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Women in food: Sisters are doing it for themselves with Aikenshill Scullery baking business

A combination of granny’s recipes and a love of baking has seen Aikenshill Scullery sisters rise to the challenge with new business.

At less than a year old, budding entrepreneurs Sara and Jess Duthie have spent the last year trying to get the word out about their baking business, Aikenshill Scullery.

Starting an Instagram page to document their lockdown eating habits, the duo quickly found their followers asking them to make and sell the goodies they were posting.

Sara, who is 21, and Jess, 24, launched the business in April 2020 and have managed to build up a loyal following who regularly place orders with them.

Sisters Sara and Jess Duthie with Sara’s dog Fig.

Based in Foveran at their family farm Aikenshill Farm, the pair have worked hard perfecting their recipes and getting their products out to hungry customers looking for a sweet fix.

While Sara is the baker, Jess is involved heavily in the company, keeping orders up to date and mastering branding.

International Women’s Day’s week-long series of events outlines how important it is to get young women starting their own business.

While Jess is currently living in the Scottish borders having been stuck there since new restrictions on travel came in place because of the Coronavirus pandemic, Sara has been holding the fort and has managed to keep up with all of her orders.

A Victoria sponge cake in the making.

Jess said: “We actually started the page as a food blog to keep Sara and I motivated to make meals during lockdown. We wanted to stay creative at home and it encouraged us to post something every day.

“A few people messaged about the sweet things we had made if we would consider selling them. We did a poll on Instagram and 98% of the people who voted said ‘yes’. It hasn’t stopped since then.

“The beginning of April was when we started selling, so it has nearly been a year. Social media has played a huge part in our business and I think because a lot of people were on their phones during lockdown a lot more. A lot of people just wanted to treat themselves.”

Inspired by granny

Taking a leaf out of her granny Betty’s book, Sara, who is passionate about baking, says having her own baking company is a “dream come true”, with her trust mixer Ruby on-hand to help her fix up her bakes.

“I’ve had a passion for baking ever since I was really young. I’ve always enjoyed it and at school the girls on the hockey team would always ask me to bring brownies when we were going away for a match. Everyone loved them,” said Sara.

Sara and Jess with their granny Betty.

“It has been a passion of mine forever and Jess and I had always talked about having a little cafe or something and my goal was to bake all the cakes for it. When I was 14 I got a mixer for my birthday which was the best present I’ve ever had. I still have it and it is the one I use now. Her name is Ruby, and we’re almost at the point where she is quite old. She’ll always be the original though.

Jess added: “The business is based at our family farm and when I left school I did a cook school and I really enjoyed it. I knew I didn’t want to work in a kitchen as a chef. Food has been a huge part of both Sara and I’s upbringing.

“Our granny is always baking and when you walk through her door, the smell of scones or soup hits you as soon as you enter. We’ve been brought up with food and a lot of our recipes are from her. She has passed quite a few down to us and we make our own ones, too, but the really popular bakes like the strawberry milky way and Malteser fudge, they are all her recipes. She has given them to us in secrecy and told us ‘these go no further!’.

Recipe development

Always keeping a keen eye on social media and with her nose in cookbooks constantly, Sara feels more inspired than ever when it comes to baking.

So much so her parents have now been roped into trying all of the bakes she is currently trialling.

Sara said: “Almost all of my recipes I use, the traditional ones, are from my granny. Other ones I look at recipes and take bits from them and put my own spin on things. My inspiration comes from social media. I follow the Three Sisters Bake in Glasgow and Brown’s Kitchen Bakery. I like seeing the finished product.

Sara making the cake.

“There’s a lot of trial and error – my mum and dad are my guinea pigs. Even for the afternoon teas I make all of the sandwich fillings – they are all made from scratch whether that is chicken mayonnaise or coronation chicken.”

Jess added: “We both decide on what we offer, Sara probably more so. She is always on the phone to me discussing ideas and I’m probably the one who is more organised about thinking about big celebratory days like Easter or Mother’s Day.

“We both were heavily involved in the baking initially, but when I went back to university in Edinburgh where I’m studying rural business management and had another job over summer, I took more of a step back and did a lot more of the admin-based things and made sure we had enough stock. We hope with the new website that we’ll be able to collate all of the orders in one space.”

Icing the brownies.

Sisterly love

While the sisters haven’t always been close, both Sara and Jess admit that the pandemic, and the Instagram page, brought the two of them together and their relationship has never been stronger.

Sara said: “Jess and I work so well together because she is good at designing stuff and she’s done all of our labelling and packaging. I’m the hands-on one in the kitchen.

“We were very different people when we were younger and we just kept to ourselves. We started the Instagram page and I thought I’d be left to run it myself, but actually it has brought us together. We consult each other on anything we do and we’re both equal shareholders in the business. We are both quite good at developing ideas into a joint idea and we don’t go sulking if we don’t like each other’s ideas.

Jess Duthie with Fig.

Jess said: “As sisters we’re always doing something together as there’s just the two of us. We’ve always wanted to have our own business and for as much as lockdown has been a horrible, sad time, if it hadn’t happened we probably wouldn’t have started this business because we’ve been given the time to be able to start it.

“I’d say I’m probably the more bossy one. Although we’re quite good at being equal. We know each other’s strengths and we’re happy they are different from each other. We let each other get on with what we are doing and communication – Sara and I never used to be good at speaking to one another, but now we speak at least five hours a day so it has brought us much closer. It is a really nice thing to have come out of such a bad year.”

The future

Looking to the future both sisters have high aspirations for the business, with postal orders now becoming more of a focus going forward.

Jess said: “I think sticking with the postage orders will be our focus. Sara has decided that apart from afternoon teas, everything we make will be posted. We’re hoping to have afternoon teas in the post in the future – so we’ll figure out what we can do instead of sandwiches. Although it is frustrating that I am in the Scottish Borders just now, it means we can trial postal bakes really easily. It has actually worked out quite well.

Sara showing off the packaged postal goods.

“When we launched our postal boxes so many people were sending boxes to their friends who they weren’t able to get together for their regular coffee meet up.

“We want to be able to offer all of our products across the UK, but right now it is just our weekly bakes and not cakes. We have sent cake jars to Wales and they were a success, but we haven’t managed to send cupcakes or anything like that.”

But Sara has her eyes on a bigger prize for the future, with big dreams of opening her own cafe now in sight – although she admits, she has a long way to go before taking on premises of her own.

She added: “I really wanted to start going to farmers’ markets but it is quite hard just now and they have waiting lists to get into them as well. They are reducing stall numbers so it is just a waiting game.

“I would love to have my own little shop but that needs to be financially viable. I would like to be supplying places on a wholesale basis, so I’m just waiting for hospitality and all the shops to reopen to see if I can get my products into local places. I don’t want to take on anything I won’t be able to commit to, but that’s what my plans are for the future and this year.”

For more in this series…