Blackberry leaf tea

When I first started foraging, I was on the look out for all sorts of things I could do with the goodies I picked. I was staying with my grandparents in Tasmania, and was tending Pop’s berry patch. He had strawberries and raspberries. Having heard about raspberry leaf tea, it got me wondering about blackberry leaf tea. I did some googling and found people who made fresh blackberry leaf tea, but it didn’t sound too exciting to me. It was only when I discovered you could ferment the leaves, in the same process used for black tea, that I thought we’d be talking about some flavours that were worth delving into. I had, in fact, heard it was the herbal tea which most tasted like black tea.

Last year, I fermented my blackberry leaves for two weeks and found the resulting tea tasted much like Oolong. It is very pleasant indeed. This year, I’ve fermented the leaves for much longer, wondering if the tea will have a deeper flavour. It does indeed. After up to six weeks fermenting, it has more developed tannins and is much more like black tea. Making the blackberry leaf tea is a very simple process. I like to pick and prepare enough to last me the year. The best time to go foraging for blackberry shoots is in spring, before the berries have started to form. There will be many young shoots on the plants at this time of year, and they will be tender enough, that you may not even need gloves to break them off. You can however, find young shoots on the plants year ’round.

There are records of blackberry leaf being used medicinally in ancient Greece. Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Pliny recommended them as herbal medicine. Two thousand years ago, the roman army doctor Galenos had his soldiers chew blackberry leaves to strengthen gums and build up physical resistance; today, we know it was the vitamin C and tannins in the leaves that he was counting on to boost immunity and heal wounds. The young shoots are incredibly high in antioxidants. Indeed, the USDA has shown blackberry shoots have more antioxidants than the berries.

Blackberry leaf tea is most commonly used as a herbal medicine to treat diarrhea, sore throats, and wounds. It is used to treat inflammation of the mouth and throat, mouth ulcers, gum inflammation and sore throat. Traditional uses also include the treatment of illnesses and ailments such as bleeding, slow healing wounds, fever, inflammation, cystitis, gout, infertility, vaginal discharge, flu, colds and cough. Because blackberry leaf tea is so high in tannins, it should not be consumed in large volumes because it can then lead to gastrointestinal upset, affect liver functioning and some nutrient absorption.

  1. Pick the blackberry shoots. You want young, tender leaves that will be bright green. You can take the stalks too, if they are bright and tender enough.
  2. Gently wash them under the tap.
  3. Bruise all the leaves. Last year I used a rolling pin; it was great fun. You may want to use a meat mallet, or whatever you have lying around. This year, I passed the shoots through my pasta machine, which did a superb job.
  4. Tightly pack the bruised shoots into a sterilised glass jar. Close the lid
  5. Leave the leaves to ferment for at least two weeks. You can just forget about them. I’m told the best place to leave them is on the dash board of the car. Being that I don’t drive, I don’t leave them in a car. I just leave them in the kitchen. The leaves will turn black and the fragrance will change from the smell of cut grass, to something more fruity and floral.
  6. When you think they’ve fermented long enough, take them out of the jar, pull the leaves apart and dry them out. I do mine in the dehydrator, but you could lay them on a wire rack or put them in a paper or calico bag in a closet to dry.
  7. Chop or crush up the larger pieces and transfer to a tea caddy for storage.

I use about the same volume of blackberry leaf tea as I would black tea, to make a cup. I do not add milk or sugar.

I hope you like this trick as much as I do!

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Wild brassica and potato gnocchi

Wild brassica and potato gnocchi with burnt butter lemon and almonds

Wild brassica and potato gnocchi with burnt butter lemon and almonds

With all this summer rain, the edible weeds are going gangbusters. At this time of year the wild brassica is usually quite peppery. I simply adore the taste of wild brassica flowers during winter, when they taste just like broccoli. But the summer pepperiness doesn’t usually do it for me. I have a feeling though, that with all the cool rain and fast growth, the greens are not as peppery as they would otherwise be at this time of year. When I picked a good bunch for my three weed pie, they were beautiful, and it got me wondering what else I could be doing with them. I realised I’d like to make a gluten free gnocchi. I don’t often make gnocchi, but these were a great success. The green, slightly peppery, addition of the wild brassica really makes this simple dish something quite special.

I initially planned to serve the gnocchi with a rich and creamy goat cheese sauce. But I’ve decided they actually want something very simple, like brown butter and lemon juice. You can serve them how you like though.

