There is something magical about the Bruny Island ferry. Perhaps it's moving across water, the leaving of work and home on the other side as you journey toward adventure, nature or solitude.
For me it's a 30 minute journey from my door to the boat that lifts the weight of the mundane from my shoulders and allows me to dream. Every year I travel there with some special friends who worship landscape and food as much as I do. We eat, wander, botanise, swim and think together. We gather sea celery and seaweeds to flavour the fish that we catch, we gnaw on the leaf bases of sagg plants for refreshment during a hike, or gather and painstakingly clean wild rosehips to brew tea. We are aware of the possibility for nourishment the land provides, and I've often imagined the people who trod this soil before me gathering berries and seeds, digging tubers and diving in the icy waters to catch seals or harvest abalone to sustain their families.
Much of what I know of the edible plants from this landscape is theoretical, stuff read in books but rarely put into practice, the reality of eating from the land has never really touched me. But last weekend that changed.
|The site of our meal.|
David Moyle, the chef at the Stackings at Peppermint Bay, was creating a wild food lunch on Bruny with Penny Clive, an historian, art lover and keen observer of nature, who was bringing an incredible musician to the island to perform, and knew landowners with a deep connection to their place who were happy to host us. David's friend Johnny makes beautiful films, and came with his friend Jeremy to record the journey.
This confluence of talented and generous people led to a magical event on a spectacular piece of coastline. Music, food, people, architecture, film and land were bound together to create something of deep, raw and delicious beauty. Visitors came to eat and listen with us and were open, questioning and involved, and left with sand in their shoes and the scent of smoke in their hair.
At first glance the site shows little promise as a place to find wild food. Open pasture, surrounded by coastline and dry schlerophyll forest. An old farmhouse, a subtly beautiful, newer building, and a working farm with a big mob of sheep. But a day wandering with Penny and David, nibbling and photographing revealed the bounty the land holds. We listed at least 30 edible plants, some native, others introduced, all with culinary potential. To taste the plants that I have known are edible with a chef I admire, and to hear his thoughts on them, their flavours and their potential, and to have Penny take beautiful, detailed photographs of them so we could identify and catalogue what we learnt was, for me, a rare and wonderful experience.
It was a beautiful thing to stand among people as they ate and share with them the stories of the plants they were eating. Hobart's tea queen Varuni gathered plants from among the tussocks and she and other willing hands picked them over to make an infusion to accompany the meal. Others watched David shuck oysters and talked of the difference between the native Angasi oyster and the farmed, now feral, Pacific oyster that now dominates the shorelines of our estuaries.
I learned so much about cooking. David chose to season with kelp, smoke, herbs and seawater. The memory of the smoky, succulent wallaby haunch, slow roasted over coals and scented with smoke from aromatic native herbs still lingers, the land and sea provided incredible flavours, we needed nothing more.
|We gathered beach herbs from a frozen shore. Sand, seashells and plants|
alike, all encrusted with tiny, white shards of frost which seemed to enhance
the briny tang of the herbs.
|The remains of the salad. |
Samphire, dune spinach, sea celery,
wild turnip leaf, scotch thistle root.
|Unearthing kelp-wrapped abalone from their roasting bed.|
|The makings of the salad.|
|Succulent, sea-brined, slow grilled wallaby haunch. Delicious.|