Ruth Calder-Potts has worked in the Arts for over 10 years in various different disciplines, Actress, Theatre Director, Theatre Production and Artistic Director of the Photography Company, Awestruck Productions.
Alongside the arts her other passion is food. This isn’t surprising as it’s in the blood! She was brought up on an organic apple tree farm in Co. Kilkenny - Highbank Orchards. At Highbank they produce organic apple based products such as apple Gin, Vodka, Brandy, Apple Syrup, cider and of course apple juice.
Growing up in a family who puts traceable, sustainable, slow food at the forefront of their ethos has given Ruth a real appreciation of great food, producers, chefs, restaurants and other creatives, not only in the food business but in all creative areas.
Her background has given her a great platform to see images in different ways and create authentic images that show the humans behind the brand. So it was no wonder that she has produced the most elegant of cookbooks for Highbank Orchards, where she has opened their orchards to our kitchen with her first volume. The beautifully self-published illustrated cookbook is packed with recipes on how to use the simple ‘apple’ in our cooking.
Ruth’s parents Rod and Julie are true food heroes and are continuously putting Kilkenny on the foodie map. The family planted their very first apple orchards in 1969 and have been farming organic for the past 35 years. Ruth had a magical childhood growing up on this farm with her brother Hylton and it was a story I just had to tell…
Ruth, what’s your typical day like?
Morning: When I get up I like to try and get in a morning yoga practice to start my day. That does not always pan out if I have an early morning shoots but I try to fit in in somewhere in my day. I always pop some Highbank Apple Cider vinegar in my water bottle when I leave the house. I know that sounds like I am plugging the company but its true! I'm not a morning person so it really helps get that metabolism going.
Lunch: Lunch is always different, it depends if I am in the office or out on a photoshoot. As I am a food and lifestyle photographer I am always in different places and so lunch is an adventure. I love my food (probably why I am a food photographer!) and experiencing what chefs are doing so I try to get to as many places as I can, work or no work!
Evening: If I'm home in the evening I love to chill by reading up about new recipes and testing them out on my boyfriend Jamie, (he is an honest critic).
So where did the love of apples come from?
Highbank’s first apple orchards were planted by my family, in 1969, to compliment the hop gardens. We were the first people to grow hops in Ireland. The fertile Kilkenny limestone soils are uniquely suited to produce delicious apples and apple juice organically. The farm has been in the family for generations.
The varieties of apples are specially chosen for their juicing properties which are uniquely complex and full of health giving vitamins and minerals.
As artisan producers, we do know our apples. All of our production is to the strictest of organic standards. No chemicals are sprayed on the apples, neither are any herbicides or chemical fertilizers used. GMOs are shunned to the extent that they avoid the use manure from animals fed on GM food.
Why turn organic?
We turned organic 35 years ago. Dad had a very interesting aha moment. When my brother Hylton was two, he was running around on the farm and he found pesticide and drank it. Somewhere in the back of my Dad’s mind, he remembered if soil was put down the back of the throat it would neutralise it. So he did and he rushed my brother to the hospital where the doctors pumped his stomach and he was thankfully okay. The soil saved him, the doctor said if Dad hadn’t done that, he would have died.
Dad started to think, if that’s what this pesticide can do in its pure form, what the hell is it doing to the trees and soil that we are spraying. From then on, my parents began the process of turning the farm organic.
You recently joined the family business. Why?
My path is full of bends, I thought I wanted to act. I studied Drama and History of Art in the UK and spent two years in New York acting school. In Ireland, I acted in theatre and fairly quickly went into teaching, directing, producing and working on film for 5 years.
Then I met a fantastic photographer and we set up a business Awestruck Productions. Long story short, I started up a health tonic business after that, which was also the first business to bring me back to food. I started doing food photography and it was the first time ever I saw Highbank from the outside eye because I was in the food area. The amount of respect Highbank has in the industry is incredible.
A lot of people asked why I was not working with my family? Eventually, I couldn’t answer anymore why. So I talked to my parents about coming back and working with the family, as I could see a hole – in what they are lacking and in what I thought I could fill.
We had a meeting, a proper one, where business woman mum came out. It wasn’t a parent talking to a child anymore. That was August 2019 and I told them a big thing that people are asking about was how to use the Highbank apple syrup, vinegar and all our products.
Hence the cookery book was born?
It started as a leaflet! Then I wanted to do it right, so it become this 76 page cookbook that I am very proud of. It’s not just a cookbook, it’s the story of Highank that encapsulates the farm. Its fool proof for the non-cook and is interesting enough for chefs. It also has family recipes from our South African heritage, all using apples and our products in some form.
What was it like growing up on the exordinary Highbank Farm?
When I was growing up on the farm, we sold Christmas Trees. So there was Santa and a Reindeer flying school in apple orchards! I thought everyone grew up like this. When I left, I was quite surprised to find out they didn’t. Especially when I moved to New York and everyone was living in quite small accommodation.
Before we went to school, every morning we had to muck out the horses. At Christmas, we were cutting down Christmas trees and at the age of 15, I started my own café on the farm. I run it with my friend Julie, who lived across the road. I made flapjacks and her mum made angel cakes, because it was getting busier and busier, I was making flapjacks every night!
Santa was my grandfather who wondered around and word got out that we had a free Santa. So people started to come to see him and the reindeer flying school which Dad set up on an island on the lake. It was magical.
Creativity runs in the family. Your grandmother is quite a famous artist?
Yes she is. Doreen Brown has had lots of exhibitions in her day. She lives on the farm and if you visit her, she will try to sell you a few paintings! Interestingly, she had a stroke a few years ago, and her painting completely changed, but are still gorgeous.
The beautifully coffee table and kitchen worthy Cookbook is for sale in Kilkenny’s Book Centre, The Little Green Grocer and at Highbank Orchards and retails for only €12.