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Victorian Guide — Reconnecting producers and consumers

An Introduction to Jams, Preserves and Honey

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 — Editorial, Skills and Knowledge

Malfroy’s Gold honey and honeycomb are the choice of leading chefs in Australia and overseas. Photograph supplied by Malfroy’s Gold.

The weather’s turning autumnal, which can only mean that it’s time for deliciousness on toast. Food writer Emiko Davies puts her sweet tooth on the line as she uncovers NSW’s best jam, preserves and honey.

Honey is very much a product of its environment. It gives a real taste of the natural surroundings, changing in flavour, colour and texture depending on the blossoming plants found in each landscape. If you need further reason to support your local honey producer, think about the plight of the humble honey bee. Up against the dangers of extermination, pesticides, disease, harsh weather and – closer to the cities – loss of environment due to increasing urban landscape, local bees are actually a vital part of Australia’s agricultural production that need to be protected.

While we’re lucky that Australian bees have yet to become affected by a parasite that has caused a major decline in the bee population across the Northern Hemisphere, the role of this humble insect in the future of food crops worldwide should not be overlooked. According to the United Nations Environment Program, of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. A little local honey (especially like the ones below that are raw, natural or organic) is not only a wonderful way to literally get a unique taste of an area, it helps support these incredibly useful insects with a safe home.

Even the city of Sydney has its own taste when it comes to honey. The Urban Beehive was established to protect local wild bees and support pollination in Sydney by finding homes for the city’s otherwise lost or endangered bees. The urban beekeepers source natural, untreated honey from  hives located around the city, hosted in backyards, rooftops and community gardens, while also conducting classes for curious urban gardeners and would-be apiarists.

Malfroy’s Gold Honey, run by Tim and Emma Malfroy in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, is one passionate honey business that not only produces seasonal, rare, natural honey but also passes on the word by teaching aspiring bee keepers sustainable and ethical apiary courses and putting on honey appreciation dinners. Since 2006, second-generation beekeeper Tim has practised a holistic and biodynamic approach to beekeeping to make award-winning, organic, natural honey of pure varieties.

Also in the Blue Mountains area is Woodford Honey, where you can pop in for high tea made with seasonal produce and, of course, some of their raw honey. In the spring they also hold a Honey Bee High Tea, a Slow Food event.

Meanwhile, Mudgee’s Maya Sunny Honey is handcrafted by Andrew Wyszynski (and his hardworking bees). Packaged attractively in distinctive, upside-down jars, this delicious, raw, preservative-free honey comes in single native Australian varieties such as amber-coloured Iron Bark, dark Stringy Bark or Bottle Brush. The jars of honeycomb are a delight. Practically a miniature beehive, each jar is a unique sculpture of honeycomb made by hundreds of bees over weeks, before being sealed with propolis – almost too beautiful to eat.

While honey’s natural sweetness, not to mention nutritional and medicinal value, is something that sweet tooths can feel mostly guilt-free about, there is nothing quite like a properly made jam, freshly spread on hot buttered toast or, for those who still make them,, layered in a soft, springy sponge or on freshly baked scones.

Moving toward the cooler areas of southern NSW you can find the perfect conditions for growing cool climate fruit like raspberries and other berries – and where you find an abundance of ripe, country-grown berries, you can be sure to find delicious, handcrafted country jams.

The beautiful and fertile cool climate region of the Southern Highlands is the setting for one of the best berry farms in the state, Cuttaway Creek Berry Farm in Mittagong. Dave and Nicki Penn’s berries are pesticide and herbicide free, hand-weeded and picked ripe, so it’s no wonder that they get snapped up by Sydney’s A-list chefs. The Penns also make a zingy, award-winning berry vinegar, fresh dessert sauces and classic jams for those who want their berries to last. And for those who like to pick and choose, you can visit the farm directly during berry season to collect your own berries.

Not far away along the Old Hume Highway is the Alpine Berry Farm, a family-run business where more award-winning gourmet jams, marmalades, sauces and caramelised fruit vinegars are produced from the farm’s fresh produce, along with a savoury range of pesto and chutneys. A new range of organic jams under the name Henhouse Organics is also being launched. Try some of their more unusual jam combinations such as the tomato, passionfruit and apple jam or keep it classic. Their gold-winning raspberry jam (or their raspberry, rhubarb and vanilla jam for that matter) is so delicious, you could eat it by the spoonful straight out of the jar.

Meanwhile, in the small Capital Country town of Collector, Lynwood Preserves is still going strong. Robbie Howard’s famous preserves and jams business is being taken over by her daughter, Kate McKay, keeping the Lynwood jam tradition in the family. With fruit sourced from NSW orchards and no added preservatives, the Lynwood fruit jams and savoury relishes are made and taste the way that preserves should. While the renowned Lynwood Cafe has long closed its doors, the delicious jams still represent (and may bring back a bit of nostalgia for) the good, simple, elegant country food that it was so well known for.

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Emiko Davies is a food writer and photographer who, after spending seven years in Tuscany, is now based in Melbourne with her sommelier husband. She has contributed her food knowledge and keen eye to publications such as The Canberra Times, Maeve Magazine and Australia’s first magazine dedicated to cheese, The Cheese Mag, and she eats her way through restaurants and cafes for some leading food guides. She has a thing for historical cookbooks, regional Italian cuisine and sustainable, good food. Follow her on Twitter @emikodavies or on her blog at emikodavies.com

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