Monday, February 21, 2011

Coming back down to earth

Playdough al fresco! Snailosaurus rex.
Yup, I know, I've had my head in the clouds lately. The title of this post gives it away. Today I'm going to try and get back down to earth. 

Last week I was lucky enough to chat with Elaine Reeves from the Mercury. We had a wonderful wander around the garden, nibbling, enjoying the view of the mountain and the sunshine. But after she left I thought over what we had talked about and realised I spoke perhaps a little too much about the wonderful chefs I'm so excited to be working with,  and not as much about the root of our business, which is trying to contribute to a healthy and happy planet. So here's part of how I imagine it could work:

  • I want a healthy family, and to help other people have the same. One of my kids eats reluctantly from a plate, but will gorge herself in the garden. So I'm trying to give her a good garden to feast from. She'll grow up with this as a normal way of living. With respect and value for food and how it is produced and also what it can do for her health. She already makes her own herbal tea blend from the garden when she has a sniffle. Yesterday our biggest Garden fairy was dressed as a superhero, undies on the outside, knee high, stripey socks, a cape, and a fantastic mask made from an egg carton. Our apple tree was being raided by the wildlife and superhero 'Apple Girl' was on a mission to save our apples. We filled the washing basket, Apple Girl and I, then processed and filled lots of Fowler's jars with apple puree and chunks. We grabbed spotty apples and ones that had been nibbled by pademelons. We trimmed blemishes and salvaged loads of delicious fruit that would normally be wasted. We cooked the apples for the puree with skin, cores and all, and passed them through a mouli marvelling at how little was wasted, and the pretty pink hue of our pulp from the colour of the skin. Now the rejected parts are simmering on the stove for the chooks. And the littlest garden fairy learnt how to ladle. So, much was learnt, food was salvaged, fun was had and delicious apple was stored, mmm crumble...! That's what it's all about!
  • Packets of herbs, greens and other well travelled and over-packaged food items depress me. We grow a good variety of herbs here, with minimal work, and it is unimaginable to me to pay $4 for a tiny, shrivelled bunch of something bundled up in plastic and stickers. So I like to think that every little plant I sell means someone can walk to their garden or pot, cut only what they need and save some money, get herbs that are healthier for them and healthier for the planet. Without all that plastic, travel time and associated chemical use and carbon emissions. And for those who can't grow their own a few of us at the market bring along some fresh each week naked but for an elastic band or piece of string, harvested the night before and not travelled any further than you can travel to market. 
Treats from the last market
    • Some of the plants sold in Tassie are also well travelled. Somehow the perverse economics of the world make it cheaper, in some cases, for retailers to bring plants across the water. To do this, those plants need to be treated with chemicals to reduce the risk of plant pests and diseases hitching a ride to our fair island. At Provenance we grow our plants in a home made potting mix made from composted Tasmanian pine bark, Tasmanian dolomite, blood-and-bone, sand, kelp meal and crusher dust, and two certified organic fertiliser blends. We use second hand pots (so please bring yours back!). We are setting up a mini wetland to clean the water that runs off of our growing area, and we use no chemical insecticides, fungicides or herbicides, only natural methods of pest control (lots of aphid-eating frogs) or preferably none at all! 
    Alpine strawberry 'Alexandria'. Yum.

      Satisfaction for me comes from selling an alpine strawberry plant to a little boy at the market, knowing he'll plant it with his parents, reap his gloriously sweet harvest, and maybe acquire a taste for gardening and the delights of REAL food. I couldn't think of a more satisfying job!
        So, I'll pull my head out of the clouds, kneel in the mud, rub the earth off of some lovely potatoes and be thankful for being able to make a living from my home, with my family and feeling as though we're a small part of keeping the world the wonderful place it is.

        Look out for my chat with Elaine Reeves in the Mercury tomorrow, Tuesday the 22nd of February, and come and give us a hoy at the Tas Farm Gate market this Sunday, and the 2nd 4th and 5th Sunday of each month. We're now on Facebook and Twitter. Check these out for updates of when we'll be at market and what's coming down, or even to request something you fancy for you garden or kitchen.
        Baby Barnervelder, no longer this cute, now a gangly teenager, but I love this photo!

        Tuesday, February 8, 2011

        Bliss, or something like it.....

        Flowers for a salad

        It's been a magical afternoon. One of those sparkling days where it's blissful to have the sun on your back, but not too hot to dig, and not a breath of wind. The earth is damp from the rain earlier in the week, and it seems that every time I kneel to pull a weed there is a tiny frog sitting on it. I've snatched a moment while the 3 year old garden fairy is having an afternoon sleep (lucky for some!) to get out into the sun and sow, sow, sow. I'm hoping I'm not too late, that Summer will come, it's just running late this year. That things will have time to mature before Winter sets in. Despite a few setbacks and failures we are pretty impressed by the performance of our first-year plot. Carrots and radishes abound, we have a truckload of broad beans that are about to be cut down, and all the enormous missed pods will be dried for Winter use, along with a great crop of Purple Podded Peas, a variety that was bred for drying, and has also proved to be quite exquisite eaten immature as you would a snow pea.

