Queen of Preserves

Story contributed by Pearl McHugh, and written by Tarla Kramer.

Tips accompanying this story:
How to preserve fruit

Pearl McHugh was the one to beat in the preserves section of the Quorn Agricultural show, a section she dominated for many years. This is her story, written by Tarla Kramer in 2009:

Originally from North Queensland, Pearl was only eight years old when her father died and she was 14 when she arrived in Quorn in 1948. “My mother remarried a Quorn man, that’s how we came to South Australia,” she says, “I’ve been here ever since.”

Not long afterwards she met her own future husband, Max McHugh, who has been mayor of Quorn since 1993. “He went to the Quorn High School, the same as I did, I met him there. We also met at local dances, we danced twice a week,” she says, and adds that it was “probably the dancing” that brought them together. “I don’t know what it was about him…he was persistent, I think,” she says, laughing.

Max and Pearl were married in 1954, their first child arrived 11 months later, and the second came two years and two months after that. They raised them on a farm out in the Richman Valley called Pine Glen, where they lived until moving to their current house in 1979.

Pearl began making preserves after she married. “I started them fairly early on in our married life because living on the farm I sort of liked things in the cupboard. I still do actually. My mother had an old preserving kit and I borrowed it and I preserved fruit just for the family in those days.

“We had very little fruit on the farm at that stage – I did grow fruit later but we bought all our fruit and it was quite cheap at the time and quite economical to do – it just needs a lot of time.” She used the recipes from the book that the ‘Vacola outfit’ put out and still does.

Pearl is not sure exactly how long she has been putting her preserves in the show, “but it’d have to be 50 years. In the early stages there were a few older women in the town that dominated but I gradually took over. And I really do it because I want the Quorn Show to continue and so I make the effort every year. It’s one thing I can do. I’m quite a good cook but I don’t know how to show cook, there’s special techniques for show cooking I’m sure.”

While Pearl enters something in nearly every class of ‘Jams and Preserves’, she is about the only competitor still doing preserved fruit, but she is happy to keep this dying art alive. With the price of fresh fruit going up and that on tinned fruit going down over the last 50 years, no-one else really bothers with this time-consuming activity. “It takes me probably one hour per jar, for some of the jars that I’ll do, to cut the fruit exact and put it in the jar.”

“As far as the show’s concerned, it means buying the best quality fruit and packing them with precision. I don’t know what they look for, to this day I have no idea what they look for, I just do them and put what I think is the best in the shows.” Pearl used to show decorated cakes years ago at some of the shows, but these days, and in her middle-seventies, it is easier to stick with preserves, “because I can do it in January and February when there isn’t much on, and I just go to the cupboard and pick the best of the lot and take them in.”

Pearl admits that at 75 she is slowing down, and now only does about 100 jars per summer!


Sadly, Pearl died on the 14th February 2010. She managed to preserve some apricots during her final summer, and was able to leave ‘things in the cupboard’ for Max. “I reckon I’ve got enough fruit to last two or three years,” he says.

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