Little jars of love and wisdom

Grandma Bee is a staple at the Gosford City Farmers Market – and part of the glue that binds the local community together – a delicious, honest, and creative glue.

It’s one of those crisp autumn days, with blue skies and the early morning sun just warm enough to leave the sweater at home. It’s a perfect morning to spend at the Gosford City Farmers Market, where there is local produce bursting with flavour, freshly ground coffee, mouth-watering pies and pastries… and everything from local organic honey to tapas, pasta and hand squeezed juices.

The market is the ideal place for Barbara Elkins to sell her handmade relishes, jams and chutneys. With a belly laugh, an infectious smile and an energy that would put a teenager to shame, she draws throngs of customers with both her personality and her produce.

Barbara, or Grandma Bee, as she is fondly known at the market and beyond, is an uncanny archetype of everyone’s favourite granny. Warm and welcoming, she is keen to help customers with special dietary needs and always ready to create new recipes based on their feedback.

Up for a challenge

“I’ve always loved good food,” Barbara says. “I remember as a very small child crawling around under an apple tree in my Nanna’s backyard collecting all the windfalls. We took them inside in a big basket and she showed me how to create the most beautiful clear red apple jelly. She taught me all the methods to make all kinds of preserves. And I am still making her apple jelly!”

So how did her market life begin? “I’ve always had a pantry full of everything and always made chutneys and when I gave some to my friend Kevin (Eade, Founder and Director of the Gosford City Farmers Market) he said, ‘why don’t you come and sell at the markets?’

“I started out with a tiny stall and it just kept getting bigger and bigger because people kept asking ‘could you make this or that for me’. I really like that sort of pull and response because it keeps me connected to the community and my brain active.”

Everything Barbara does has a local focus and she gets most of her fruit and veg from other stall holders at the market. “I don’t like anything to go to waste,” she explains. “I’ve made a lot of really good friends at the markets and in the local farming community. When someone has a batch of fruit or veg that they can’t use, they will ring me and I pay a fair price for it. More often than not, that’s the start of a new recipe.”
It’s seasonality and the availability of local produce in combination with special requests from her customers that drive her offering at the markets.

“I had someone here before and they had a little girl that couldn’t have mustard and I made her a chutney without it. Or some people can’t eat onions. Or a gentleman who asked me to make a special Worcestershire sauce for him because he couldn’t have some of the standard ingredients.

Read more in the Winter issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography by Frank Schulze and courtesy of Barbara Elkins