Wednesday, July 25, 2012

And there in the wood.... Musings on piglets and pumpkins.


They're arriving today. Three little pigs.

Last spring we had a tractor come. We needed to get some ground prepared in a hurry for our potatoes. In the confined space we had, the giant wheels of the machine made huge, compacted ditches where nothing will grow. It pulled the clay subsoil to the surface, and generally made a mess At $100 it seemed like a good idea, to save our backs and have the tractor guy do the work, but we were left a little unhappy.

The big machine drove all the way from Margate just to till our plot. It probably did more harm than good for our ground, and we still needed an afternoon of rotary hoeing and a whole day barrowing compost and shovelling and raking the ground into beds. Not really labour saving, ruinous for our soil and big contribution to the greenhouse effect.

So enter the pigs.

Pigs love to dig. I've visited the incredible Agrarian Kitchen and found a lot of inspiration. No treated timber in the garden, minimal soil disturbance, and minimal use of machinery. To start a new plot where a paddock has been they employ pigs rather than tractors. So we're taking tentative steps down that path today.
We had roaring success with a small, no-dig plot of unusual pumpkins and squash last summer, and these beautiful veggies sit patiently on the lounge room floor all winter until we're ready to eat them. So despite harvesting 100kg from a 15m2 area, we have been selfishly hoarding them to eat ourselves (winter is long, and they are delicious!).

We've fenced off a small area where the runoff from the garden travels down a slight slope to a mini wetland where it is filtered by rushes before flowing back to our dam for re-use. To maximise the efficiency of water use, we thought we'd start our porkers there now, then fill the ground they cultivate with pumpkins and squash this summer. We may just grow enough to share without the need to irrigate another plot. While the pumpkins grow the pigs will be moved up the hill to prepare more ground. For fruit trees, broad beans, potatoes....more beautiful food!

From left to right: Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash, Tuffy Acorn Squash and Delicata Squash.
Seedlings of all of these, and more, will be available from us in October, and squash should start appearing
on our stall in February, although they taste better the longer they are stored.
And next winter we'll be able to enjoy some ham with our pumpkins. And share some of this deliciousness with you.

I'll post some pictures of our little piggies tonight when they arrive, I can't wait!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


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.

For me this was a truly humbling experience. One day of harvesting with my friend and colleague Sam, armed with steel tools, clad in merino and down, and wearing protective gloves left me exhausted. Blisters and chilblains on my hands, aching arms and a weary spine bought to mind the people who depended on this landscape for the entirety of their existence without these luxuries. Their strength, resilience, knowledge of and connection to the land are at the front of my mind today, along with thoughts of past Europeans new to these shores, trying to feed their families in, what to them must have seemed, a barren and hostile land.

A big thank you to Penny, David, the land owners, Johnny, Jeremy, the musicians whose magic I caught whispers of as I sliced abalone outside, and the warm and beautiful people who came, ate and spoke with us.

Succulent, sea-brined, slow grilled wallaby haunch. Delicious.

This is one of my favourite types of work. If you would like help identifying native plants and weeds on your land and finding out their uses we are available to consult and catalogue them with you. Please get in touch to find out about availability and rates please email us at .  You can also find us at Farm Gate Market on the second and fourth Sunday of each month with plants and produce.