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Articles on this Page
- 06/04/14--22:49: _Damien Pignolet SSS
- 06/04/14--22:55: _Belinda Jeffery Acc...
- 06/04/14--23:18: _Cumulus cooking class
- 06/04/14--23:21: _Rodney Dunn Essenti...
- 06/24/14--19:11: _Introduction
- 06/24/14--21:57: _Cheddar and spinach...
- 06/24/14--22:23: _Slow-cooked leg of ...
- 06/24/14--22:34: _Breton cake with Pe...
- 07/07/14--21:12: _Richard Unsworth
- 07/07/14--21:19: _Garden Life
- 07/07/14--23:34: _Introduction
- 07/07/14--23:48: _A formal garden - P...
- 07/07/14--23:53: _Connect
- 07/08/14--17:30: _Anthia's Top Produc...
- 07/15/14--23:03: _Simon Rickard
- 07/15/14--23:13: _Heirloom Vegetables
- 07/15/14--23:20: _Introduction
- 07/15/14--23:25: _About Heirlooms
- 07/16/14--00:07: _Peas
- 07/16/14--19:28: _Jane de Teliga
- 06/04/14--22:49: Damien Pignolet SSS
- 06/04/14--22:55: Belinda Jeffery Accoutrement
- 06/04/14--23:18: Cumulus cooking class
- 06/04/14--23:21: Rodney Dunn Essential Ingredient Class
- 06/24/14--19:11: Introduction
- 06/24/14--21:57: Cheddar and spinach souffles
- Preheat the oven to 200°C fan-forced (220°C conventional). Place the potatoes on the middle oven rack and bake for 50 minutes or until tender.
- Meanwhile, place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast them for 5 minutes or until the skins loosen. Wrap the hot hazelnuts in a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins, then set aside.
- Remove the potatoes and reduce the oven temperature to 180°C fan-forced. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half, scoop out the flesh and press it through a fine-meshed sieve with a large spoon (do not overwork or it will become gluey). Cover and set aside.
- Meanwhile, butter six ¾ cup (180 ml) ramekins or small copper pans. Divide the breadcrumbs among the ramekins or pans and toss to coat, tip out any excess crumbs and set aside.
- Melt 40 g of the butter in a non-stick frying pan over high heat, then add the spinach leaves. Cook for a minute or two, tossing once or twice, until the leaves have wilted and softened, then immediately tip into a colander and leave to drain. Once cool, squeeze the remaining liquid from the spinach and set aside.
- Place the milk in a small heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Add the nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a small heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, then add the flour. Cook, stirring regularly, for 2–3 minutes or until a roux forms, then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a minute or two.
- Place the cooled roux over medium heat, then add the hot milk, a ladleful at a time, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, waiting until the milk has been combined each time before adding more. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook the bechamel for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
- Place the potato, cooled spinach and 200 g of the cheddar in a bowl, then add the bechamel and the egg yolks and stir gently to combine. In a clean bowl, beat the eggwhites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Gently fold one-third of the eggwhites into the cheese mixture, then follow with the remaining eggwhites.
- Spoon into the ramekins or pans, filling them to the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar, then bake for 16–18 minutes or until the souffles have risen and are bubbling and golden. Serve immediately.
- 06/24/14--22:23: Slow-cooked leg of lamb with onions and garlic
- Preheat the oven to 240°C fan-forced (260°C conventional).
- Place the lamb in a heavy-based non-stick flameproof roasting tin. Make eight small slits in the skin with the point of a small sharp knife and push in the garlic slivers and rosemary lengths. Place the halved garlic heads and onions around the lamb, then add 1 cup (250 ml) water to the tin.
- Reserving a few whole thyme sprigs for the gravy, pick the leaves from the remaining thyme and rosemary sprigs and coarsely chop them. Season the lamb and vegetables with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Drizzle with the olive oil, then pop into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 140°C fan-forced (160°C conventional).
- Roast for 2 hours, basting the lamb with the juices once or twice per hour. Remove the roasting tin from the oven, transfer the onion and garlic to a small baking dish, cover and set aside. By this stage the lamb should be nicely browned; cover it securely with foil and return it to the oven for a further 3 hours.
- Remove the lamb from the oven – it should be very tender and fall easily from the bone when lightly pushed. Transfer it to a large plate or tray, cover with foil and set aside to rest for 10–15 minutes before carving. Turn off the oven, then return the onions and garlic to the oven just to warm through.
- Meanwhile, carefully strain the roasting juices from the tin into a heatproof jug, leaving the sediment behind. Set the juices aside for a couple of minutes to allow the fat to settle on top, then spoon 2 tablespoons of fat back to the tin. Skim the remaining fat from the jug and discard. You should have about 1 cup (250 ml) roasting juices remaining.
