You know you’re a real local when they name a bridge after your family. But for John Buckmaster, 82, from Yass, there’s arguably an even higher honour: being known as the region’s best jam and preserve maker, with enough ribbons, rosettes, cards, certificates and sashes to wallpaper his house.
It helps that the Buckmaster property, ‘Chilton’, also boasted one of the region’s best orchards in its time.
“I just grew up with it,” says John. “Making jam was something we had a bit of fun with.”
There seems to have always been a Buckmaster living at ‘Chilton’, just off Yass River Road, above Buskmasters Bridge. Five generations of them have lived there so far.
“The first house was built in about 1850,” says John.
His great grandfather received two blocks upon getting married.
“Dad always had an orchard there so I just grew up with it, making jams and preserves from what we had on the farm,” says John. “Peaches and plums mainly, but we also had some wild cherries. They were really nice in jams. It would come out small and seedy, but all you had to do was put them in the sieve to come good.
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“We’d also use raspberries, gooseberries and apricots when we had them. But sometimes we’d all just raid the orchard and help ourselves [to fruit to eat] so there wasn’t much left for the jam.”
John, who had three older brothers and a younger sister, said he grew up as the family’s main jam maker after his father.
“No-one else seemed to want to make it – but they did want to eat it,” he says.
Although two of John’s sons still live at ‘Chilton’, he moved into Yass with his wife, Margaret.
“The big orchard that dad had is long gone,” he says. “The big drought really knocked us about.
“I don’t make as much jam as I used to because we just don’t get the fruit any more, but if someone wants to give me a bucket of fruit, I’ll make it.”
For as long as he’s been making jam, John has been winning prizes for it at local shows, mainly Yass Show but he’s also competed at nearby Jerrawa.
“I suppose I’ve been pretty lucky,” says John, who has enough grand champion ribbons and rosettes to start a haberdashery.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a complete disaster, but I’ve had some that didn’t set quite right. If you overcook jam, that’s what makes it set too hard.”
Making jam for shows is a whole different kettle of, well, jam.
Not only does it have to taste right, but it also has to look the part. If it’s a collection of four jams, they have to be uniform.
“I always used pound jars which were a fair size, but now a lot of shows want you to use smaller jars,” says John. “But I like there to be a good sample size for the judges to try.
“The trick is not to overfill the jars. They should be filled evenly and nicely presented.
“I always open the jars before I take them into the show. I got caught once as there was a little bit of mould there. The jar had been cleaned well enough, but the lids hadn’t sealed properly. I learned about sealing lids the hard way that time.”
Although John has been showing jams at Yass Show since he could reach the stove, he reckons he’s “not in the Royal Easter Show league”.
“I do it for a bit of fun,” he says.
So does John eat jam purchased at the supermarket?
“I had some on my toast this morning,” he says. “Some of them are OK, but other jams you buy can be a bit disappointing.”
As well as entering his jams and preserves in shows, John has another connection with Yass Show. He recently celebrated 50 years as chief steward – 40 years in charge of fruit and vegetables – taking over from his father. He has been associated with the show in one way or another his whole life.
“I’ve only ever missed the one Yass Show,” he says. “But that was because our son-in-law was being ordained in Darwin. We couldn’t really miss that.”