Hailing from a long line of pioneering, bolshy women, Coral Robben needs to take a deep breath before listing all the things Inch Valley makes: jams, jellies, sauces, relishes, chutneys, mustards, pastes, marmalades, curds … preserving is the family’s secret sauce, the children all learn how at an early age, using recipes handed down through the generations, a waste not want not from “the days before automatic anything.” The orchard next the house, also from that same scrupulous era, and once home to the manager of the flour mill, grows most of what Coral needs but she also has a barter system with the locals, who come to her aid if she needs more quinces, for example. The soil in the area rich in minerals and responsible for the ‘fruitotopia:’ an incredible abundance, it’s more knocking things back than struggling to get them to grow, says Coral.
Husband Chris first saw the orchard in winter and rather rashly said, “You’re not going to get anything out of that.” Coral went and bought 3 18ft freezers. As the bows got heavier and heavier, and what looked like a couple of buds turned into baskets and baskets of fruit, he said, “what are we going to do?!” “About that,” said Coral, and away she went. Harvest is from October through to April. December is time for green walnuts to be picked for pickling. January is flat out with cherries needing to be individually washed and dried to make piquant cherries with Kirsch. Having nursed the small orchard back to life, she says, “It’s like anything, a bit of love and you’re away.”
Trained as a commercial potter, Coral’s used to a production line, but making jams and pastes is fairly labour intensive, so who helps her? “Pardon? It’s just me.” A bit like a demented octopus when things really get cranking in the kitchen, plans for expansion are in the pipeline but for now she’s doing up to 5 dozen at a time. Selling to over 20 different outlets, small batch bottling keeps the flavour, Chris does the labelling and invoicing and helps at the Oamaru Farmers Market but tastings at home are her favourite: She loves watching people’s faces as the flavour hits them. Little kids who have only ever had mass produced jam saying, of Grandads Raspberry Jam “It’s got berries in there!”
People should feel free to pop in anytime (maybe ring first) to sample the flavours, choose items with fabulous names: Baby Sea Monster sauce, Xmas in a Jar - for hampers made up on the spot to suit your palate. Pick up a spoon and try old family recipes, “this one reminds you of going to the circus”, and recipes gleaned from old books. Coral will soon hold cooking classes to pass on the lost art of her home made inheritance. “Scrump it, use it, ask the next door neighbours if you can have some, don’t waste it!” she says. Sweet as.
By Lisa Scott