- Place the roasting tin over medium heat and add the flour. Cook for 1–2 minutes, stirring well with a wooden spoon to pick up all the sediment. Add the stock or jus and the reserved juices, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining thyme sprigs and simmer for 2–3 minutes to thicken, then strain into a clean jug or gravy boat.
- Serve the lamb and vegetables with the thyme-infused gravy alongside.
- 06/24/14--22:34: Breton cake with Pedro Ximenez-poached plums
- Preheat the oven to 165°C fan-forced (185°C conventional).
- Place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat with hand-held electric beaters for 1–2 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the softened butter and continue to beat until well combined. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough, then knead lightly with your hands until smooth.
- Press the dough into a 24 cm loose-based fluted tart tin. Brush the top with beaten egg, then bake for 25 minutes or until golden (the cake will still be quite moist and gooey in the centre). Leave to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the tin and placing on a serving plate.
- Meanwhile, for the poached plums, place the plums, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan and set aside for 30 minutes to macerate. Add the sherry and bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and poach, covered, for 4–5 minutes until the plums are just tender but still holding their shape (the time it takes will depend on the size and ripeness of the fruit). Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Increase the heat to medium–high and simmer the poaching liquid for 5–8 minutes or until thickened and syrupy.
- Place the cream and yoghurt in a large bowl and beat with hand-held electric beaters until firm peaks form, then cover and refrigerate until required.
- Spoon the poached plums over the cake, then drizzle with the syrup. Garnish with mint, if using, and serve with the yoghurt cream to the side.
- 07/07/14--21:12: Richard Unsworth
- 07/07/14--21:19: Garden Life
- 07/07/14--23:34: Introduction
- 07/07/14--23:48: A formal garden - Point Piper
- 07/07/14--23:53: Connect
- 07/08/14--17:30: Anthia's Top Produce Spots in Sydney
- 07/15/14--23:03: Simon Rickard
- 07/15/14--23:13: Heirloom Vegetables
- 07/15/14--23:20: Introduction
- 07/15/14--23:25: About Heirlooms
- 07/16/14--00:07: Peas
- 07/16/14--19:28: Jane de Teliga
Cooking class at Sydney Seafood School with Damien Pignolet
With over 30 years cooking experience, Damien is a wealth of knowledge on all things culinary with a great flair for passing on his wisdom. At this hands-on lunch class you'll learn to prepare French-bistro inspired seafood dishes from the author of award-winning books French and Salades.
Contact Sydney Seafood School
P 02 9004 1111
Cooking class with Belinda Jeffery
It is always a treat to have Belinda in the kitchen and we are very happy that she will be with us to launch her new book. “Utterly Delicious Simple Food” – describes Belinda perfectly. An alternative date is also available.
Contact Accoutrement Cooking School
P 02 9969 1031
Cooking class with Andrew McConnell from Cumulus Inc.
Melbourne is all about real food. Andrew McConnell, with his experience, five restaurants and a sixth soon to be opened, has a wealth of talent and experience in the industry. He will present a menu which reflects his approach to dining. Andrew is very focused on teaching and inspiring people to cook.
Contact Accoutrement Cooking School
P 02 9969 1031
Grow, Cook, Eat with Rodney Dunn
Join Tasmanian-based chef, teacher, farmer and forager, Rodney Dunn, as he explains the philosophy behind The Agrarian Kitchen. Wander the market discovering the unusual, the unknown and, sometimes, the unloved fruits and vegetables, before returning to the kitchen to turn your finds into a lunch espousing the principles Rodney adheres to in his culinary life.
Contact Essential Ingredient
P 03 9827 9047
Sometimes it strikes me that my obsession with food is bordering on the unhealthy. Everything I do is centred around it: my work, obviously, but also evenings at home spent cooking for the family, watching food programs on television and tweeting and facebooking about food. Going to the growers’ market bright and early on a Saturday morning, followed by breakfast at a cafe, then same again on Sunday. Dinners out, too many coffee stops, long drives in the country that strangely enough always end with a food reward (cheese, chocolate or wine from the Yarra Valley; berries, cherries and olives from the Mornington Peninsula; or beer, bread and honey from Beechworth). I mean, who drives seven kilometres for a tub of the best, freshly churned ice cream? These are the forgotten food miles.
Holidays are worse. My first thoughts are always ‘Where haven’t I eaten?’ and ‘Where would I like to eat again?’ Whether it’s France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam
or New Zealand, the pattern is the same and, frankly, inescapable for my family. We went to Tuscany for our last holiday so I could visit the Amedei chocolate factory. I mean, you’ve seen one duomo, you’ve seen ’em all, right?
