There is a man called Keith who lives in Huskisson on the NSW south coast. Keith loves jam and relish. In fact, he loves jam and relish so much that he has dedicated that last 17 years of his retired life to the business of making and selling over 120 varieties of the stuff.
It’s a rough and ready operation, a back yard job turned semi-professional but nevertheless one that appears to be carefully observant of food safety and handling regulations (all his bottles are labelled with a ‘best before’ date but I didn’t ask how he sterilises the jars). He uses recycled jars and his niece makes the labels for him on her home computer. On his business card Keith describes himself as a “Maker of Quality & Fancy Jams & Pickles for Australian & Continental Tastes”, and I would not disagree. They are indeed quality, and many are really rather fancy.
I discovered Keith’s jams during a three-week writing retreat I organised for myself late last year. Every day after my early morning ocean swim in Jervis Bay, I’d make myself a strong cup of coffee and a plate of toast with lashings of jam, and sit quietly in contemplation of the words ahead. Under conditions of self-imposed social isolation, this ritual of morning toast and jam was incredibly comforting, so much so that it quickly became habit. And Keith, god bless him, was my dealer.
Hundreds of jars of jams and pickles line the walls of Keith’s modest weatherboard home. He’s got your tried and tested traditional sorts: plum, strawberry, raspberry, apricot, and smooth and creamy lemon butter with just the right amount of zest. He’s also runs a line of offbeat moderns and fusions: tomato and pineapple jam, chilli jam, mango jelly, rhubarb and apple jam, onion jam, and banana jam. He makes over fourteen varieties of marmalade including cumquat, ruby grapefruit, melon and lemon, bush lemon and tangelo.
Then there are his relishes and chutneys, many of which give expression to his love of all things spicy: mexican tomato chutney, choko chilli garlic chutney, plum and chilli bbq sauce, and cauli chilli relish. For the curious, a chutney is a form of relish, specifically indian relish, derived from Hindu word chatni. A relish is a form of pickle served as a condiment. and we all know a pickle is something that is difficult to get out of. And for those of you are aware of my passion for all things beetroot, you can only imagine how excited I was when I discovered both beetroot chutney and spiced baby pickled beetroot.
One could spend a lifetime tasting them all. What a pity I’ve only got a few days over Christmas and limited luggage space in the Troopy .
Keith grew up on a farm in the nearby district of Tomerong. The farm had over twenty different fruit trees, all of which were at various times in glut and therefore preserved and shelved in his mother’s walk-in pantry. Keith didn’t lay eyes on a commercially produced tin of jam or relish until he was married; in fact he reckons he didn’t even know they existed. Keith went on to spend his professional life working in kitchens, and when he retired just kept on cooking, preserving whatever local produce he could get his hands on. He makes his LillyPilly jam, a delicate little jewel which might be compared to a good sparkling from the fruit of the LillyPilly trees [insert link to LillyPilly info page on net] he planted in his front yard.
Keith and I both agree that his fig and ginger jam constitutes his masterwork. I didn’t ask him which was his favourite pickle, but his recommendation of green tomato and chilli mustard relish to accompany our Christmas day ham this year was genius and did not disappoint. As you can see, it hasn’t taken us long to put a rather large dent in it. Home made bliss indeed.