A much-loved condiment, Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney has graced the dinner tables of South African households for decades.
The product was created by the Ball family, and still displays the family crest on the top of the label today. While its history is complicated, its popularity can be traced back to the Mother City.
The official Mrs Ball’s website claims that the recipe first belonged to an Indian chef aboard the SS Quanza. In 1852, the SS Quanza shipwrecked off the coast of East London, South Africa while en-route from Canada to Australia. Captain Henry Adkins and his wife Sarah survived and saved the blueprint for what would become the country’s most famous chutney recipe.
However, there are arguments that this story is false and only told to dramatise the product’s history. The shipwreck actually occurred in 1872, not 1852 as the official website says.
What we know for sure is that the pair settled down in Fort Jackson near King Williams Town where they had a family, seven boys and four girls. Sarah had been making the chutney since the 1870s, and continued to do so throughout the years.
They passed the recipe down to one of their daughters named Amelia, who would later become Mrs Ball when she married Mr Herbert Sandleton Ball.
Herbert worked as a goods superintendent in Cape Town for South African Railways, so the couple and their seven children moved all over the Cape. Wherever they went, the recipe went too. They eventually settled in Fish Hoek and her husband would sell bottles of chutney on the train to Cape Town.
Amelia would often make the chutney for church bazaars, and soon began making the chutney commercially to make some more money for her family. It became very popular, and the family ran a small-scale operation from their kitchen.
Businessman Fred Metter helped the family scale up the business, and together they opened the first factory in Retreat. He was also the one who chose the famous octagonal shape of the bottle, and insisted it be kept in glass instead of plastic.
The name went from ‘Mrs Henry Adkins Sen., Colonial Chutney Manufacturer’ as it was known when her mother Sarah made it, to the simpler ‘Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney’. In those days, women went by their initials of their husbands, in this case, Herbert Sandleton Ball.
The factory was moved to Woodstock, and the chutney soon began travelling all over the world as news spread of this delicious product.
While there are six flavours of Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney, the original remains a fan-favourite. The official recipe remains a secret.
Amelia passed away in 1962 at the age of 97, leaving behind a family legacy that will endure forever. The family business was sold to Brook Bond Company in the 1960s, after which it was sold to Lever Brothers who eventually sold it to Unilever SA.
In April 2013, Mrs Ball’s became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tiger Consumer Brands Limited. It is now exported to countries like Germany, New Zealand, Australia and more.
Picture: Facebook / Mrs Ball’s Chutney