Behind the counter in the Country Women's Association
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Spreading the love

Hobart’s chapter of the beloved Country Women’s Association shares the secret of perfect preserves with us.

Sandwiched between a busy cafe and an edgy barbershop on Elizabeth Street, the CWA Gift Shop brings a slice of country goodness to the heart of Hobart. The day’s baked goods are displayed in the window alongside cookbooks and a collection of hand-knitted tea cosies. Fresh flowers and local produce sit on the pavement out front.

The Tassie chapter of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) formed in the 1930s to represent women and children, particularly in rural communities. Opening in 1942, the Hobart gift shop gave CWA members a place to sell their wares and help support their families during lean times. Nearly 80 years on, it’s Hobart’s favourite place to pick up a homemade cake for the office morning tea or wholesome handmade gifts such as knitted toys and baby bonnets. And, of course, jam.

Country Women's Association

Credit: LU + LO

Jars of quince jelly and raspberry jam

Credit: LU + LO

An entire wall of the Hobart shop is dominated by glass jars and plastic tubs. Arrayed across the shelves are dozens of preserves, pickles and syrups, each carefully labelled with the number of its creator (with egalitarian spirit, all CWA makers and bakers are identified by number rather than name).

The Hobart CWA boasts 15 or so regular jam makers, with fresh batches dropped off daily. It sounds like a recipe for healthy competition, but shop manager Johanna Warren insists it’s all very friendly. “People have their thing and they stick to it. And you don’t tread on other people’s toes.”

Devotees still have their favourites – whether it’s #10 and her classic berry jams or more unconventional combinations such as white peach and rosewater or an Asian-inspired plum sauce. ‘Grandma skills’ like preserving have experienced a resurgence in recent times, which peaked last year when travel restrictions and remote work inspired a home-cooking frenzy.

Country girl knitted doll

Credit: LU + LO

Sweets and treats for sale at CWA

Credit: LU + LO

Johanna and her team of volunteer shopkeepers saw demand for jam-making equipment, such as preserving bottles, soar. “They all got into it,” she laughs. “But now that they’re all back at work, they come here.”

To the ladies of the CWA, making jams, preserves and pickles is no flash in the pan. It’s a skill learned from mothers, aunts and grandmothers, perfected through countless fruit seasons. In anticipation of our arrival, Johanna has done an email call-out to the local CWA network for their top jam-making tips. “Do not add sugar when the fruit is boiling,” one of the grand dames of jam offers. “Freeze fresh fruit while it’s in season, so you can make jam throughout the year,” another suggests.

Between them, there are hacks for mastering chutneys and marmalades, tips for perfecting tomato relish, and the secret to proper sweetening, setting and sealing. In our hands, typed up neatly on an A4 sheet, we hold decades of knowledge – a preserving cheat sheet. But for now, we’re more than happy to leave matters to the experts. We depart the CWA Gift Shop with a jar of classic raspberry jam: #10 has earned herself a new fan.