The se­crets to pickle suc­cess

Marie Mullins is known as the pickle lady, and the se­crets to her suc­cess lie on the beau­ti­ful life­style block she calls home.


The se­crets to Marie Mullins’ suc­cess lie on the beau­ti­ful life­style block she calls home.

The pantry shelves at Eclec­tic Coun­try in San­son gleam with a spicy ar­ray of pick­les, chut­neys, rel­ishes, jams, jel­lies, sauces and other good­ies.

You can taste to buy Marie Mullins’ pop­u­lar pre­serves, start­ing with the sweet and mild such as basil or japon­ica jelly, ta­mar­illo or rhubarb and straw­berry jam, then sam­ple your way through the sweet and sour, tarter, spicier flavours like mus­tard veg pickle, chili jam, pun­gent ka­sundi sauce, be­fore fin­ish­ing (when in sea­son) with a re­fresh­ing taste of el­der­berry cor­dial.

The lemon honey whizzes out the door, as does the gar­lic dress­ing; the rasp­berry vine­gar is equally de­li­cious in sal­ads or on ice cream, and then there’s Marie’s

grand­mother’s old-fash­ioned chut­ney, a sure fire favourite along with brandy fruit­cake and short­bread.

Marie makes them in her com­mer­cial kitchen out the back of a former Methodist Church, and grows a lot of the raw in­gre­di­ents at home on her fam­ily’s life­style block. She and her friends also share and swap pro­duce, and at farm­ers’ mar­kets some­one al­ways has ex­cess, so they barter.

“I’ll jelly any­thing,” Marie says. “A woman gives me her japon­ica ap­ples and another in Mar­ton gives me crabap­ples which I add to my own. Aunty Florence in Palmy gives me her black­cur­rants. If I get too much I pass it on.”

Eclec­tic Coun­try, true to its name, stocks a wide range of goods, in­clud­ing Rawleigh’s prod­ucts and high qual­ity, hand-crafted prod­ucts from pro­duc­ers around New Zealand. There is out­door fur­ni­ture, rock­ing chairs from Otago, colour­ful leather hand­bags from Auck­land, pot­tery, nat­u­ral wool knitwear, body prod­ucts and more.

“I don’t add a lot of com­mis­sion – I’d rather have peo­ple’s in­ter­est and cus­tomers com­ing back than charge high prices and peo­ple only com­ing once,” says Marie.

She and hus­band Phil have put some hard graft into ren­o­vat­ing the build­ing, which has pro­gres­sively mor­phed since the 1950s into a hall, then two an­tique shops and fi­nally a sheep­skin shop. When Marie found the build­ing was avail­able she was al­ready mak­ing pick­les, chut­neys and jams for farm­ers’ mar­kets and sell­ing out of her pantry-style cart. It was time to

At farm­ers’ mar­kets, some­one al­ways has ex­cess, so they barter fruit and veges

ex­pand. Just a lit­tle.

“I think it all got too much for the owner so when I looked through the win­dow and saw the dusty old in­te­rior I could see the pos­si­bil­i­ties. It was rack and ruin – the walls were all rot­ted at the back and bits were fall­ing off around the place, so I rang the owner and he liked the idea.”

They hag­gled on and off for sev­eral months, un­til fi­nally it was hers.

The shop is busy and Marie has a few part-time as­sis­tants, in­clud­ing Phil, whose help al­lows her to cook, work in the gar­den and to spend time with their two grand­chil­dren who love vis­it­ing grandma and grandpa on the farm.

She now has a fol­low­ing of cus­tomers who come to pick up their favourite pickle, jam or chut­ney and chat.

“I try and do a bit of cook­ing while I serve in the shop. Mon­days and Tues­days are the qui­etest. Oth­er­wise I cook at night – shut the doors at 4pm and just cook.”

“I bought her a miner’s light for Christ­mas once,” quips Phil.

Home on the range

Twenty years ago, Marie re­turned to her fam­ily roots in Mar­ton with Phil whom she met while work­ing as a wait­ress in Western Aus­tralia. Phil was a pro­fes­sional chef and the cou­ple ran a restau­rant busi­ness to­gether in Aus­tralia.