You’ll want quite a good sized bunch of wild brassica leaves, thoroughly washed, in order to fill 2 cup when they’re finely chopped. My bunch filled the colander when I bought it home.

Serves 2-3 people

500 grams floury potatoes
2 cups finely chopped wild brassica leaves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 free range egg
¼ – ½ cup gluten free flour blend**

**I use White Wings

Cook the potatoes in their skins, till they’re tender all the way through. I baked mine, but you can microwave them or boil them. If you boil them, leave the skins on and don’t over boil them; you don’t want waterlogged potatoes for this. Remove the skins of the potatoes, mash the flesh and pass through a fine sieve into a medium sized mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, drop the chopped brassica leaves into a pot of rapidly boiling water and cook for five minutes. Remove from the water and strain in a sieve, pressing down on the leaves to remove all water.

Add the brassica leaves, salt and pepper to a small food processor or mortar and pestle and process till some of the greens have liquefied, but you still have some small pieces. You can add some of the egg to aid the process, but you don’t want to let the egg get fluffy, so only add a bit, and it’s best done at the end, so you don’t over mix it.

Make a well in the middle of the potato and tip in your brassica and egg. Gently combine the mixture. Add half the flour first, stirring to combine. Add more flour as needed, but being careful not to overmix. You need to add enough flour to bring the mixture together in a soft dough, that can be shaped into a sausage. It should feel softer than play dough. If you don’t add enough flour, the gnocchi will fall apart in the water when you cook it; too much and the gnocchi will be tough.

Divide the dough in two pieces. Cover the unused dough. Working in batches, roll the dough into a log two centromeres thick. Use a lightly floured knife to cut into 2cm pieces. Place each piece in the palm of your hand and roll it with a fork to shape and leave an imprint. Set aside on floured board or tray lined with baking paper. Repeat with remaining dough portions.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil. Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water, stirring gently to make sure they don’t stick to each other or the bottom. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon and drop straight into you preferred sauce.

Posted in Dinner, Lunch | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Buckwheat banana bread

Buckwheat banana bread with malt butter spread

Buckwheat banana bread with malt butter spread

I recently had an overripe banana on my kitchen counter, frowning at me the browner it got. It was quite late by the time I summoned the energy to do something about said banana. I think I was inspired by a visit from my grandparents. My Nan is an excellent housekeeper and my Pop loves banana bread. So go figure, I wanted the banana gone, and into banana bread. A medical specialist I’ve been seeing lately has asked me to drop gluten from my diet. So I’m trying my best at that. When I realised I still had a whole tub of buckwheat flour a friend gave to me before she moved to England, I thought I’d try my hand at a gluten-free buckwheat banana bread.

I figured the flavour of buckwheat would lend itself well to banana bread and did a bunch of research into gluten free baking and different types of flours. This recipe is what I came up with adapted from the banana bread with malt butter that I made for Pop when I was staying in Tasmania. I’ve increased the liquid, adding yoghurt and honey. I’ve also added chia seeds to help with the structure of the bread and added additional rising agent.

I added a little acid to my malt butter spread. I have come to love apple cider vinegar. I make my own with a natural fermentation process. It’s so good for you that I try to find ways to include it in things. It adds a lovely sharpness to the malt butter spread. If you wanted, you could use lemon juice for this instead.

Banana bread

75 grams butter
¾ cup Rapadura sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon honey
1-2 overripe bananas, mashed
¼ cup yoghurt
¼ cup milk
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon bi-carb soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup walnuts, roughly broken

Malt butter spread

½ teaspoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
¼ cup malt extract*
¼ cup butter

*You’ll find tins of malt extract in the honey aisle of the supermarket.

To make the banana bread: Grease a loaf tine and preheat the oven to 180oC. Combine the chia seeds and milk and leave to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the egg. Add the honey, chia, milk, yoghurt and mashed banana. Sift over the cinnamon, flour, baking powder and bi-carb soda. Mix to combine and fold through the walnuts. Tip the batter into the greased loaf tin and spread the batter evenly. You can make it higher on the edges than in the middle. Bake in a preheated oven for an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Store in an airtight container.

To make the malt butter spread: mix together the cider vinegar or lemon juice and malt extract. Beat this together with the softened butter and spoon into a small ramekin for serving; cover and store at room temperature until desired. The malt butter will keep at room temperature for a week, or longer in the fridge.

Serve slices of banana bread fresh or toasted, spread with malt butter spread.

