11 November 2022

Young butchers embrace old-fashioned ways

| John Thistleton
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Identical twins Tom and Sam Hughes get to work on fresh carcasses. Photo: John Thistleton.

A small butcher shop at Marulan, since 1868, serves up meat like they did in the old days.

You can buy one sausage or 60 kilos of them. Or steak cut to the thickness you like, dry-aged lamb or some offal for a haggis. The owner of Marulan Meats since 2017, Yvonne Hughes said locally-sourced meat her shop offered was served in many varied ways – boned, or rolled, or smoked, or pickled.

Having completed her apprenticeship as a chef, the former nurse and one-time landscaper/horticulturist had planned opening tea rooms, or a cafe/restaurant in the highway village north of Goulburn.

But learning the history of veteran butcher Dave Chambers’ quaint shop changed her mind. Granny Feltham built the original shop and dwelling next door, when the meat was killed out the back and kept in meat safes or salted. There was no electricity, only an emerging mining community and workers building the main southern railway line. Granny worked there until she was found dead in the shop at 94. Staff swear her ghost rumbles through the place.

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When Yvonne was weighing up her first retail venture her identical twin sons Tom and Sam were approaching year 10, not intending to go through to year 12. “You will have to get a trade,” their mother had said. Both chose butchery and have completed their apprenticeships. They begin work at 5:30 am each day with apprentice Maddy Rea, their cousin, breaking down full carcasses. Another veteran butcher Tony Bodel from Goulburn who worked for Dave Chambers still keeps his hand in one day a week.

First thing each morning they break down carcasses, make sausages, crumb schnitzels and special cuts to present a diversified display window full of fresh meat.

Yvonne Hughes near the smoker Shannon Hobbs built for her. His first smoker, it has led to numerous follow-up orders from men coming to the shop and wanting one. Photo: John Thistleton.

Yvonne buys her meat within a 250-kilometre radius of Marulan. Pork from Dewsbury’s free-range pig stud at Windellama south of Goulburn and lambs from Corio Ag, a big farm at nearby Canyonleigh and cows from farms are all killed at Wollondilly Abattoir at Picton.

She laughed excitedly recounting the hair-raising journey after she and husband Ray Hughes made that spur of the moment decision to continue the butcher shop in 2017.

“Oh my gosh. If we had known (the steep learning curve ahead) we would have said, ‘No, we’re not touching that with a 10-foot pole’,” she said. “I must have cursed the place when I came in – everything just broke down.”

She spent $16,000 replacing a band saw, $15,000 on a new mincer-mixer, $10,000 each for three cool-room compressors and $4000 for a vacuum sealer machine.

“The antique smoker out the back was scary, it looks more like a gas chamber,” she said, taking her mind back to the early days of opening. Well before then she had experienced the value of a collaborative community.

Growing up at The Lagoon, a rural settlement near Oberon and Bathurst, Yvonne was among farmers raising livestock and growing vegetables for Edgell. “Everyone knew each other, and shared their farming equipment,” she said.

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In business at Marulan needing a new meat smoker she collaborated with a local artist skilled in metalwork, Shannon Hobbs. “He made my bone handles (front-step railings) and he is into smoking too and I asked him to make us a smoker,” Yvonne said. “I said I needed a smoker that I could do a whole pig in if I wanted to, or so many hams.”

Yvonne runs the wood smoker at 100 degrees Celsius to smoke brisket, ham, chickens, lamb, vegetables and to fill catering orders.

“I love cooking,” she said. “I love fermented food, I love the history of how we ate and survived before electricity and refrigeration. My education as a chef was about salting, preserving, pickling, smoking. That’s how they used to keep food safe to eat.

“I used to experiment at home,” Yvonne said.

Apprentice Maddy Rea preparing some meat. Photo: John Thistleton.

A steady stream of local people and travellers along the highway from Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong and Melbourne, and surrounding villages of Tallong, Bundanoon and Windellama call in with different requests. Some want offal including lung plucks (lambs’ lungs and hearts), lambs’ brains and other offal.

“I still do pickled tongues for people,” Yvonne said. “I’ve made brawn for people – that is a mixture of all pork, beef, lamb, tongues, hearts, all pickled and boiled. It’s quite tasty in the end.”

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