Kath’s the best, any way you slice it

Sarah Luke

WHO needs a backhand slice when you have jelly slice?

Luckily for players at Maffra Lawn Tennis Club, Briagolong’s Kath Pleydell will again whip up her famous treat to sell at the club’s annual Easter tournament, so if they don’t naturally possess the former at least they can buy the latter.

This year, Kath will go through 28 cans of condensed milk, 30 packets of biscuits, nine sticks of butter, about four litres of squeezed lemon juice, 28 packets of jelly and two packets of gelatin to prepare nine supersized trays of the mouth-watering delicacy for the four-day event.

What sets Kath’s jelly slice apart from your average, store-bought variety is its unprecedented consistency – a scientific breakthrough, at the very least.

The slice itself is solid enough that it can be held upside down without losing its top jelly layer (crisply distinct from the creamy middle layer), yet its firmness in no way hinders jaw movement during chewing.

The crushed biscuit base is optimally moist – not too dry as some inferior knock-offs can be, but buttery and robust.

While the milky layer offers a zesty, lemony middle ground, the raspberry jelly offsets any chance of the slice lacking flavour with a velvety, sweet, top layer kick to the tastebuds.

Characteristic of an expert, experienced jelly slice chef, there are no traces of jelly bleeding, crumbling on contact, a melting middle or uneven base layer spread, which, as any landscaper will tell you, can throw off the whole project.

Together, the three contrasting layers and their respective textures combine to melt in your mouth, arguably attracting more people to the tournament than the actual tennis.

So versatile is the jelly slice that it adapts for every moment of the tournament.

Got a difficult set coming up? Fuel up for peak performance with some jelly slice.

Just lost to someone half your age? Drown your sorrows in some jelly slice.

Walking past the canteen? Jelly slice it is.

That is, if there’s any left in the canteen; the slice is such a favourite among regular attendees that it has been known to sell out before lunchtime.

In fact, Kath’s jelly slice has been touted so delectable, that a regular entrant from Melbourne takes his own container to the tournament for Kath to make a slice in just for him.

Kath’s jelly slice career began when she brought in a single tray some 35 years ago.

“Now, they’re waiting at the door for it,” she chuckled modestly.

“I’ll make two each day, but I’ll make four the first day so they don’t run out, because that’s when everybody’s there.

“I’ll get in there say nine or 10 o’clock, and it’s gone by 2pm.

“Each night I’ll just bring my containers home and make two more for the next day.”

The tennis club is just one of Kath’s many regular clients, with a few local businesses putting up their hands to receive any excess, if there is any.

“It doesn’t take that long to make really, but the worst part is washing the dishes after,” she said, pointing to a banged up appliance on the bench – her trusty, 50-year-old Philips mixmaster.

Kath’s friend Anne Pleming took along her old, unwanted mixmaster to the Maffra Football-Netball Club some 45-years-ago, and Kath was quick to snatch it up.

The rest is history.

“It had 601 attachments to it – you could mince your meat and do all that – but I’ve gotten rid of all the attachments now,” she said.

“I wore out my mother’s mixmaster, I wore out mine – a Sunbeam mixmaster – but then I got this one.

“I use it two or three times a week, and it’s still going.

“It makes a hell of a noise … it’s got a few cracks in it, but I like it.”

Making jelly slice can be a risky business. When hard frosts two consecutive years killed off her lemon trees, Kath had to get resourceful.

“I managed to get lemons from as far as Warragul one way and Orbost the other, and I had lemons coming out my ears,” she said.

She now stockpiles the juice in just the right amounts, freezing it until she needs it.

Kath is no stranger to dusting off the mixmaster in the name of fundraising.

“The kids will tell you when there was a cake stall on, there’d be cakes lined up on every table, and they never got any, it all walked out the door,” she laughed.

Kath was born in Maffra, where she married her husband Bill in 1964 and together, they raised four children – Jennifer O’Donnell, Alecia Dignan, Leanne Gallatly and Mick Pleydell.

According to Kath, all of the kids were “brought up on the tennis court”.

“Bill started there in about 1960, so I’ve been there ever since,” she said.

“I played for a little while – married women’s, I’m no tennis player – but I enjoyed it.

“Jennifer raised money [for the club] – ‘Jingle for Jenny’, in Mardi Gras.

“We raised money for them to put a ceiling in the clubrooms, when they built the clubrooms we’re in now.

“There were only two entrants, her and her girlfriend from Girl Guides, Louise Fielding, and she was her best friend.

“Jennifer won, and the prize then was a trip to Perth, but they were only 16 and they couldn’t go on their own, so the tennis club paid for me to go as chaperone for them.”

Kath’s daughter Alecia still plays regularly in the Saturday competition held at the club and is a former club champion, while her son Mick is overdue for a comeback.

A familiar face in the broader Maffra sporting community, Kath has often been spotted cheering on her four children at various clubs over the years, and since then, her 12 grandchildren and soon no doubt, her three great-grandchildren.

Kath has also been keeping busy at the helm of Maffra Ladies Probus Club, impressively holding a stint as president for the past 10 years.

While she isn’t able to help in the kitchen during the tournament like she used to do for years, she offers up the slice with a sly grin each morning over Easter, as kitchen volunteers are inundated by hungry customers, eager for a plate of “Kath’s jelly slice”.

“Well, I guess, I like to do it, and it’s my contribution to the club,” she said.

IN a major coup for the Gippsland Times, Kath has agreed to allow her jelly slice recipe to be published.

The recipe can also be found in the recipe book she compiled for her grandchildren, of which there are 16 known copies.

The ingredients and their measurements have been confirmed, although Kath admits she’ll have to keep some of the finer details and techniques secret to keep people coming back for more.

“The recipe is just one that I’ve picked up, and I don’t know where I’ve picked it up, but I just adapt it to my own,” she said.

Kath typically triples the recipe to make enough for one of her larger trays.

Ingredients

To make the buttery base layer:

To make the milky middle layer:

To make the flavoursome finish:

Steps

1. Dissolve gelatine in half a cup of boiling water.

2. Melt butter and add to crushed biscuits, before pressing biscuit mixture into tin.

3. Beat together condensed milk, gelatine mix and lemon juice.

4. Pour onto biscuit base and refrigerate.

5. Make jelly as per packet, with extra gelatine, and cool slightly.

6. Pour onto milk mix and biscuit, while the jelly is still slightly warm.

7. Set in fridge.