it at the lowest price but in smaller amounts. Spring's estimate how much they'll need and bid at the right time to match their requirements and budget. Paul told me that 2014 hasn't been a great year and they expect to sell out of their salmon before Christmas.
Once bought their stock is frozen straight away before smoking. When required it is bought out from the freeze and the smoking process begins - the smoking process takes around 24-36 hours, depending on the weather. If the weather is wet, it takes a bit longer because of the damp in the air. Spring's use oak as their smoking wood of choice and it's sourced from nearby Arundel. There are no artificial colours or preservatives used in any of the curing at Spring's.
The fish then go in for filleting before salting which can take between 12-18 hours. There's a team of around 15 people on site that ensure the smooth running of Spring's, from the smoking process to fulfilling orders and keeping the shop stocked and deliveries going out on time.
I left Spring's with an arm full of salmon, whole smoked mackerel and some other fish I bought from their freezers. I am the kind of person who tries many different types of the same food to see which is king and I'm reigning this smoked salmon - it is incredible. I've always liked smoked salmon, enjoying knowing the nutrition I get from it, but I always tended to cook as the texture always made me feel a bit metal on teeth. However, it feels like a disservice to cook Spring's salmon - it's melt in the mouth and I'd happily eat it on it's own.
The price is similar to supermarkets but the quality and quantity in each pack outweighs the competition by a long mile. For a 227g pack of farmed salmon it's £6 and for the same sized organic salmon it's £8.95. Spring's weren't able to provide me with a list of Sussex suppliers (I bought some from Towning's) but I implore you to give them a visit and fill your freezer (and cupboards with their larder produce) - I'll bet you join me never buying smoked salmon in the supermarket again. While you're there why not don your wellies and take a little walk, stopping at the Royal Oak - who source some of their meat and fish from Spring's.
More about their shop here.
Formally Emma Gutteridge