My wife, Mandy, has succumbed to the inevitable (my daughter, bless her cotton socks, doesn’t know any different). ‘Any chance we can go out for a change?’ Mandy might ask. ‘What!’ I reply. ‘We go out four or five times a week, always trying the latest thing.’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘out, but not involving food. Maybe dancing, the pictures, a walk, the ballet or a museum?’ I’m still digesting that one!
Now and then I wonder if I should be doing something else with my time, like learning to play tennis or finally nailing my conversational French instead of making do with my culinary pidgin. But, on the whole, I’ve come to accept that my obsession with food is all-encompassing, and that’s the way I like it. I’m never happier than when I’m thinking about food, talking about food, shopping for food or eating. I love the generosity of spirit that comes with being a cook: feeding people and feeding them well, often to bursting point. Years ago I very deliberately stopped trying to draw a line in the sand to distinguish between work and play, and now I live by the motto ‘Always working, always playing’. This has helped me manage my condition considerably.
Not only do I love experiencing all that a good food life has to offer, but I also relish sharing my experiences and knowledge with others. For this, my fourth cookbook, I was inspired to sit down and write a list of my favourite dishes: absolutely everything I love to eat. I thought back to the meals of my childhood as well as those from my early career as a chef in London. I thought of the food I cook for my wife and daughter at home that have become family classics. And I thought of the wealth of amazing dishes from talented cooks and chefs, both here and abroad, that I have been lucky enough to try over the years as co-host of MasterChef Australia. As the list ballooned to over 200 dishes, I had to restrain myself! After much deliberation, I whittled it down to just over 100, and here they are – my all-time favourite dishes.
This is a diverse collection. I was classically trained in French cuisine, and there is no getting away from the fact that I love French cooking – the flavours are bold, satisfying and familiar. By contrast, living in Australia we are inescapably immersed in the pleasures of food multiculturalism; we think nothing of eating Thai or Chinese on a Monday night, Malay or Vietnamese on a Tuesday, maybe Spanish or North African on a Wednesday and roast chook on a Thursday. We love fresh food, we love sweet, sour, salt and heat and, above all, crunch. How lucky we are.
Good food always starts with good shopping – it’s where the inspiration begins. We are all guilty of trudging around the supermarket and putting exactly the same things in the shopping trolley each week (you know what I mean: skinless chicken breasts, lamb chops, a block of cheddar and some tinned tuna). It’s easy, let’s face it – but it’s pretty uninspiring too. I’ve found the secret to creative cooking at home is to buy at least a few different fruits or vegetables, cuts of meat, fish, spices, pastes or vinegars, get them home and have a go at a new recipe or two each week. I also find that a trip to the local Asian grocer always turns up a few surprises; things that add instant authenticity to a dish, like thick dark soy sauce, coconut vinegar, lily buds, black beans or rice noodles. Pop them in your basket and they’ll change the dishes you put on the family table.
If you’re lucky enough to live near a growers’ market, make the most of it. The stallholders are a wonderful source of information because they live what they do, and most often they love it too! You’ll easily fall into a pattern of buying the best the season has to offer. When a particular ingredient looks fantastic, seems to be everywhere at once and is at its cheapest, buy it and eat lots of it!
I hope this book is a little window into my life of food. Have fun, and remember to bite off small chunks of recipes, give yourself time to chew and always leave room for more. In other words, never get frustrated in the kitchen, take a little time if you are tackling something out of the ordinary and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
When I wrote this recipe, I wanted a little of Mrs Beeton – an old-fashioned recipe with rustic charm – and I think I nailed it. I could almost have these for breakfast with some ripe tomatoes and a few rashers of bacon, but then that would be greedy, wouldn’t it?
2 potatoes (about 400 g)
1/3 cup (45 g) hazelnuts
1/3 cup (25 g) packaged fine breadcrumbs
100 g unsalted butter
1 bunch (500 g) spinach, stalks removed, leaves well washed and drained
350 ml milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt flakes and freshly ground white pepper
40 g plain flour
250 g strong cheddar cheese
3 free-range eggs, separated
No sooner had we banished the sins of the overcooked Sunday roast and mastered the art of a beautifully pink, well-rested leg of lamb than we’re asking you to put your roast in the oven and forget about it! Slow cooking makes a nice change now and then, and gives the meat that characteristically soft, fall-off-the-bone tenderness that tastes so good. The meat will shrink during cooking but the result is delicious, and the gravy you make from the roasting juices will probably be the best you’ve tasted. Lamb shoulder is also fabulous cooked this way.
1 × 2 kg lamb leg
2 heads garlic, halved crossways, plus 2 cloves extra, cut into slivers
4 sprigs rosemary, 1 snipped into 1 cm lengths
3 red onions, halved
1 handful thyme sprigs
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
1½ tablespoons plain flour
1 cup (250 ml) Chicken Stock
In-season plums are unbeatable. There are lots of varieties available, but I prefer to use blood plums for this because they
give a wonderful burgundy-red hue to the syrup. I also break a
few plum stones with a nut cracker, remove the kernel and pop them in the syrup, as they have a subtle, almond-like flavour. You can use any sort of good-quality, dark sweet sherry for this.