Buckwheat banana bread

Buckwheat banana bread

Posted in Brunch, In-Betweens, Morning or afternoon tea, Snack | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Treacle tart

A slice of treacle tart at my Potter Picnic Party

A slice of treacle tart at my Potter Picnic Party

I made my first treacle tart for my Potter Picnic Party. I made it because it’s Harry’s favourite. I couldn’t, therefore not have it at my party. But I have to tell you, I was quite sceptical about the whole concept. You see, in Australia, we know treacle only has the dark, quite bitter syrup. But it turns out that treacle has traditionally come in two types: dark treacle and light treacle. Light treacle is what we know as golden syrup. This glorious nectar, is what most treacle tarts are made with.

This recipe as based loosely on Mary Berry’s recipe. But I’ve upped the filling quantities and played around with them a bit. I was concerned about the overwhelming sweetness of a tart made primarily with golden syrup, so I added a little dark treacle for bitterness, and used far more citrus than Mary does. Because you don’t blind bake the pastry, it’s important to bake the tart on a pre-heated baking tray. I put my enamel cast iron tray in the oven while it was heating up, and placed the flan tin on top of that. It worked a treat, and the pastry cooked perfectly.

Anyway, I now absolutely understand why treacle tart is Harry Potter’s favourite dessert. My birthday guests were not stinting in their praise. One said, ‘while everything has been delicious… this tart is life changing.’ That certainly did the trick for me and I’ll be glad to bake this again at the next opportunity.

Makes 1, 26 cm tart

Pastry

250 grams plain flour
130 grams butter
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Filling

700 grams golden syrup
100 grams dark treacle
3 lemons, zest of (finely grated)
¾ cup lemon juice
300 grams fresh, sourdough breadcrumbs

To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips. You want it to look like fine breadcrumbs. Add the ice cold water and mix to a firm dough. Cover the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200oC and place a heavy baking tray in the oven to heat up. Grease a deep 26 centimetre loose bottomed fluted flan tin with butter.

Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured work surface. Line the prepared tin with the pastry. Prick the base with a fork to stop it rising during baking and return it to the fridge to cool again.

To make the filling, heat the syrups gently, but do not let them boil. Once they’ve melted, add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and lemon zest. If the mixture looks runny, add a few more breadcrumbs. Pour the syrup into the pastry lined tin and level the surface.

Bake the tart on the pre-heated baking tray for ten minutes until the pastry has started to colour, then turn the oven down to 180oC and bake for a further 25-30 minutes until the filling is set. Remove the tart from the oven. Leave it in the tin to set.

Serve the tart warm, at room temperature or cold. I like to serve it with whipped cream, but the super decedent can serve it with clotted cream.

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Canberra plum sauce

We are blessed in Canberra, town planners included many wonderful fruit bearing trees when they planned those that would line the suburban streets. There is one street in Braddon planted entirely with walnuts. There are several streets planted with plums. I am most interested in one particular plum. For the purposes of this post, I will call it the ‘Canberra’ plum. It grows on an attractive tree with dark burgundy leaves. The fruit is small, the same colour as those leaves, and dark all the way through. It has a deep, rich flavour but has a bitterness on the skin and seed.

I was recently on Canberra’s 666 ABC radio talking about preserving these and other, wild foods. I had a great time with Lish Fejer. I took her in a few wild greens, as well as some of my preserved wild fruits. It made me realise it’s about time I posted the recipe for my plum and ginger sauce, made with those abundant dark cherry plums. You can pick these plums before they’re ripe. If the plums are still firm, they’ll add a lovely tartness to the sauce and will still be full of rich flavour. You don’t need to pit them for this recipe; you’ll push the fruit pulp through a sieve and discard the seeds and skins later. The plums ripen at vastly different times across Canberra. Those in Braddon can be picked in early December, but those on the south side are fine well into January.

800 grams ‘Canberra’ plums
450 millilitres white vinegar
500 grams raw sugar
100 grams fresh ginger

Wash the plums. Place them in a large saucepan with the vinegar. Slice the ginger and add it to the pot. Bring the contents to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or till the plums fall apart.

Pour the contents of the pan through a fine sieve, pushing through the plum pulp. When you have only seeds, skins and ginger left in the sieve, discard the solids.

Add the sugar to the plum pulp and bring to a boil.

Pour into sterilised bottles and process in a water bath for 30 minutes.

