Cape’s rich history shared through chutney

Mrs HS Ball’s is a household name with a long-standing heritage as one of the country’s big icon brands. Picture: file

Mrs HS Ball’s is a household name with a long-standing heritage as one of the country’s big icon brands. Picture: file

Published Feb 4, 2024


Cape Town - The Cape Historical Society, which shares the story of Mrs HS Ball's Chutney and many other stories on Facebook, has 122.4 million people intrigued.

Cape Historical Society which was started by Cape Town residents Jason Patrick Hanslo, who now lives in Australia, and Jacques Stephens, who saw the need for the Cape's rich history to be told in an anecdotal and research form.

Together, they began to carry out informal research, at first by sharing archives of old photographs, and later, members of the public displayed their hidden gems from District Six to the early 1900s and more.

Stephens said he shared the story of everyone who loved Mrs HS Ball's Chutney after carrying out his own independent research, taking him right into the Cape where it all began.

“The group was started by a friend, Jason Patrick Hanslo, who now lives in Australia. He, like all of us, recognised there's a vast amount of history missing from our written history books, but it's not lacking when you research other sources,” he explained.

“The posts were very basic at first, just dated pictures posted and their locations, until we started delving into the references and discovered troves of archives by private owners and some in other archives on the internet like Pinterest and other historical references.

“It's archives that are mostly scattered in locations, but a very few times we have used universities for the archival material.

“My contribution wasn't an academic pursuit but rather a sociological experiment. Material that unifies the Cape with living experience gives us a common identity. In this regard, revisiting places we love or that link us to a familiar experience is shared.

“We love history and that's a wonderful start, and not to forget Mrs Ball's Chutney.”

Mrs HS Ball’s is a household name with a long-standing heritage as one of the country’s big icon brands. Picture: file

Stephens, via, and Mrs Ball's Chutney's own website on its history, shared that in 1852 Henry James Adkins, a retailer in East London, married Elizabeth Sarah Spalding and they settled in Fort Jackson where they ran a general store.

He added that in 1870 Sarah Adkins started making chutney, which quickly became a popular condiment among the locals.

It was initially named “Mrs Henry Adkins Senior, Colonial Chutney Manufacturer, Fort Jackson, Cape Colony”.

He told of how Sarah Adkins had the skills to create a delicious chutney but did not have the skills to market her brand. Her daughter, Amelia, actually took the brand to the next level.

Amelia Adkins married Herbert Ball in East London in 1886 and they moved to Johannesburg, taking her mother's famous chutney recipe with them.

By 1914, Amelia had perfected the recipe becoming a popular bottled condiment at church bazaars and markets as Mrs HS Ball's Chutney.

Mrs H.S Balls Chutney: file image

Stephens explained that in 1921, the Ball family moved to Fish Hoek, where Amelia continued to make and bottle her chutney and that her husband would take a few bottles a day to sell in Cape Town.

This is where he met Fred Metter, a food exporter who took on the brand's marketing and sales. They soon outgrew their premises in Fish Hoek and moved to larger factories in Diep River and later Retreat.

The chutney was exported to the UK in 1957 for the first time and as the years passed, the business was sold to Brooke Bond Oxo and later to Unilever.

It is now owned by Tiger Brands, a global brand distributed all over Africa, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

Stephens said that despite five different flavours, “Mrs HS Ball's Original remains my favourite”.

The information was also shared via the company’s group website, Mrs HS Ball’s Chutney.

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