But when Marie’s brother died she wanted to be close to her im­me­di­ate fam­ily; her Mum (now 88) and her sis­ter, who live in the district.

She grew up help­ing her Pol­ish/ Ger­man grand­par­ents on their 150-odd hectare farm in the Manawatu and says she couldn’t wait to get her hands back in the soil and grow her own food.

“Long story short,” (Marie likes to cut to the chase), the cou­ple rented in Mar­ton then bought their life­style block on Jef­fer­sons Line, raised two chil­dren, and grew and grew – plants, live­stock, and a pickle shop.

“We ploughed up the backyard with a friend’s baby trac­tor and I put it all into gar­den, my first time gar­den­ing in New Zealand. I couldn’t wait to get into the dirt. It’s like mother and child and it’s to­tally re­ward­ing. I feel so strong with the dirt, and grow­ing is so ad­dic­tive. Come Au­gust Septem­ber it’s like some­thing is miss­ing if I can’t start grow­ing.”

Her sis­ter and brother-in-law lived down the road so her ‘farm man­ager’ was nearby.

“Any­thing I needed to know I’d ask Ian and he’d shoot down on his mo­tor­bike

“It was rack and ruin – the walls were rot­ted... bits were fall­ing off...”

and give a hand. He helped to teach me farm­ing. And the peo­ple on the other side – the Ger­vais – used to make the hay. If you want to know some­thing there are al­ways peo­ple happy to help you out.”

Their life­style block is set against a back­drop of na­tive bush, 9ha (22 acres) of covenanted Crown land. The Greystoke-Ki­witea silt loam soil is very fri­able, fer­tile and drains well.

“The farmer never put much fer­tiliser on it and he didn’t farm it heav­ily. When we took it over it was like vir­gin soil. Putting lots of (com­mer­cial) fer­tiliser on the land is not al­ways a good thing.”

They use ev­ery avail­able space all over their block. At dif­fer­ent times of the year the gar­den is full of flour­ish­ing veg­eta­bles, flow­ers and fruit. There are gherkins, corn, beans, cab­bages, choko, zuc­chini, pump­kin, car­rots, gar­lic, onions lemons and grape­fruit, figs (fig and gin­ger jam), fei­joa, Monty’s Sur­prise ap­ples (chut­neys), quince, tamar­il­los, cape goose­ber­ries, rhubarb, and they all find their way into Marie’s cook­ing. She even sells the glo­ri­ous crim­son waratah flow­ers in her shop.

The cou­ple run sheep, 19 at present, and be­tween six and 12 cows and calves with one bull that they reared. The cat­tle love grape­fruit so we take them a feed.

“The bull grew up on a mum here and this is the sec­ond lot of calves the mums have had. They are very quiet an­i­mals, even the bull. They stay on their mum un­til they move out of the pad­dock – they are to­tal sooks. Nor­mally we’d buy in calves about a week old and feed them our­selves but this time it’s all care, no

re­spon­si­bil­ity, the moth­ers look af­ter them.”

And they delight in watch­ing the an­i­mals play.

“One evening the cows were rac­ing up the pad­dock, ud­ders fly­ing, show­ing the calves how to do it. And I kept one daggy old ewe be­cause she was so good with the lambs, teach­ing them to play.”

Marie has handed over the shear­ing and dag­ging to a young Taranaki woman and Phil docks the calves and ear tags the cows and sheep.

“A cow had a her­nia and Phil put a ring around it and saved it. When it went to the works I think he even had a tear in his eye.”

They keep the freezer full with meat from home kill and have a killing shed for the sheep. They take the car­casses to Feild­ing to be cut up and packed, some­thing they dis­cov­ered was well worth it af­ter once do­ing a rather lumpy job them­selves.

The an­i­mals need hay and nat­u­rally they grow their own. Two to three pad­docks yield 100 to 300 bales which they store in an am­ple barn; any sur­plus is sold to lo­cals.

“The grass grows so well and I never over-stock. Some­times neigh­bours come to the pad­dock and get it or we store it for them,” Marie says.

They learned early on (from a farm­ing ar­ti­cle) never to cut grass in any­thing but straight lines.