3 free-range egg yolks
160 g caster sugar
160 g unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups (225 g) plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup (180 ml) thickened cream
¾ cup (210 g) Greek-style yoghurt
1 handful baby mint leaves, optional
PEDRO XIMENEZ-POACHED PLUMS
12 small (about 800 g) blood plums, stones removed, quartered
¼ cup (55 g) caster sugar
5 pieces lemon zest, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler, white pith removed
1 stick cinnamon
1 cup (250 ml) Pedro Ximenez sherry
Richard Unsworth is a leading garden designer and is Garden Editor and a contributing writer for Belle magazine. He also the owner of Sydney's iconic outdoor store, Garden Life.
Having grown up surrounded by nature in the north of England, Richard inherited a love of gardening from his parents. After he moved to Sydney he furthered his love of urban horticulture with formal study, and started his first business, Apartment Garden Living, focusing on inner-city garden design.
In 2001 he opened his first store, Garden Life , in Sydney's Darlinghurst, where he widened his design practice to work in larger spaces both in the city and further afield. In 2008 Garden Life moved to larger premises in Redfern.
Richard's love of travel and adventure takes him to places far and wide to find inspiration as he discovers new and old wares. Garden Life is a celebration of natural, unique and contemporary pieces and plants sourced both globally and locally.
In addition to running the business, Richard is a founding member of the James Street Reserve Community Garden, located in the lane behind the Garden Life store.
Garden Life is a gardening book with soul, in which Richard Unsworth, leading landscape designer and co-owner of renowned outdoor store, Garden Life, shares his boundless enthusiasm for all things green.
This book showcases to-die-for gardens Richard has designed - from the grounds of a harbourside mansion to inner-city courtyard, from coastal retreat to suburban backyard - each one displaying his unique flair and flawless vision. He gives expert tips on incorporating features from his gardens into your own, and detailed advice on plant selection, including growing your own fruit and vegies. Equally passionate about the power of gardening to help us connect with one another, Richard also shares the garden journeys of the people he has met along the way.
A celebration of nature and her gifts, and of the joys and challenges of creating a beautiful garden, Garden Life will inspire and empower you to engage with your own outdoor space.
'Garden Life is a brilliant celebration of Richard Unsworth's passion for all gardens great and small. From formal to relaxed and traditional to exotic, he creates outdoor spaces that are intuitive, individual and totally right for today.' Neal Whitaker, Editor-in-chief, Belle
I run a business called Garden Life, which is a combination of retail and garden design. The retail side is a lot of fun, and I love to fill the store with beautiful pots and other objects which I have sourced from my travels. Garden design is the backbone of the business though, where I started and where I get to flex my creative muscle. I am passionate about helping people transform their urban outdoor environments – their own patch of green space, their retreat, and the place where they can connect with others. I see our role as garden designers as, quite simply, to help our clients create the outdoor space they want to be in. Although practical issues and aesthetics are important, it’s more important to get the feeling of the garden right. It is more important to me, as a designer, to understand how a client wants a space to feel, than how he or she wants it to look. Of course, some clients just want it to look great, and that’s fine, too.
Some of our clients are pretty vague about what they want, and others come armed to the teeth with clippings, scrapbooks, journals and lists. I’m not too fussed whether it’s one or the other, or anything in between. As long as we can get into their heads and try to understand their expectations and desires, then we can work with them to create their personal outdoor space. My aim is simple – I want our clients to be able to just sit and be in the space, alone or with others, to be at ease and feel like they belong. If we can achieve this, then I feel we have succeeded.
Garden aesthetics are of course heavily influenced by fixed factors such as the location, the local environment, the architecture of the home and the client’s lifestyle. More than ever before, we live now with a connection to the outdoors through contemporary architecture, and this inside/outside relationship is in everybody’s consciousness.
To create a successful garden, you need to find the right balance between planting and the built form, with neither one dominating the other. So many designs concentrate solely on the built form, with scant attention to the planting and vice versa – careful consideration of both is critical.
It’s important not to take a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to garden design. Every space is different, and every client has different needs and aspirations, so we try to approach each project with fresh eyes. Plants must be used in the conditions they favour; placing plants in the wrong position is the most common mistake people make. I do have some favourites – the ones that have proved themselves to be reliable performers over the years. I try to integrate imaginative, fresh planting with a core of proven performers to keep things fresh and ensure our planting schemes last the distance.