         The Chioggia and Forrrono beetroot have flourished and I'm hoping that last weeks sowing of these isn't too late for a Winter crop. We also have a some newbies, for us at least. Burdock, otherwise known as Gobo is looking totally out of place with its enormous leaves. You can use it as a root vegetable, or eat the flowering stem. I think we'll go half and half with this crop, unless those roots prove to be irresistible and it doesn't get the chance to flower! This is our first year growing celeriac, and they look wonderful, so good in fact I'm almost looking forward to Winter. I reckon a brilliant companion for it on the plate will be Rapini, a turnip grown for its bitter green leaves and flowering stems. If all goes well you'll see both of these on the stall in June or July.

        I've just sown a tray of a lettuce that I couldn't resist because of its name, 'Drunken Woman' and it's a loose leaf variety. Just the thing to cheer up an Autumn salad, with an accompanying drop perhaps? And a kale called 'Old Women Meet and Gossip'. Today I also noticed a brilliant germination of Hamburg parsley, a variety cultivated for its edible taproot, that looks a bit like a parsnip in the pictures I've seen.

        But throughout all of this serene planting, weeding, watching fairy wrens twitter while sitting on the handle of my garden fork, or motorcycle gangs of plovers dive-bombing the Grey Goshawk above me, my mind is racing. Exciting things are afoot, here in the wilds of Neika.

        Baby rocket
        I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a fancy chef from the big smoke coming to visit. And I promised I'd tell you who it was, but me being me, I'm a bit later than promised.  A few years back, my wonderful mother in law (who yesterday chuckled at the aforementioned lettuce moniker) sent us to Sydney for the weekend. She'd lashed out and found us a lovely room at Circular Quay. We'd enjoyed a wander through the Botanic Gardens, and called Quay, not expecting to get in, but somehow we managed to get a table. Going to eat in a wonderful place with no expectations whatsoever is a rare treat. And oh what a treat it was. Five courses of beautiful plates, one of which was the best thing I'd ever eaten in a restaurant, a marvel of technique, contrast and deliciousness. Bah! A whole weeks wages on one meal, who cares! We won't ever forget it, so imagine how I feel when the mobile rings, I answer and get, 'Hi, it's Peter Gilmore here'. How does someone like that find us way out here in these wild hills? It turns out he'd tasted the Sea Celery, a native parsley-like plant that I'd sent to Hugh Whitehouse, the chef at Saffire, for his kitchen garden, and wanted some plants for himself. So he came over to our weedy plot and enjoyed a sunshiney couple of hours nibbling herbs, sipping tea, talking food and digging rainbow potatoes. And he was kind enough to offer to sign his book that I'd bought Matt for Christmas.

        Equally exciting, and closer to home we've been working with our very favourite place to eat, Garagistes. If we ever get a night without the garden fairies, we have an unspoken agreement that we head straight there for dinner and amazing wine. Luke Burgess, the chef, is as obsessed with edible plants, grown with care, as we are. He is willing to try anything interesting that I take in to the restaurant, and to share his incredible knowledge and experience with us to help our little business grow. He was even kind enough to mention us in a piece in the latest Gourmet Traveller. To be involved with a place that has such intent attention to detail, from the hand made plates to the natural wines and the composting of kitchen waste, fits perfectly with our philosophy. We've also begun talking to some other exciting local eating places who might use a few of our unusual herbs on their plates,watch this space! Finding people who know how to work with unusual produce gives growers like me a licence to experiment, and I hope to reflect this with the produce that comes to market.

        Another willing and wonderful experimenter is my partner, Matt Deakin. He is the chef at the Hobart institution, Mures Upper Deck. If you haven't been there for a while, you'd be surprised at the work he is doing, with access to our garden, another organic supplier, some great fish and his creativity. It is a wonderful perk being a chefs guinea pig, not least when it's dessert time.....

        We'll be down at the Tas Farm Gate market this Sunday, the 13th, with lots of exciting produce, including Chioggia beetroot, a tiny few bunches of rainbow carrots- I have never tasted a carrot more delicious than the Purple Dragons I'm pulling from the garden at the moment, some Crookneck squash and Romanesco zucchini (if you think zukes aren't worth eating give these delicious puppies a go!). Also, if you like the look of those delicious flowers in the picture above, and fancy some for your dinner, please send us an email and we can bring some to market for you.

        We'll also have loads of great plants, plenty of edibles, and the first of our Hobart local provenance plants will be making their debut. So rock on down and say hi! Veggies, stunning ham steaks, cupcakes to die for and 20 degrees the forecast. Sounds alright, doesn't it!!
        Romanesco Zucchini
        The view from the garden fairies window.