Posted in Summer | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Three weed pie

All this summer rain has done wonders for the wild greens. I was at a friend’s house the other day, they’re building from scratch, and the weeds in the garden were looking delicious! They had loads of wonderful looking fat hen. I salvaged loads of dandelion from the weeds pulled at the Lyneham Commons working bee on the weekend, picked the leaves and saved the fat roots. Wandering up at O’Conner Ridge I came across a field of wild brassica and knew it would be the third weed for my pie. The combination of these three weeds made an excellent, flavourful, complex and nutritious green filling for my pie. Some slow cooked onion adds sweetness, fresh goat cheese adds a nice tang, ricotta a mild creaminess, an egg or two binds it together and adds a little richness.

Wild brassica is the ancestor of all our common cultivated modern brassicas including broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussel sprouts. Wild brassica can be assumed to have similar nutritional profile to kale, high in folic acid, carotenoids and vitamin C. Dandelion is the most nutritious vegetable ever tested by the US Department of Agriculture. It is high in iron, calcium, vitamins A, B6 and K and a whole host of other goodies. Fat hen is very high in protein, vitamin C and calcium and is widely grown in Northern India. If you’d like to know more about how to identify and use fat hen, check out this video by Green Deane from Eat the Weeds.

While we often prefer minimally cooked vegetables these days, there are three reasons for blanching the wild greens before making the pie filling. Firstly, to remove some of the liquid so they compressed well and did not make for a watery pie filling. Secondly, blanching leaches out the oxalic acid which is common in wild greens. Lastly, boiling often reduces bitterness of wild greens. These reasons apply differently to each of the weeds used here. I find dandelion greens to be very bitter. Although young and fast growing leaves, like those picked after a lot of summer rain, will be less bitter than older, slow growing leaves, I still wanted to reduce the bitterness of this nutritious green. Fat hen is a very popular wild green, it is truly delicious with a very inoffensive flavour even raw. But because it is relatively high in oxalic acid, I blanch to reduce the presence of this compound. Oxalic acid is found in all sorts of foods from almonds to tea, but it can inhibit the absorption of calcium. Larger wild brassica leaves should be blanched for them to reach a desirable texture, and soften them for mixing into the pie filling.

Makes one 25 cm pie

Filling

2 whole onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
200 grams Fat hen leaves
200 grams Wild brassica leaves and flowers
200 grams Dandelion leaves
Dandelion roots (optional)
1 free range egg
250 grams fresh ricotta
250 grams fresh goat cheese
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pastry

175 grams butter, at room temperature, but not soft
250 grams plain flour
130 millilitres water, chilled
egg wash

To make the filling, put the onions on to cook slowly while you prepare the greens. Dice the onion and place in a small saucepan with the butter, on a low heat. Cover and stir occasionally. You want them to cook slowly, so they become very tender and sweet, with very little colour. It would be good if you could let them go for 30 minutes or so. Then add the garlic and continue cooking for another five minutes.

Prepare each of the greens separately. Wash the leaves thoroughly, remove any stalks and discard discoloured leaves.

Finely chop the wild brassica leaves. Drop them in rapidly boiling water and cook in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Drain the greens in a sieve. Press down on the greens to remove all liquid. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, breaking them up to cool.

Roughly chop the dandelion greens. Drop them into a large pot of rapidly boiling water. Boil for 10-15 minutes before tasting them for bitterness. If they are still too bitter for your taste, drain them. Refill the pot with boiling water and boil the greens for another 5-10 minutes before tasting again. You can continue cooking them to reduce the bitterness, but they will begin to take on a flaccid slippery texture. Drain the greens and press down on them to remove all liquid. Transfer them to the mixing bowl, breaking them up to cool.

Drop the fat hen leaves into a pot of rapidly boiling water. Boil for 3-5 minutes, or till they have just wilted. Drain the greens in a sieve. Press down to remove all liquid. Add the drained leaves to the mixing bowl.

If you are using dandelion roots, scrub them clean and remove any trace of the green tops. Place the roots in a pot of water and bring to the boil, cooking till tender. Remove from the water and allow them to cool enough to handle. Peel the skin off the roots then pull the cooked flesh away from the tough inner root. Finely chop the cooked flesh and add it to the mixing bowl. Discard the inner root and skin.

Mix the weeds well, being sure to break up all the clumps of greens. And leave them to cool completely. You can refrigerate the mix at this stage, preparing the rest of the filling up to a day later.

Combine the cheeses, egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small mixing bowl. Add to the weeds and mix well, returning to the fridge to chill.