Most of my inspiration comes from the great outdoors. I grew up amongst the limestone walls and rugged slopes of the Yorkshire Dales. Here in Australia I love the energy of the whole landscape – the bush and the countryside, the hills and the valleys, the changing colours of the outback desert or a rocky cliff-top escarpment. I love the movement of native grasses and the gnarly, barked forms of angophoras and banksias. I am inspired by walking through deciduous woodlands, seeing bluebells in spring and claret leaves in autumn, and I love bushwalking close to my place in the Blue Mountains.
Australian garden designer Annie Wilkes has been a major influence – I learnt so much about composition and scale whilst working for her at Parterre Gardens. I’m also a big fan of Hugh Main and Myles Baldwin, who both have highly original styles. Overseas, the dreamy French gardens of Nicole de Vesian are works of art; American landscape architect Andrea Cochran always pushes the boundaries with her geometric layouts, and UK-based Italian designer Luciano Giubbilei creates very chic gardens in tight urban spaces.
Australian landscape designer Rick Eckersley once told me that he sees his job as ‘being a conduit for his clients’ desires and ideas’, and I think that’s exactly where good garden design starts. We have to channel our clients’ dreams into creating something achievable, given their space, budget and other individual factors. I always try to be aware that it’s my client’s garden, not mine, whatever I’m doing – whether it’s opening up expansive views or screening unsightly elements; composing intimate spaces or styling areas to focus attention and create drama. It’s all about creating a sense of belonging and connection for the clients, their friends and family when they are in the space.
I think of myself as very lucky with my clients. I have good relationships with all of them, and some of those relationships have blossomed into close friendships. That’s how it is with the owners of this magnificent home at Point Piper. I first met them when they were renting a property we looked after and a year or two later they called us in to help with the garden of their new home. We have now worked together on six different properties.
This was the fifth project I worked on with them, and this ongoing relationship, plus my intimate knowledge of their sense of style, ensured there was a good degree of trust on their part and a strong desire on mine to push the boundaries. I knew how much they loved their new house, and working with them to create a beautiful garden was part of helping them to feel at home there. Whilst neither of them are gardeners, they are purveyors of beauty and big fans of the Mediterranean culture and landscape. They wanted a garden that matched the impressive formal architecture of the house. There had to be elements of grandeur, and some big, bold statements, as well as some softness in certain areas.
This magnificent home sits right in the middle of the dress circle in Sydney Harbour, and when I first saw it the view took my breath away. Okay, so it wasn’t just the view – the house itself is really quite something. Designed by Michael Suttor, this Italianate mansion occupies two blocks and comprises five levels, with the gardens starting at street level then cascading down to the water. The proportions are grand, with vaulted ceilings, sweeping stairs, huge doors and fine, classical architectural detailing everywhere. The living areas on the ground floor lead into a central cobbled courtyard, and the house opens up at the back onto a large terrace facing the view.
The house hadn’t been lived in for some time, and although its interior was in good condition, the outside was another matter. The gardens were seriously letting the house down. Thankfully, the architect had given a lot of thought to the structural layout, and there was a great sense of scale and proportion, so the bones of the garden were already there. However, most of the planting was dull, uninspired and completely overgrown. There were boring, shrubby plants everywhere, scrappy climbers covering beautiful sandstone walls, and groundcovers rambling unchecked and merging into other plants. A large conifer boundary hedge screened the neighbouring house on one side, and there were some lower plantings ofboxandlillypillyhedges that were well-established, but in poor health and extremely woolly. I was itching to get my hands on the garden, which needed some serious work to bring it up to scratch.
Whilst the house demanded formal surroundings, the last thing I wanted to do was to create a clichéd, stuffy formal garden. What I wanted was to breathe some life back into the property, and to create a fresh, classic, pared-back look that had some delicate, light and fun aspects to it.
First, I had to decide what to keep from the existing garden. We ended up keeping only the large, conifer hedges, which provided privacy on the boundary, the existing lillypilly and the smaller box hedgeswhich swept around the lawn. They all needed a firm clipping and pruning, and the soil was badly in need of nourishment. We added cow manure, Dynamic Lifter (chicken poo, deadly smelly but great for foliage growth) and a slow-release fertiliser to improve soil health.
Growing your own produce is a great way to connect more deeply with your garden – and your community. It’s heartwarming to see the popularity of school programs like Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Program, and a plethora of home vegie gardening books, all of which have played a part in the revival of interest in growing more of the food we eat. If you have the space, start an edible garden in your own back or front yard. If you don’t, think about banding together with a group of like-minded neighbours to start your own community garden, as we did in Redfern, with the James Street Reserve Community Garden.
