Spread the word: Sydney's in a pickle about home-made jam

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"It's like making mud pies as a kid": Megan and Tim Pigott.
"It's like making mud pies as a kid": Megan and Tim Pigott. Photo: Steven Siewert

Sydney families are mad about making jams, chutneys, and pickled vegetables.  

The shop aisles that a decade ago might have stocked scrapbooking supplies are now teeming with jars, funnels, rubber seals and clamps that look like giant eyelash curlers. The craft of pickling and preserving food has become more than the pastime of Country Women's Association members.

Carrie Crespo-Dixon, director of public relations for homewares superstore Williams-Sonoma, confirms there has been a growth in sales of home-preserving equipment like water-bath canners and stainless-steel "jam pans".

"I believe people are increasingly seeking a lifestyle of health living  connecting the virtues of the homegrown and homemade to the everyday table," she says.

The nerve-centre of home preserving is Marrickville's Cornersmith Cafe and Picklery where pickling and preserving classes are held regularly by co-owner Alex Elliott-Howery

"Customers to the cafe were bringing in excess fruit and vegetables they didn't know what to do with so we started the classes a year ago and they just boomed."

Elliot-Howery says  participants at the three-hour workshops are a mixed bag. "It was predominantly women to start with but that's changed. We get retirees, young couples, and a surprising amount of young mothers who want to change the way their families eat or just add to their cooking skills."

Elliot-Howery began pickling and preserving at home  when she looked at seasonal eating and realised how much food in supermarkets is imported.

"I had two small children and as creative project I decided to focus on feeding my family well," she says.

Photographer Megan Pigott started pickling and preserving after attending one of the Cornersmith workshops last year.  

"It was so much easier than I thought," she says. "I'm the first person to buy fish fingers for my three-year old but it's lovely to know what you're eating instead of churning and burning through the supermarket and buying fast food."

Pigott says she finds pickling and preserving cathartic.

"There's a lot of room to move in the recipes. It's like making mud pies as a kid and when you would just throw things together," she says. "As long as you get your sterilisation [of the jars] right and you have a general idea of what flavours taste good together you can make something pretty yum."

Mike McEnearney of Rosebery's Kitchen By Mike  has written a cookbook  about the importance of preserving food for the larder.  

"It's so important that people preserve," he says. "You're using produce at its very best and you're using it before it gets thrown in the bin or turned into landfill. You can also put a meal together 10 times faster because you already have everything at home."

McEnearney says it's interesting to see home preserving filter through to the mainstream.

"I believe we're starting to turn full circle and eat like our grandparents again," he says. Everyone seems to be making their own chutneys, brewing their own beer, and buying food without a barcode on it. I call it 'eating ancestrally'."

There are a range of other workshops and classes as part of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Month. See goodfoodmonth.com.au for details.