The preserving room in my grandparents’ house was a mysterious chamber, entered once as a small child, that I could never again find the entrance to. Entry was forbidden, in any case, owing to the risk of ‘glass explosion’, an explanation I found plausible. As Methodists, I doubt they had a secret wine cellar, and the preserves seemed to be treasured, much like the fruit trees in their backyard – after 50 years my memory of their fruit still sets a standard that’s hardly ever met.
For Renee Cunningham of Ballina, her own fond childhood memories of home-made preserves shared between neighbours have inspired her to not only recreate timeless favourites from her youth, but also to try out new flavours and ingredients to share with others.
‘As a child, we had a constant supply of home-made preserves in our pantry,’ she says, ‘and I grew up watching jars that we made being shared with neighbours and friends. It was a delight to receive jars in return, beautifully labelled and delicious. Each family had their own variations of favourite flavours and tastes.
‘For me, preserves have always been made from the heart – a family tradition passed down over generations. For this reason, I have always loved food and cooking. And it’s true what they say; timeless recipes never go out of fashion’.
One of the joys of visiting our regional towns is taking a punt on the preserves at the local markets. I bought something so good at the Tenterfield Railway Station market one day that I tried to hunt the person up online (a pointless exercise), and now I’ve forgotten what it was. I’ll have to return to some future market to spark my memory. But, if you live near here, I’d try Renee’s stall at the Lennox Head markets.
‘Choko pickles have always been my long-time favourite,’ she says, proving her commitment to old-style recipes, as let’s face it who values chokos these days?, ‘paired with corn silverside sandwiches, absolutely scrumptious! It was the first preserve I ever made.’
You can find this at her market stall, along with many other jams, marmalades, relishes and chutneys. Her range changes all the time, so you can always find something new to try.
But some favourites are always there. ‘For taste, you can’t go past mulberry jam,’ she says, ‘It’s sourced from a local tree. We were up at dawn and spent many early mornings picking the plump berries – it’s a perfect topper for toast, scones and pancakes and can be a special touch to a cheese platter or glaze for meats.’
One of the most requested jars Renee makes is her beloved beetroot relish. ‘It’s a little bit fancy,’ she says, ‘and a great accompaniment for grilled salmon or a summer barbeque. Also, my tri-citrus marmalade has been a showstopper this festive season, it’s citrusy and tart, just like grandma’s!’
So, for a refreshing alternative to sweet grandmas, seek out Tasty Jams, Pickles & Relishes. They can be found at the Lennox Head Markets or purchased directly from Renee’s home-based business (by prior arrangement).
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