For many reasons, starting with the fact that it is good for our health and for the environment, I believe we should all try to grow whatever food we can in our available outdoor space. It might mean transforming the so-called ‘nature’ strips outside the front of our houses (an ironic name, given that most of them are weed-covered pieces of brown grass; not much nature happening there!), or simply growing a handful of herbs and vegies in the sunniest spot in the garden.
Having a go and growing your own isn’t for everybody – it does require a little effort, although, as they say, you reap what you sow. Instead of going out to clip the hedge or prune the roses, you can go out and connect with your soil by planting seeds, staking the tomatoes, watering and picking a salad for dinner.
I’m not talking about becoming totally self-sufficient, with three pigs and a sheep in the backyard, but you could start with a rosemary bush, or use thyme as a groundcover you can pick when roasting a chicken. Flat-leaf parsley and rocket are so useful, and easy to grow amongst other plants. Try planting some radish seeds with your kids or friends’ kids, like my dad did with me; they will cherish the memory as I do, and you never know where it will lead. Just have a go and start growing something in your patch of ground, however small it is.
If you don’t have the space in your own garden, you can get just as much enjoyment from a community garden, which has the added benefit of bringing people together. My involvement with the James Street Reserve Community Garden has really made me appreciate the importance of being part of a community. When I see people coming together and connecting in the space, and hear chatter between people who wouldn’t usually meet, the social benefits are obvious. You can’t underestimate the importance of projects like these, and the sense of connection and belonging they create.
Anthia Koullouros has been working as a naturopath, herbalist and organic food, health and lifestyle educator since 1994, helping clients transition to brilliant health through the use of organic whole foods, medicinal herbs and spices. She runs Ovvio: The Organic Lifestyle Store and Naturopathic Clinic in Sydney's Paddington. Her book I Am Food is out now.
We asked Anthia to share some of her top spots for sourcing fresh and organic produce in around Sydney and here they are:
• Ovvio Organic Health & Lifestyle Store - Paddington
• Rushcutters Restaurant & Market place - Ruschcutters Bay
• Kitchen by Mike - Rosebery
• The Health Emporium - Bondi
• Bondi Wholefoods - North Bondi Beach
• Organic Avenues - Bilgola
• Wholefoods House - Woollahra
• Enliven Fitness - Glebe
• Grass Roots Urban Butchery - Vaucluse
• Feather and Bone - Marrickville
• The Artisan Butcher - Potts point
And favourite farmers market:
Outside of Sydney:
• Ooomph Cafe + Foodstore - East Gosford
• All good things Organic - Wollongong
• Gnostic Organics - Woy Woy
Simon Rickard has been gardening since he was a boy. In 2001 he moved to Victoria to take a gardening job at the Diggers' Club flagship garden, Heronswood. There he set about renovating the herbaceous and annual borders and the grey garden. In 2002 Simon became Diggers' head gardener, overseeing both Heronswood and her sister garden, the Garden of St Erth. After three-and-a-half years living and working at Heronswood, Simon transferred to the Garden of St Erth where he worked as manager and head gardener until 2009. He is now a writer and leads tours to beautiful gardens around the world. He is also a bassoonist for Pinchgut Opera.
'Vegetables are masterpieces of human ingenuity - their pasts and futures are in our hands.'
How often do you hear someone complain that tomatoes don't taste like they used to? It's becoming a common concern, as food production is increasingly controlled by multinational corporations more interested in profit than flavour. People who care about their food are growing their own vegetables in droves - and especially heirlooms for their wonderfully diverse flavours, shapes and colours. Not to mention their rich history and weird and wonderful names - who could resist a lettuce called 'Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed', not be intrigued by the potato that 'Makes the Daughter-in-Law Cry', or fail to be moved by the 'Cherokee Trail of Tears' bean?
In this lively, passionate and at times political introduction to the world of heirloom vegetables, gardener Simon Rickard describes the history of many of his favourite varieties, encourages you to get growing yourself, and explains why he believes edible gardening is so important to our future - and the future of the planet.
I first fell in love with heirloom vegetables when I took up a gardening position at the Diggers Club’s flagship garden, Heronswood, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in 2001. Twelve years later I find myself back at Heronswood, watching the rain bucket down over Port Phillip Bay from the comfort of Heronswood house’s bay window (what better place?). I am meant to be outside photographing pumpkins but there’s no chance of that in this weather. Being back in the old house where I spent nearly four happy years living as resident head gardener has given me cause to reflect on why I wanted to write this book.
Heirloom vegetables were a revelation to me. Right off the bat they appealed to my sense of aesthetics and my love of the quirky and, above all, they appealed to my tastebuds. But the more I got to know heirlooms the more I began to appreciate them for their stories. It turns out that their stories are our stories, too. Thousands of years of human history are written in their genes if we only know how to look for it. Vegetables are human creations. They are domesticated organisms that only exist within the sphere of humans. They depend on us for their furtherance. But domestication is a mutual process and we humans also depend on our vegetables to a much greater extent than most of us realise. These are the stories I wanted to tell: to reveal how far humans and vegetables have travelled together through the ages and what we’ve done for one another along the way. This book is, in part, a social history of vegetables. Or, you might say, a human tale told through vegetables.