To make the pastry, place the flour in a mixing bowl. Chop the butter into cubes and add to the flour. Flatten the butter into the flour with your hands. But you still want it to be in big pieces. Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes to rest.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead gently and form into rectangle. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a bit of a marbled effect. Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that and roll again. Repeat this process once or twice more then return it to the fridge to rest for another 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200oC.

To assemble the pie, remove the pastry from the fridge. Cut away one third of the pastry and return it to the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the rest of the pastry to line the bottom of your pie dish. You want to allow a reasonable amount of overhang, and you don’t want the pastry to be too thick. Mine was 4-5 millimetres thick. Scoop the filling into the pastry bottom, packing it down firmly so you haven’t any air pockets.

Roll out the reserved third of the pastry for the pie lid. Lay it atop the filling, and press down so it fits snuggly. Cut the lid so it’s the perfect size of the pie, then brush the lid and inside of the sides with egg wash. Now trim the pastry base leaving a good centimetre above the lid. Push the excess down onto the lid, pinching it to seal.

You can use excess pastry to decorate the top of the pie. I used little heart and triangle shaped cookie cutters to make leaf shapes and steam holes in the top of the lid. Brush the decorations with more of the egg wash.

Make sure you have steam holes in the lid of your pie and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden all over.

Remove the pie from the oven and leave it to rest for 10 minutes before removing it from the tray. Transfer it to a wire rack to keep the pastry fresh.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Posted in Lunch, Summer | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Wild fennel flower fritters

At this time of year, swathes of wild fennel are in flower, their bright yellow blooms rising above clouds of green fennel fronds. The flowers smell sweet and fragrant with aniseed. The bees and other pollinating insects love them. If you pick one off and eat it early in the day, you will likely be rewarded with the sweet nectar therein. By later in the day, it may have been carried off by some critter or other. I like to pick the flowers and add the little florets to salads, or a bowl of pasta with wild fennel and lemon pesto. The fennel pollen is also a highly sought after culinary cabinet addition. But I’ve finally settled on a wonderful wild fennel flower fritter recipe.

These fritters would make great party food. I planned to enjoy mine with champagne on New Year’s Eve. A friend of mine commented that they look so much like fireworks that it was appropriate. The flavours did pair particularly well with a glass of Veuve Clicquot, my favourite champagne. The batter I used was gluten free. Made with maize flour, it has a natural sweetness that compliments that of the flowers; it’s a different product than the more common corn flour we get in Australia. The ‘maize flour’ is still yellow from the corn, and tastes like the vegetable we know. It certainly doesn’t have the bland flavour of corn flour used for thickening sauces. The batter is very simple, but creates a wonderful, crisp coating for delicate flowers. I eat only the yellow flower portion of the fritter, using the stalks as a holding device, and discarding them when I’m done.

Choose fennel flowers that are fully open. It is preferable to pick them the day you want to make the fritters, to keep all the nectar and pollen in the flower, and the fritter. If this isn’t possible, pick them with a long stem attached. When you bring the flowers home, trim the bottom of the stalk with a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears and place them in a vase of clean water till you need to use them.

Makes 12-24

12-24 Wild fennel flower heads
1/2 cup Maize flour
1 Free range egg
1/2 cup Soda water
Oil, for frying

Trim the fennel flowers from their stalks.

Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and break in the egg. Add the soda water and whisk till combined.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan till very hot. I prefer to wait till it’s about 200oC.

Mix the batter again and dip in a fennel flower, moving it around in the batter to ensure it is well coated. Lift the flower up, allowing most of the drops of batter to fall back into the bowl, then quickly transfer it to the hot oil, flowers down (stalk up). Hold it under the bubbling oil with the stalk of the flower. Leave it tin the oil till crisp and golden. Transfer to a wire rack and repeat with remaining flowers.

Arrange the flowers on a serving tray and eat immediately.

Posted in Side dish, Snack, Summer | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My Potter Picnic Party

Potter Picnic Party at Yarralumla Bay (photo by Pobke Photography)

Potter Picnic Party at Yarralumla Bay (photo by Pobke Photography)

Last month, I had a birthday. It was a fabulously random birthday, it certainly didn’t end in a big zero.

I’ve had a pretty tough couple of years. I have an acquired neurological disease that is chronic and disabling. My partner left me. I am no longer able to work full time. I live on a very meagre income in a pretty expensive city. I have mobility trouble that impairs my ability to get around town and travel is pretty much out of the question. I certainly won’t be able to manage any adventures like my trips around Africa again any time soon.

