Constance Barker’s Legacy
Auckland Star, 15 September 1925
The engagement is announced of Miss Constance Mary MacArthur, elder daughter of Captain and Mrs McArthur, Forest Road, Geraldine and formerly of England, to Mr Michael Studholme Barker, eldest son of Mr and Mrs J M Barker, Waihi, Woodbury.
When Constance married Michael Barker (senior) in 1926, it’s unlikely she imagined the future that would evolve from their union – three more generations of the Barker family and the inspiration behind Barker’s of Geraldine.
It all started with Constance’s love of preserving. The Barker family believed in home preserves and Constance was adept at preserving the fruit and vegetables that she grew. The family homestead, which boasted a thriving vege garden and orchard, was the source of Constance’s creations.
During the wartime years she taught only child, Anthony, the art of home preserving. But Constance’s skills went far beyond preserving. She created her own recipes and DIY concoctions to meet the demands of both family and farm life – anything from dog biscuits to colostrum for newborn lambs!
“Furniture Polish: equal parts linseed oil, vinegar, pure turpentine, methylated spirits – shake well and rub well in.”Constance Barker is fondly remembered as Mrs ‘cook it in the copper’ Barker. Everything from soap to beer to pigs’ brawn was created in the trusty copper.
Over the years the entire family enjoyed Granny Barker’s cooking. Constance’s grandson Michael recalls “As a child, Christmas Day seemed to be spent preparing for a huge, very late lunch and after devouring a large turkey with all the trimmings we would then confront Granny Barker’s trifle”.
Michael remembers “the big rich trifle was a tradition decreed by my Grandmother and with help from my sisters Celia and Esther, an indulgent dessert. A classic Christmas trifle. I always used to get up early on Boxing Day and sit in front of the fridge and polish it off before my sisters could!”
As a child, one of Anthony’s daily jobs was to roll the cask of maturing damson brandy around with his foot. For some time when his mother was unwell it was Anthony’s job to run the household. Literally chief cook and bottle washer. A good time to play around with fruity recipes. He remembers once, when he was only thirteen, the vicar called to find him earnestly wine making.
The skills that Constance passed on to Anthony were put to good use. In 1969, with his wife Gillian, he established Barker’s as a cottage industry making elderberry wines. Commercial wine making was a brave step at the time. But making use of home-grown produce was in Anthony’s blood and experimenting with various fruit wines was a long-time hobby.
The farm cowshed and piggery were converted into the winery and the first wines were made from old-fashioned elderberries. Anthony created a unique plant using an extraordinary range of simple home appliances. An old washing machine converted for drying corks, a vacuum cleaner adapted in conjunction with a diesel burner for the quick heating of coppers to boil fruit and a reel-cut motor mower modified to pump wine into vats.
Upton Cellars hosted up to 800 people some days. Constance’s grand-daughters recall making buckets of Maggi onion dip and cutting huge blocks of Mainland cheese with fine wire to go with biscuits at the wine tasting sessions.
From simple beginnings in his mother’s kitchen, Anthony’s knowledge continued to expand and, as the years passed, so his reputation grew as one of the most respected specialists in the business.