Preserving a tasty tradition
Everything old is new again as time-honoured cooking methods take people back into their kitchens making pickles and jams.
Perth Royal Show stalwart Hilary Radowick-Callaghan is a seasoned hand, winning dozens of ribbons over the past few years for her bespoke preserves honed as a child growing up in Detroit, Michigan.
“Making jam is like learning to dance, ” she said. “It takes practice but once you have mastered it, it is a beautiful thing. We had seven children in the family, so I would always help and took over the canning ritual by the time I went to high school. Fruit like strawberries and blueberries would be frozen in summer but we’d can peaches, apricots and tomatoes, and pickle little cucumbers. Now, it’s like therapy to me.”
Ms Radowick-Callaghan uses an original 1952 stainless-steel Fowlers Vacola kit, sometimes making do with simmering pots and pans on the stove when there’s just too much to fit in. Favourite preserves include tomatoes and peaches but she’s best known for her “two dog” lemon and tangelo marmalade named after the barking canines she has to dodge while picking the fruit from her neighbour’s yard.
The two dog won second prize at the Cannington show this year. “But I also love my five- citrus marmalade with lime, citron, pink grapefruit, lemon and oranges because it has a beautiful colour and looks gorgeous., " she said. "The advantage of making your own is that you can reduce the sugar content and it tastes better than anything you can get in a store. You can be more flexible with what you put in and the quality is going to be better because you can make it in small quantities.
“I used to buy cheap Turkish apricots for the dried apricot jam but I’ve switched to the really expensive ones which cost four times as much because they taste so much better. Generally, the better the fruit, the better result.”
Her family favourite is cherry ketchup, which she makes in a strictly limited edition because of the cost. “Only my family gets to taste it because cherries are so expensive — the fruit boils down by 75 per cent — but it’s great on meat or cheese sandwiches.”
The secret to her success?
“I prefer to use a citrus pectin powder (instead of Jamsetta), ” she said. “It costs a fortune but you get such a good result. I’ve also made a beautiful kiwi compote jam with apples and pineapple juice using apple cores as a natural pectin for a beautiful set. It just takes longer. Pectin powder is quicker and it’s convenient because it saves time.
“What people need to keep in mind is that pectin binds with sugar to set the jam, which is why sugar-free preserves do not gel and are actually spreads. Going totally sugar free gives you a different product; the first time I did it I thought it looked like baby spit.”
Fowlers Vacola’s Nicola Roy said more young people, from stay-at- home mums to teenage girls, were taking up bottling and throwing “preserving parties” for friends.
“The best part is that they get to walk away with jars of homemade jam, ” she said. “We’re amazed at the cross-section of people who are turning their hand to preserving. It’s part of the huge back-to-basics movement as more of us want to know what we’re eating and feeding to our children.”
Fowlers Vacola, the company started by UK immigrant Joseph Fowler in Melbourne in 1915, will mark its 100th anniversary next year with a range of core equipment that has stood the test of time as it has diversified into prepared foods such as Christmas cakes, puddings and fruit-mince pies.
Whether it’s dehydrating tomatoes, apples, pears, peaches and rhubarb or making preserves, the idea is for people to take control of their own nutrition and experiment with cooking methods they may not have used before.
“The advantage of modern preserving kits is that they’re electric and automatic, so you put the fruit into bottles with some liquid, then pop the bottles in the kit — you don’t have to sterilise the bottles first, ” Ms Roy said.
“The kit automatically sterilises, so it’s done in 60 minutes, though some people are still using the old copper and steel kits made by the company in the 1930s. Certainly, the principle is the same but we’re seeing a lot of unusual ingredients — artichokes, mushrooms and leeks — coming through that wouldn’t have been as popular years ago.”
She said the dehydrator was added to the range to give people another method of preservation that let them make things such as fruit leathers and roll-ups. Temperature setting ranged from 30-98C but most things were done at 70C to maintain maximum nutrition.
‘The better the fruit, the better result.’
© The West Australian
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