The secret’s in the recipe

2018-03-06 06:00
Amelia Ball.

Amelia Ball.

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A handwritten recipe, passed down through five generations, holds the secret to one of South Africa’s most famous brands.

And that very recipe, now laminated and barely legible with age, can be found in Fish Hoek.

Under the care of Desmond and Diane Ball, the original recipe for Mrs Ball’s chutney is still being used by the couple to create the chutney many grew up with.

But the recipe’s history goes back many generations, to Sarah Elizabeth Adkins from Nova Scotia, Canada, and her husband who moved to South Africa and made their home in Fort Jackson in the Eastern Cape.

Sarah sold the chutney at markets and church bazaars and it eventually became available in supermarkets. But it was one of her 11 children, Amelia, who would bring the chutney to its current fame.

Amelia, although she preferred to be called Amy, married Herbert Ball. After their marriage, the couple moved to Johannesburg where Herbert worked on the railways. They raised a brood of children and after Herbert retired in 1922 they moved to Plumstead and then later to Fish Hoek.

Amelia is described as a matriarch and a formidable woman, but Desmond remembers only a few details of her, as he was still very young when she was alive.

“She always wore a silk choker and used to sit on her porch and look out over the sea as she spoke,” he says. “She was very stern. Everyone used to pussyfoot around her!”

Amelia made her chutney from her garage at home and started her own business in competition with her mother’s recipe. The Adkins’ chutney was eventually removed from supermarket shelves in the 1970s. However, the Balls’ business became so successful that soon the premises were no longer big enough, and the operation moved to a factory in Retreat.

The rest of the family continued to remain involved in the production of the chutney, remembers Desmond­.

He used to work in the factory during the holidays, entrusted to place the caps on the bottles during “a time when everything was done by hand”.

“Everybody was roped in to help,” he says.

His uncle, Edward, remained involved in the business.

“He worked his whole life in that factory. And when he retired, he was only given a gold watch as a token of thanks,” Desmond recalls.

But Desmond remembers the times even before the factory, when the family would go visit “Granny Ball” at the premises in South Road, Plumstead, where she used to produce the chutney.

Amelia died in 1962 at the age 97 and two of her sons took over the business. However, the running of the business became too much due to their advancing age, and it was sold a few years later to Brooke Bond Oxo, which was later incorporated into Unilever. The brand was reportedly sold to Tiger Brands in 2012 for around R475m.

The sale is something Desmond still mourns, viewing it as a loss of his birthright. But he and Diane have since found a new connection to Amelia – producing chutney according to her recipe, sold at markets and branded “Amelia’s Chutney­”­­.

“I’m a bit of a traditionalist, so I thought: ‘Let me keep the family tradition going; keep the memory alive’. That’s why we named it after Amelia.”

V In memory of Mrs Ball and the heritage of her chutney, the Fish Hoek Heritage Cluster will be hosting an event on her birthday, Friday 23 March. For more information, call Alan Lindner of the Fish Hoek Historical Association on 072 930 4798 or email fhvalley.historical.secretary@­gmail.com.

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