I also wanted to explore vegetables’ fascinating family relationships. Vegetable families are as interesting as any in the human world. Their members include many well-loved ornamentals and herbs, as well as weeds and poisonous plants. Examining the relatives of vegetables throws into sharp relief just how much the domestication process has changed them over the centuries.
I should say that as a survey of the actual cultivars of heirloom vegetables in existence, this book barely scratches the surface. There are 4300 distinct potato cultivars alone – enough to fill several volumes – let alone tomatoes (up to 75 000) and eggplants (your guess is as good as mine). Far from trying to be exhaustive, I have mostly limited myself to varieties which are available in this country and which might be useful to a twenty-first-century Australian backyard gardener.
The how-to-grow chapter of this book is fairly brief. There was not room to be prescriptive about each and every vegetable variety. However, I felt it was important to include some general cultural pointers based on my own first-hand experience. These days too many gardening books are written by authors with no real experience of their subject matter. As for gardening blogs, one can’t help but feel that they are more often than not a case of the blind leading the blind. I sincerely hope this book goes some way towards dispelling some of the specious misinformation that is endlessly recycled on the internet and which is now finding its way into books. Happily there are still some excellent books on how to grow vegetables available. I have listed some of them at the back of this book for readers hungry for more information.
I did not intend for this book to degenerate into a polemic on the ownership and politics of food. However, these issues have become so closely bound up with the heirloom vegetable revival that a little pontificating was unavoidable. I do not claim to be the absolute arbiter of any such matters and I welcome readers to agree or disagree with any or all of my opinions. It is only by calmly thinking through and talking about these vexed issues, and questioning the motives of those who so desperately want to exercise ownership over the global food supply, that we will make progress.
I hope that heirloom vegetables are as much of a revelation to you as they were to me. As you get to know them better in the pages of this book, I also hope that you will be inspired to grow your own heirloom vegetables and, having tasted them, fall in love with food, gardening and nature anew.
Heirloom vegetables have been enjoying a renaissance since the 1980s. With their often unusual appearance, surprising flavours and multifarious culinary uses, heirlooms have become the darlings of the horticultural and foodie sets. They have breathed new life into gardening and cookery, encouraging a whole new generation to take up those noble pursuits.
These days, heirloom vegetables are so frequently encountered at farmers’ markets and on the tables of fine dining establishments that it is hard to imagine we nearly lost them completely. Yet until their revival three decades ago, these precious horticultural jewels teetered on the edge of extinction.
Since the 1950s our society has abdicated responsibility for its food supply to agribusinesses and middlemen. It was their business models which came to dictate which vegetable varieties farmers would be allowed to grow and which varieties people would be able to eat. Such decisions were taken out of the hands of food producers and consumers. As a result, vegetable breeding businesses became obsessed with homogeneity. Seed companies bred dozens of new hybrid vegetables each year but, far from giving consumers more choice, they began to converge on
a single point of uniformity.
Many of us remember the days, not so long ago, when you could buy any kind of tomato as long as it was red, round and tasteless, any kind of lettuce as long as it was ‘Iceberg’, and any kind of cucumber as long as it was eight inches long and the prescribed shade of dark green. Driven by the commercial imperatives of the middlemen, all newly bred vegetables had to look the same and taste the same so that consumers wouldn’t be alarmed, or distracted from the job of buying, as different varieties came and went from the supermarket shelves during the course of the season. There was no room for individuality in this brave new world of supermarket dominance. Under this paradigm, vegetables became little more than units for selling, no longer a source of sustenance, let alone of enjoyment.
Then heirloom vegetables came along and reawakened our jaded eyes and palates. Far from being alarmed, we were fascinated by them. Heirlooms reminded us that food could be a complete sensory experience. Heirloom vegetables were beautiful to behold and delicious in unique ways; they had unusual names and interesting stories to tell about their provenance or culinary use. Heirloom vegetables snapped us out of our stupor. They woke us up to what was happening to our food under our very noses.
The critics pronounced heirloom vegetables ‘edible nostalgia’. They brushed them aside as pretty but irrelevant fripperies belonging to a sentimental era when trifling concerns such as flavour were more highly valued than the unassailable certitudes of profit and efficiency. Perhaps there is an element of truth in that criticism. But really, is it so bad to feel a sense of passion about food, even if it doesn’t measure up to the hard-edged mandates of economic rationalism? I have never heard anybody accusing fine wine of being a ludicrously outdated Phoenician drink made from rotten grape juice, yet that is exactly what it is. Nobody is denouncing cheese as an antiquated Neolithic recipe for preserving milk, redundant in this age of refrigeration. To argue that the existence of modern hybrid vegetables renders heirloom vegetables obsolete strikes me as a bit joyless. It’s like asserting that there is no longer a need for roast dinners in a world that has protein shakes.
