A COUNTRY childhood provided Robyn Schmierer with the basic cooking lessons needed to become proficient in the art of making preserves, jams, pickles and relishes.
It was also a time where she learnt about growing fruit and vegetables and, as most would know, the best preserves and jams are made from produce grown in your own backyard.
Surplus produce is the basis of most preserve, jam and pickle entries in the country shows and so it was for Mrs Schmierer when a glut of strawberries was turned into prize winning jam.
This occurred in 1978 when Mrs Schmierer entered her first jams at the Singleton show.
Her first foray into the cooking competition involved her entering four bottles of jam.
One of those entries, a bottle of strawberry jam, was awarded champion jam of the show and Mrs Schmierer was hooked.
“It was such a surprise to win and that encouraged me to concentrate and try for more entries in future shows,” Mrs Schmierer said.
“Years ago my mother taught me the right way to pack fruit for preserving to make the fruit look attractive.
“Over the years I have learnt from other ladies simple tips for making jams tasty and a bit special.”
One special honour for Mrs Schmierer was when her grape jam recipe was chosen for inclusion in the 2009 “The Country Show Cookbook”, a selection of award winning entries from around New South Wales country shows.
For this recipe Mrs Schmierer has used Isabella grapes produced from 70-80 year old vines.
Mrs Schmierer grew up on a sheep grazing property located near Cobar in far western New South Wales.
Her father Vernon” Chap” Rowntree had drawn the block in a soldier settlers ballot after World War One.
The closest towns of Cobar, Condoblin and Lake Cargelligo were 100 miles away.
The closest town was the hamlet of Mount Hope.
And like most people in their situation much of what was eaten at home was grown in the house block.
Mrs Schmierer said her mother imparted the basic cooking skills and she has kept on learning skills over the years.
After boarding school at PLC Orange Mrs Schmierer moved to Singleton for work and met her husband Alec Schmierer and thus began a 43 year partnership.
Mr Schmierer is the chief taster of her entries.
It is up to him in a blind test to chose the entries in the sweet chutney classes.
He must select the sweeter chutneys for the competitions.
According to Mrs Schmierer her husband never tires of his tasting role.
He is also vital in their Goorangoola district garden working up the vegetable plot each season and keeping the orchard in check.
Apart from Mr Schmierer’s expertise in the tasting department his wife said when she cooks up something special she will put the batch away or hide a bottle to be entered in the next show.
Mrs Schmierer has entered preserves at the Sydney Royal coming third in her first attempt.
But due to no entries in forthcoming shows the preserves section no longer exists.
“Younger people aren’t interested in this type of cooking which is a shame,” she said.
Apart from being busy with her cooking entries Mrs Schmierer has been a member of the NAA Ladies Committee at the show since 1985.
“It is a wonderful group of ladies, we all work so well together in harmony” she said.
“But with an average age of 70 plus the committee is looking for new members to keep the show tradition going.”
This week Mrs Schmierer has been busy stewarding in the cooking section and come show day she will also be working hard in the tearooms.
Correction: In a story on the 50th Singleton showgirl competition in the Argus September 7 it was incorrectly reported that the Roberts sisters Susannah and Alison were the only sisters to have won showgirl titles.
In fact the Marshall sisters Belinda (1989) and Louise (1994) also won the title.
Belinda went onto win at regional judging and competed at the finals in Sydney.