The Spirits of Nuwara Eliya | Daily News

The Spirits of Nuwara Eliya

Amazing farming area

 

Ever tried chateaux beetroot and lime wines produced by nuns? I discovered Nuwara Eliya’s sisterly wine makers, condiment creatives and jam producers.

Monks have made wine from grapes in monasteries in France for centuries and yet nothing as innovative as nuns in Sri Lanka producing superb wine varieties hand pressed from freshly grown vegetables. Whenever did they come into the picture? Monks after all are famous worldwide for creating champagne and yet little is known about the local Sri Lankan brews such as chateaux beetroot and lime wine produced lovingly by the Franciscan sisters.

Personal mission

 

Marmalade

 

After all my travels around the island, one would not expect to find a wine making operation hidden away in the heart of Nuwara Eliya – the hill-capital of Sri Lanka – where a group of pious women known as the order of Franciscan Sisters, make and sell daily everything from condiments to coconut wines with as much spirit in them as the girls themselves who run the place. Each one is on a personal mission to use the cash made from this highly successful business to help give orphans and people who have fallen off the track a second chance in life.

The Franciscan sisters shop can be found behind St. Xavier’s church on the left hand side of the road, just follow the colourfully painted houses to a gate with a handmade sign on the wall saying the Jam Room. Follow the arrow and around the corner is a shop with a small range of their hundred homemade items varying from tomato sauce hand squashed to hot mango chutney, which sells like hot cakes to go with the local rice and curry. Famous for its fruit and vegetables brought to the island during British colonial rule these religious women have taken everything from carrots to strawberries to create a culinary feast of jelly, jams and chutneys that are also available in some supermarket outlets.

Homegrown vegetable garden

Next to the shop there is a stunning view and a plateau where the sisters can be seen daily, picking strawberries from their homegrown vegetable garden. However, the real treasure is the jammery behind the shop where hundreds of jam jars are labeled daily and wine fermented in one room and in another one fruit is squashed and made ready to be turned into chutneys using the nuns numerous secret recipes.

The nunnery has been around for over a hundred years explains one nun, however it’s only in the last 40 years the sisters of the convent of the St. Xavier’s church started this cottage enterprise to cover their financial living costs. Like all good businesses with a quality product it has boomed into a huge operation, which the nuns put down to creating delicious saucy combinations out of the vegetables and fruits harvested in the region. From bestselling items like the marmalade served in the local hotels like Jetwing Saint Andrews to very special boutique planters’ bungalows like Fern Cliff, which serve the jams daily with breakfast. The remainder of the profits is used for helping others with charity projects and fundraising.

The convent in Nuwara Eliya was originally established by a sister from France 128 years ago and has grown into more than 21 convents around Sri Lanka. They use the money for important projects including schooling, giving young people much needed livelihoods and choices from textiles to jam making. Here in Nuwara Eliya, the sisters show why profit for the others’ good is a great way to empower women and make real changes in areas where there is little or no hope: In their tiny shop which they call ‘The Jam Room’, you will find tasty things like homemade chutneys with a twist, vegetable wines, sweet cordials and pickles, thoughtfully arranged on the shelves and incredibly well priced.

Spiritual Love


 

Wine any one?

 

Behind the counter the sales girl tells me all about the shop and its projects, she has the biggest smile and the wooden template behind her saying ‘God is Love’, is the reason for her happiness and whether you are a believer or not each one of these handmade goodies is full of spiritual love and having tried lots of different varieties can confirm they have an extra special something. The nuns hospitality, their love for small details – like the flowers on the table placed next to the cross, and the lovely wooden signs advertising their products ‘with fresh fruits’ – create an amazingly peaceful atmosphere which calms you down in a spiritual way after any hell raising journey going round endless hair raising bends to reach this fascinating hill station once known as little England due to the British style cottages with roses growing around them. The sales assistant points at the shelves - three different cordials: peach, mango and strawberry; their famous orange marmalade which their number one best seller, tomato sauce, date and paddy or king coconut wine.

Some fruits are imported from other villages in the country like peaches from Boragasmulla. In addition, the importance of sustainability and eco-friendly production is being taken into account: Glass bottles from Colombo are washed and reused over and over so that no additional waste is created and recycling and environmental friendly ways of doing things, they should be the key to all businesses says the most out spoken Franciscan.

The profit flows into charity, a fact that adds to the feel good factor. At the end of the consumer chain stands an orphanage and a Montessori school in Borella and other projects, which help unemployed women with specialist sewing centres fully funded by jam sales.

The Jam Shop is located at 11, Long Street, Nuwara Eliya open from 8.30am to 6pm (Monday to Saturday) and one can call 0522222698 for more information. 

 


 

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