The Jam Lady

Jealousy, we’re told, is one of the seven deadly sins. Now, if that’s the case, and you believe in sins, be they deadly or just a bit uncomfortable, I stand guilty as charged m’Lord.

In fact, I am so green with envy that the wicked Witch of the West looks positively healthy in comparison. What, you may ask, has brought about this sorry state of affairs? Well, this week I went to talk to Maureen, Kylyra and Dave from Caher Kitchens out west along the Peninsula (as we locals say) and I came away feeling very inadequate.

Maureen Hill and her partner Dave Burden moved to the Sheep’s Head back in 1991. They completely rebuilt, (brick by brick, just the two of them) an old school house and began planting fruits and vegetables on the land surrounding their beautiful home. ‘When we left Poole in Dorset, it felt like we were guided here to the Peninsula. After working for 14 months to get the house ready to live in [the couple lived in a small caravan on the site while they worked on their home] we started planting the fruit and veg and it has just grown and grown from there, if you pardon the pun,’ Maureen told me in her cosy kitchen as we watched another hail shower blow in from the bay.

Maureen and Dave in their polytunnel

‘With the excess fruit we produced, I started making jams which I sold at the local pub. I soon became known as the ‘Jam Lady’,’ Maureen said. Dave constructed their first polytunnel and they continued to produce blackberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lots of other fresh fruits and veg, which they turned into jams, preserves and pickles.

Then, in 2009, another person joined forces with Maureen and Dave to form Caher Kitchens. Kylyra Ameringer arrived on the Sheep’s Head 12 years ago. ‘When the Kilcrohane Producers Market began last summer, I decided to try and sell some of my products and it was here that I teamed up with Maureen and Dave,’ Kylyra said.

Kylyra bakes wonderful pies and cookies, which are produced without gluten making them perfect for those with a wheat intolerance or Coeliac disease. ‘We decided to join forces and now we produce healthy, tasty food that is produced from our own raw materials grown here on the Peninsula,’ Kylyra continued.

Kylyra getting another batch of jam ready as night falls over Dunmanus bay

By the way, as if all the work at Caher Kitchens wasn’t enough, Kylyra also writes music and poetry and she has produced two CDs of her work.

Maureen decided that she wanted to have their produce available all the time and not just once a week at the Kilcrohane Producers Market. ‘I always wanted to set up a stall at the end of our road, an ‘Honesty Stand’ where people could come and get our jams, cookies, cakes and preserves, so that’s what we did and it has been a great success,’ Maureen enthused.

Dave, an ex-engineer, was called on to build the honesty stand that is now situated at Caher Cross, a lovely spot on the road with views out over Dunmanus Bay.

The fruit press designed and built by Dave

The range of wonderful food from Caher Kitchens continues to grow with Kylyra experimenting with some of the remains left-over when Maureen makes her jams. ‘With the left-over pulps, like blackberry or tayberry, we began infusing these with vinegars and now we found that this makes a fantastic addition for salad dressing,’ Kylyra said.

Maureen and Dave took me on tour of their garden, which is also home to four newly-arrived geese.

Not 'oven ready' but still...yum yum!

Every available space is used to grow wonderful fresh produce. Along with the polytunnel, Dave constructed greenhouses, an irrigation system and, of course, his workshop, which contains all the tools he needs. ‘We haven’t bought vegetables in over ten years and we get our meat from the farmer next door, so in terms of food we are almost self-sufficient,’ Dave told me, as the geese began to honk and hiss when I attempted to take their photo.

These 'pets' are not for eating

With my trial-by-pheasant still fresh in my memory, I asked if one of the geese might be on the menu for Christmas Day? ‘No way,’ Maureen quickly said. ‘They’re just pets, that’s all, there will be nobody having one of our lovelies for Christmas dinner,’ Maureen concluded as I left their white-washed cottage armed with the heaviest cabbage I have ever held and a selection of pickles from the honesty stand. Maureen also gave me a recipe for her famous Tomato Chutney, which is listed below. One really can’t help these jealous feelings. This is indeed the ‘Good Life’.

Browsing the honesty stand for some winter goodies

To order directly, email caherkitchens@gmail.com.

Maureen’s Tomato Chutney

  • 3lbs tomatoes (skinned, however this is optional)
  • 6ozs apples
  • 6ozs onions
  • 6ozs sultanas
  • 6ozs demerara sugar
  • 1oz mustard seeds
  • ½ oz salt
  • ½ level teaspoon pepper
  • ½ level teaspoon mixed spice
  • ¾ pint malt vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Firstly, chop the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic.

In a pan, bring the sugar, vinegar and sultanas to the boil for two minutes; then, simply add the remainder of the ingredients.

Simmer very slowly until the chutney has reduced in quantity and thickened.

Finally, pour into warm jars (washed jam jars or any container with an airtight lid will do).

Red pepper relish, cranberry and orange sauce and cucumber pickle

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