October 1, 2019
People & Places

Spreading the word

One local marmalade cook will soon defend her title in a national competition that is driving a resurgence in slow food making.

During the citrus season, when back yards across Coromandel Valley come alive with the colours of fruit trees, Beverly Harper opens her front door each morning to find donated bags of surplus oranges, lemons, mandarins and grapefruit. Known in the valley as the Marmalady, Bev brings the bags inside and gets to work. This past winter she has made more than 700 jars of marmalade with the fresh smell of citrus permeating through her home.

Bev’s jars are sold at the nearby National Trust branch where they “walk out the door” with all proceeds going to the organisation, of which she is an active member and her husband Bruce is secretary. 

Bev produces different recipes such as “Lemon, Lime and Extra Ginger”, or the more exotic “Japanese Yuzu and Poorman’s Orange”. But among her 30 different combinations, the recipe in most demand is her “Seville and Poorman’s Orange” that won best homemade marmalade at the 2018 Australian Marmalade Awards.

Her eyes light up with competitive spirit when asked about her recipe, which was judged to be best in a field of more than 300 entries from across the country and New Zealand. “I don’t like to give away too much,” says Bev. “I’ve got a very old recipe book that has been passed down from my mother and grandmother. There is one particular recipe in there that I base my marmalade on.” 

The Australian awards were started four years ago by the National Trust of South Australia. Winners of the 2019 awards will be announced during the Festival of Marmalade at Beaumont House on Sunday, October 13. 

The festival is a sister event to the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, founded by Jane Hasell-McCosh and hosted at her home Dalemain Mansion in England. Her mansion contains archives of recipes from as far back as the 1600s. Jane works closely with the Australian awards, of which she is a judge alongside Beerenberg Farm head cook Stephen Downes. Winners have an opportunity for their recipe to be produced for sale by Beerenberg.

Bev hopes to defend her title, while her 14-year-old granddaughter Grace is entering the children’s class this year. “A lot of young people really don’t know what marmalade is and have never tried it,” Bev says. “It’s labour intensive, and because younger people can be time-poor, these sorts of skills are on the wane.”

Bev is assisted in the kitchen by Bruce, who is her “chief stirrer”. She must first slice up the fruit, which can take an hour, and then soak the ingredients overnight. “It’s like being a wine connoisseur, you have different flavours and smells. Marmalade has a beautiful aroma,” she says.

Her marmalade is stocked in pantries across Coromandel Valley, ending up on scones at bridge clubs and morning teas. It is even enjoyed by a cheese-tasting group. “You can have it with cheese almost like a quince paste,” says Bev, who also recommends basting a roast chicken or fish with marmalade, or using it in a fruit cake.

Although she only started making marmalade a few years ago, preserve-making is in her DNA, with her father having made jam well into his 90s. People travelled hundreds of kilometres to buy his produce at local markets, and Bev is gaining similar acclaim for her marmalade. “It has grown considerably and I wouldn’t keep making it if people weren’t buying it,” Bev says. “It’s a good excuse to take a holiday after the season ends.”

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