“When you top, you top in straight lines from the road in. You never cut side­ways or in funny shapes be­cause that up­sets ev­ery lo­cal. And if you run out of petrol you never leave the trac­tor in the field overnight. Ev­ery­body that goes past keeps tabs on what you are do­ing,” Phil says.

While his sharp chef knives and some of his ex­per­tise come in handy, es­pe­cially set­ting up a com­mer­cial kitchen, Phil at­tributes Eclec­tic Coun­try’s suc­cess to the

phil as­sists Marie but at­tributes the store’s suc­cess to the in­flu­ence of her mother, grand­mother and great grand­mother.

in­flu­ence of Marie’s mother, grand­mother and great grand­mother. Phil has a rather dry sense of hu­mour about it all.

“The only in­flu­ence I had was that we got mar­ried and had a wed­ding cake.”

That brandy fruit­cake (with a se­cret in­gre­di­ent) is a spe­cialty of Marie’s mother that she now makes to sell at Christ­mas.

Phil is now re­tired. He as­sists with var­i­ous labour-in­ten­sive tasks such as prick­ing the green wal­nuts from their tree all over to make pick­led wal­nuts and peel­ing vast quan­ti­ties of gar­lic.

Grandma’s recipe for suc­cess

Marie’s ru­ral fam­ily tra­di­tions stand her in good stead on their life­style block and she says they would be self-suf­fi­cient in food if they didn’t have the shop. She grew up on 8ha (20 acres) and her fa­ther worked at Wright Stephen­sons but she says she in­her­ited the tra­di­tion of grow­ing her own food and cook­ing from her grand­mother, who im­mi­grated to New Zealand from Ger­many with her par­ents.

“Grandma was a very hard worker. If she wasn’t in the gar­den she was cook­ing, like me. Some­thing al­ways rubs off, what you’ve en­joyed when you were younger, it was a mar­velous time. She taught me how to work, although I didn’t en­joy it a lot then, but she made it fun.”

She re­mem­bers the large gar­dens and the coal range that was in con­tin­ual use.

“There was al­ways the smell of food cook­ing. Grandma grew ev­ery­thing in her gar­den. I went and stayed with her for as long as I can re­mem­ber. Ev­ery Sun­day there would be a big fam­ily gath­er­ing at their place or at another fam­ily mem­ber’s place. We were like the Ital­ians, very fam­ily-ori­en­tated. When Grandma cooked she’d al­ways share with other peo­ple – sauer­kraut and ba­con, quark with car­away seeds, pig’s head sausage and brawn, sour cu­cum­bers and gherkins, and of course she made her own but­ter.”

Grandma raised birds, in­clud­ing hens, pea­cocks, pheas­ants, and there was al­ways a turkey for Christ­mas.

“Grandad built an aviary to put them all in, but chooks were a sta­ple. She used to pluck them her­self and they al­ways ate their own. That gen­er­a­tion worked re­ally, re­ally hard – they had ei­ther jam and bread or but­ter and bread but never the both.”

Marie con­tin­ues that tra­di­tion of hard work, but you get the im­pres­sion that work is also a kind of play, her way of re­al­is­ing her dream of be­ing the pickle lady.

When Marie isn’t mak­ing or sell­ing her pre­serves in her store at San­son (right), she is sell­ing them at lo­cal farm­ers’ mar­kets.

Who: Marie Mullins, Eclec­tic Coun­try Where: San­son, 25km north-west of Palmer­ston North

Land: 3.6ha Web: www.san­­tic-coun­try-ltd

One of Marie’s spicier prod­ucts is ka­sundi sauce with gin­ger, chili, tumeric and co­rian­der.

Marie’s store Eclec­tic

Coun­try is on the main high­way through San­son, a 20 minute drive north-west of Palmer­ston North.

Even the bright red waratah flow­ers are cut and sold.

The cou­ple are prag­matic about things like home kill, but still delight in watch­ing their an­i­mals play.

Only cut grass in straight lines or

you up­set the lo­cals says Marie.

Home kill meat keeps the freezer full.

Marie barters for a lot of the raw in­gre­di­ents, but she grows

her own ta­mar­illo (chut­ney). While their live­stock are farmed for prac­ti­cal pur­poses, Marie is happy to share the gar­den left­overs with her an­i­mals.

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