Saturday, May 14, 2011


We are a family that enjoys protein. And tomorrow we shall harvest some. Tonight I am about to don the head torch and catch three slumbering, young roosters. We've had the good fortune of two late Summer clutches of chicks, all hatched under broody mothers, all with access to plenty of pasture, warm mash on cold mornings and plenty of tasty weeds. With a life like this we don't lose chicks to disease. Of our 11 chicks, 4 are boys, 3 of whom are destined for the chopping block tomorrow. The lucky one will be moving down the road to our friends place, where he will look after a whole new harem of lovely chook ladies. At this stage we're not eating any female birds while we build up our laying flock.

After breakfast we'll head to another lovely neighbour's place to do the deed. They have a few roosters as well. The kids will come along, and I'm quite sure there will be tears, but last time the tears at the demise of Sunny the Evil Rooster were replaced by shouts of "Yummy!" when his plucked body made its way back inside. In some ancient pattern of labour distribution the blokes will dispatch the birds while we light a fire and boil a big pot of water ready for plucking, and prepare a pot of icy cold water for chilling them. I'll line up bowls, this time I intend to try and cook every edible part, one bowl each for livers, hearts, gizzards, feet and combs. We'll dig a hole where a Winter planted fruit tree is to go, ready for the bits we can't eat.

We've been completely responsible for the quality of life these birds have enjoyed. We know exactly what has been consumed by them. We will be responsible for their end. We will take care to use every scrap of their flesh, and make stocks from their delicious bones.

Our aim is to build up a flock that can supply us with at least one bird for the pot a fortnight. Free range birds available commercially are from heavy, industrially bred meat birds that are slaughtered at 6 weeks, if they are left any longer they can develop stress fractures as they grow too fast to support their own bulk. Our birds are 16 weeks old and have had a wonderful mixed diet. They have run on their legs, scratched with their claws, so their bones will be strong, muscles lean and full of flavour. And if we're to eat eggs we need to hatch chicks, and half of what we hatch will be male birds.There are loads of feral roosters in the forests around Hobart, doing untold damage to the bush by digging up young plants and disturbing the soil. And too many roosters with not enough hens is cruel to the whole flock.

So, for me it's off into the cold night to catch our dinner. I'm feeling an odd mix of emotions, the birds are beautiful, we watched them hatch and grow, but now they're beginning to fight. Killing is hard, as is plucking and gutting a creature you've raised. But I've got some bread dough rising so that we can have livers and hearts fried in sagey butter on toast after our work is done. I've got some tips on how to prepare chicken feet from a fantastic chef friend. And is it wrong that I gave them their last meal of warm mash tonight laced with loads of garlic and thyme....?

Friday, May 6, 2011


Now, it might be trendy and all that, to dismiss chances of expressing love and thankfulness. Valentines Day, Christmas, Mothers Day and others of that ilk, get wrapped up in commercial bubbles, storms of disposable junk, purchased because we feel we have to. And that is a shame. I think in this busy life we lead, that any reminder to slow down for a moment, and show others what you feel for them, should be shared and savoured. 

So this is for you Mum.

We can all safely say that we wouldn't be here without our Mums. They bore and nurtured us, raised us and did what they could to set us on the path to a good life. But, my Mum is special.
Mum on the right, looking very fetching in her white socks!

I have a Mum who grew up in another time. When she was a little girl at South Arm it was a remote, old fashioned community. Dirt roads, that only her mother could drive on. Boys at the bus stop who tied dead snakes on pieces of string to drag across the road in front of the school bus and frighten the driver. Her bookmaker Dad would go wading for flounder from the beach, and, living on a chicken farm, chicken necks and parsons noses were on the menu. Massive pots of curried scallops would make their way along the dirt roads to race day at Bothwell.

A childhood like this taught my Mum to be self sufficient. To make the best of little and to enjoy the gifts that nature brings. She taught me that frugality and generosity are not mutually exclusive. To value what you have, and treat food with respect. We never ate a packaged muesli bar, there were always fresh, home made cakes and slices for after school snacks. We learnt how to make a fantastic gravy from pan juices and veggie water by being in charge of stirring as soon as we were tall enough to reach the stove. We shopped, baked and washed up beside her. There was always a veggie garden of some kind in the back yard, we scavenged quinces from neglected trees on the way to beach picnics and scoured roadside stalls for the best produce. Washing baskets full of fruit sat on the washing machine in the Summer months, to be turned into jams, or put aside for crumbles and cakes in Winter. Long trips to Plenty to pick Morrello cherries, or to the Central Highlands for trout were on the agenda most weekends. Morning tea was served on pretty plates with a sense of ceremony. We ate dinner at the table together every night. I really think that this respect for food, and care in its preparation lead me to where I am now.

A huge part of our childhood was spent in a tent. But no tinned food for us! Mum would freeze home made meals in milk cartons and pack them into an eski like bricks. We'd roast potatoes in coals and feast on mussels, abalone and fish. We never cooked on a gas cooker, all was done in the fire. Without being trendy, Mum had a true sense of place. Camping food was meant to be primal, toast smelling of smoke, or a leg of lamb, dug from the sand after roasting on hot stones all day was allowed to have grit from the beach on it. And have you ever had the ecstasy of sharing a surf crab, boiled in a billy after a long afternoon spent coaxing it from its granite rockpool with a chunk of bait? My Mum gave me that pleasure and thousands like it. Remembering these gems from childhood informs my parenting, and inspires me to find joys like these for my little ones.

Every Sunday when I go to market, despite the fact that she has a long, overnight shift coming up that night, my Mum is there with a basket of goodies from her garden to share. She keeps me company, dishes out quality advice, and even better banter, and keeps a close watch on our caffiene and blood sugar levels. To one such market she bought along some finger limes, a native Australian citrus that thrives in her back yard. These limes were spied by Hugh, the chef at Saffire who then proceeded to inspire me with talk of his kitchen garden and the rare herbs and edible flowers he likes to use, opening my mind to the idea of cultivating these treasures for chefs and adventurous cooks, and leading to a most amazing year of adventure in the garden. 
Mum by a lake. Rambles, cups of tea, fruitless fishing. Bliss!

Mum has inspired, guided, motivated, praised, encouraged and occasionally, when I needed it, chastised me. She teaches my family and I generosity, resilience, the value of work, and most importantly, unconditional love. Which, of course, is the most important ingredient of all.

So, like all of us, but perhaps even a little bit more, I wouldn't be where I am without my Mum.

Love you Mum. Happy mother's day. xxx