By the last quarter of the twentieth century the dominance of hybrid vegetables was so complete that in many cases heirloom strains were being kept alive by single committed individuals, who grew the plants out and saved their seeds year after year. Heirlooms were on the verge of extinction. It is thanks principally to the work of Americans Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, who founded the Seed Savers’ Exchange in the USA state of Iowa in 1975, that gardeners and cooks were made aware of how much we stood to lose. Through seed savers’ networks, a mechanism was established to locate and save endangered heirloom varieties. Since then, hundreds of heirloom varieties have been reintroduced to horticulture. Maintaining thousands of years’ worth of human cultural heritage in the form of heirloom vegetables has become the work of individuals and organisations around the world, including in Australia, with organisations like the Seed Savers Network and the Diggers Club.
So what exactly are heirloom vegetables and why are they special? Loosely speaking, heirloom vegetables are varieties which pre-date WWII. As the name suggests, heirloom vegetables have been handed down through families or communities for generations. Just like your nanna’s wedding ring or your granddad’s fob watch, or a beloved local custom like the Birdsville Races or the Melbourne Cup, heirloom vegetables are cherished as precious cultural touchstones. They mean something to the people who grow and eat them.
You all know peas. They are the vegetables native to the freezer section of the supermarket, harvested by cutting the bag open and pouring them out. Not really, of course, but it is easy to think so because it is so rare to see peas sold in their pods these days. This isn’t such a bad thing, however. Peas suffer little loss in quality from the snap-freezing process, whereas peas sold fresh in the pod lose their sweetness and tenderness quite quickly.
However, once you have eaten super-sweet home-grown peas I guarantee you will never want to go back to frozen peas. Sure, it takes time to pod the fiddly little blighters, but this is a great shared activity and it is a whole lot more fun than standing in a supermarket queue.
Peas (Pisum sativum) are native to southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, where they are found growing in waste ground and open scrub. They grow, flower and die in the brief rainy weeks of the Mediterranean spring. Wild peas look pretty much the same as cultivated peas: straggly plants that haul themselves up through surrounding vegetation, bearing pretty, butterfly-like flowers followed by finger-length pods of big, round, seeds.
Like potatoes and broad beans, the body of the pea plant is called a haulm. In nature, pea haulms straggle their way through and over shrubs and grasses using very fine tendrils at the tips of the leaves to secure themselves. The tendrils are actually thread-like modified leaves which wave around in circles until they come into contact with a support and then coil around it. This differs from the way in which beans climb, whereby the actual stem of the bean plant twines around its support. Beans do not have tendrils as peas do. For this reason beans and peas need different kinds of supporting structures in the garden. Beans do best with long, vertical supports like bamboo canes or lengths of twine suspended from a wigwam. Beans can twine around poles of any diameter. Peas cannot. They need a close network of thin supports that their tendrils can grab on to, such as horizontal strings, chicken wire or plastic netting. The traditional supports for peas were called ‘pea twigs’ or ‘pea brush’. These were twiggy branch prunings from hazelnuts or other fruit trees inserted into the ground amongst the pea seedlings, or mounted on vertical posts, for the peas to clamber their way through. Pea twigs look very rustic and lovely.
It’s easy to think that peas all look the same. Look closer and you will realise that they don’t. Some have white flowers, some have pink. Some have wrinkled seeds, some have smooth. Some have black seeds when they are dry; others grey, beige or greenish white. It was these subtle differences in the characteristics of pea plants that the Silesian monk Gregor Mendel used as the subject of his experiments into heredity in the 1850s, paving the way for the science of genetics.
Jane de Teliga is a fashion writer, editor, stylist, and curator. Ever since she was a little girl Jane has adored fashion and travel. It all began when her grandmother Kath bought her a fine panama boater trimmed in pale pink organza flowers and took her on a memorable train trip from Sydney to Adelaide.
Working for a couple of decades for leading magazines and newspapers around the world, she has reported on the fashion collections in London, Paris and Milan. She has been the Style Director of The Australian Women's Weekly, Australia's best loved magazine, Fashion Features Editor-at-large on Harper's Bazaar Australia, and Style and Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
After a life-changing decision, she packed two suitcases and moved to Europe. Since then she has worked for The Australian newspaper as European Fashion correspondent and been Fashion Director of Good Housekeeping in the UK, and is currently Senior Lecturer of Fashion Styling at Southampton Solent University.
You can find her on the web at janedeteliga.com