HomeFood + WineEmbracing the sweet side of life

Embracing the sweet side of life

Helen McNamara has always loved food, ingredients and produce. She has always wanted to know where things come from and to make something amazing with them.

Cucumber, mint and lime or beetroot, lime and pink peppercorn are just some of the ice cream flavours Helen McNamara has whipped up in her Stirling ice creamery.

The UK-trained chef doesn’t shy away from a challenge and her ice cream flavours are inspired by anything the Adelaide Hills community brings in to her at her ice creamery and confectionery shop, Hokey Pokey.

“We get a huge amount of fruit brought into us from our local community,” she says.

“Up to about 85% of the fruit we use is brought in, so over winter we get bucket-loads of lemons, we’ve got two distilleries that we’re working with at the moment that are giving us tangelos, mandarins, because they only use the peel and we only use the juice.

“… You don’t know what’s coming in.”

Helen doesn’t turn produce away – instead she tries to come up with a creative way to use it.

“We’ve struggled with persimmons and loquats,” she says.

“They’re the two that we’ve always kind of found a way to make something nice with them, but they’re not the most popular.

“But people bring them in to us and we swap it for ice cream.

“… We’ve done some really odd ones.

“We’ve done a cucumber, lime and mint – again, someone brought us these cucumbers from their garden, so we just juiced them and thought that would be really refreshing and light and so we truly do try and use everything.

“It just constantly keeps you on your toes.”

Originally from the UK, Helen studied professional cookery before taking various cheffing jobs, including at the St Andrews Links Trust, which runs all the clubhouses in the Scottish seaside golfing town of St Andrews.

“I always loved food, always loved ingredients and produce and where things come from and making something amazing out of them, so it was kind of a bit of a no-brainer, really, going into cheffing, which has been hard work, but lots of fun,” she says.

After about eight years running their own restaurant in the UK, Helen and her husband, Tim, decided to move their family to Australia.

But their plan to move back to Warrnambool, where they had once lived and worked for a year, was derailed when they fell in love with the Adelaide Hills.

“We were going to move to Victoria, but came out for a six week trip with our kids just to make sure it was the right thing to do before we actually moved out here,” Helen recalls.

“We’d never been to Adelaide and I looked at the flights to Victoria and the flights to Adelaide and thought, we’ve been to Victoria loads and we know it and the flights to Adelaide are the same price, so let’s go there.

“And then we hired a campervan and drove all the way up to Sydney … but we came here and absolutely loved it and fell in love with the Hills and gave up the offer of a really good job back in Warrnambool.”

And for their three official taste-testers – aged eight, six and three – it’s a dream come true.

The couple bought the Stirling lolly shop a little over a year before Covid-19 hit and, as well as ice cream, also offer a selection of hand-made chocolates and other confectionery.

The shop is a big change from the McNamaras’ background in restaurants, but the more regular hours are ideal for their young family.

And for their three official taste-testers – aged eight, six and three – it’s a dream come true.

“They love it,” Helen says.

“We have to be quite mean to them sometimes, they don’t get to come in everyday and they don’t get ice cream everyday but they love it – they love the creativity and they love saying ‘what are you going to do with that?’.

“They’re amazing at trying new things too.”

And it’s not just the kids who are living the dream.

“I never get sick of ice cream,” Helen says.

“I can take or leave the chocolate sometimes, but ice cream – I’m always in an ice cream mood.”

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