Margaret Islin began by selling to her friends; 18 months on she's baking around 100 cakes a week in her small but spotless kitchen in Highgate. Her three varieties - banana and walnut, carrot and chocolate - are straightforward and un-iced, but have the fullest of flavours and the lightest and moistest of textures, with a deliciously crusty edge that says everything about their home-made provenance. Margaret trained and worked as a chef before having her two children, and at dinner parties her friends kept telling her she should go back to cooking for a living. Eventually she succumbed, and began to test trial cakes at coffee mornings. Ginger was rejected while chocolate became a firm favourite, and the ingredients (there's coconut and pineapple in the carrot cake, for example) were tinkered with until they were just right. Margaret's first professional sale was to a children's play area in Colney Hatch. A couple of delis followed, and she has recently started a delivery service for boys at Harrow School. She'll also deliver free to individuals locally. It's not just about business, however. "My children asked for sweets all the time, and I wanted to give them something without rubbish in it," Margaret explains. "I came up with these cakes, which have natural ingredients. You can have one on the go all the time."
Just Cakes, (0181) 348 2789. £4 for a 1 lb chocolate or banana and walnut cake; £7 for 2 lb cakes. £4 for a 8-in round carrot cake. Also sold through L & D Foods, 15117 Lyttelton Road, N2 OD W, (0181) 455 0141; and Panzer's Delicatessen, 13119 Circus Road, NW8 6PB, (0171) 722 8596
With products given names such as Kama Sutra, Naughty, Sizzling Hot and Wicked, you could be forgiven for thinking that Muriel and Michael Wallis were in a completely different line of business - in fact, they make mouthwatering mustards, pickles, sauces, preserves and chutneys.
The business started as a hobby 12 years ago when Michael, then a haulage contractor, bought 201b of cheap plums, on a whim, from a roadside stall. Plum pies and jam led to experiments with mustards and pickled onions, and soon, armed with jars of whatever was in season, they started selling at craft fairs and their local pub in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Now their range includes, among others, 10 mustards (one's called Victoria Spicy, after their eldest granddaughter), seven chutneys, four marmalades and a dangerously hot chilli sauce that they've named Wild Thing.
The pair devise their own recipes and like to draw on local tradition: they recently created a mustard using McMullen's Ale from nearby Hertford, and they also make a delicious Hertfordshire sweet pickle. Using ingredients that are as natural as possible, they grind their own spices and mustard seed (in a giant coffee grinder), and reduce their recipes naturally, without adding flour, meaning that all but one of their products is gluten-free. "We think of our grandchildren eating them and we make all of our products as pure as possible, like our mums used to," says Michael.
Muriel's Home Made mustards are available by mail order. Two 100g jars for £3, including p & p; other products can be found in shops in Hertfordshire and London; call (01992) 429382 for details.