But I have many blessings too. Being sick has led me on a journey to better understand myself, my needs, my health and the world around me. So doing, I believe I have been able to continue to live an increasingly sustainable lifestyle. For example, foraging, a part of my food life that I now love, is something I came to out of necessity. Within many constraints, I still have a pretty nice life. But it can be hard; very hard. It’s a very precarious life financially, emotionally and health wise. While I’ve come through a lot over the past few years, there are still many challenges ahead; many everyday challenges that often people don’t see, challenges I would not want anyone else to experience.

While it is very difficult for me to go out or gather socially, I am still blessed with some truly wonderful friends who care very deeply for me. Entirely unexpectedly, one of my favourites bought my food dehydrator for me when I wanted to expand my range of products for my Selling Something Wild stalls. Many of them buy their Christmas gifts from the goodies on offer at my stall. Other friends threw a fabulous Latin fiesta for my birthday last year when I was unable to arrange something myself. When a dear friend of mine died recently, one friend came and did my dishes, and others bought me dinner several evenings when I was simply not able to take care of it myself. This matters to me. I care. I appreciate them. I notice these blessings. I am glad I notice these blessings and I am thankful for them. Actions have always spoken louder to me than words. I am deeply grateful for such wonderful actions.

For my birthday this year, I wanted to gather together these lovely people, my nearest and dearest, and count my blessings, acknowledging them with a fabulous party. I am very sensitive to sound, don’t do well with groups of people, fatigue easily, and don’t really do evenings. So I needed to plan something to work within those restrictions, something with not too many people, something outside, something in the day time. Of course, it needed to include fabulous food.

I am absolutely young at heart. I love children’s literature. You may have seen my pages to plate series, bringing the food from the pages of my favourite children’s books to a plate on my dining table. When I first got sick, I wasn’t able to read. It still is an activity I ration, because I get cognitive overload. But after a few months, when I started to manage better, I took great joy in returning to my Harry Potter books. I reread them over and over. In the three or four years since becoming ill, I have probably reread the whole series three times. I am now reading the accompanying texts from the Hogwarts Library: Quidditch Through the Ages; Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them; and The Tails of Beedle the Bard. But oh how I would love J.K. Rowling to sign my original Harry books! As I did when I was younger, I find courage and power in the tales of some of these unlikely heroes, joy in their friendships, and hope in their familial love.

So I planned a Potter Picnic Party to bring together my favourite food scenes from the books, treating my friends and I to a wonderful day of deliciousness and magic in the glorious summer sun. The day was based on three of my favourite food related scenes in the books:

  1. A Hogwarts Feast, so we had golden plates and goblets;
  2. The dinner Mrs Weasley cooks for all her children and Harry and Hermione before the Quidditch World Cup; and
  3. Picnicking by the lake at Hogwarts, we had two willow trees, thankfully they weren’t whomping, and of course, Lake Burley Griffin.

The magic began with the invitations. A friend of mine is an excellent illustrator, with a similar affinity for the Potter books, and children’s literature in general. So Erin-Claire Illustrations produced my invitations, RSVPs and food labels. They were adorned with my patronus, a cauldron and an amphibian that makes me think of Neville’s toad. I sent off the invitations in muggle mail, sealed with my very own wax seal.

 

Invitation Invitation - bottomThe menu was something I’ve been working on for a long time, well, I’ve been working on its constituent parts for a long time. I’ve been creating and refining recipes for some items for a couple of years. Some of them I did just for the party. Some items were drawn from trusted suppliers I’ve known for years.

Mains

On the evening before the Quidditch World Cup, Harry and Hermione are at the Burrow, and all the Weasley children are home for the event. In the kitchen, Mrs Weasley declares “there’s just not enough room for eleven people in here.” Everyone is set to work setting up for dinner outside in the garden. Bill and Charlie set up the tables, Ron and Harry take the cutlery, Hermione and Ginny take the plates.

“By seven o’clock, the two tables were groaning under dishes and dishes of Mrs Weasley’s excellent cooking, and the nine Weasleys, Harry and Hermione were settling themselves down to eat beneath a clear, deep-blue sky. To somebody who had been living on increasingly stale cake all summer, this was paradise, and at first, Harry listened rather than talked as he helped himself to chicken-and-ham-pie, boiled potatoes and salad.”

 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 57

A reading from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (photo by Pobke Photography)

A reading from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (photo by Pobke Photography)

That chicken and ham pie has been on my mind since the very first time I read that passage. I made several attempts at making it myself. But I think I finally succeeded with a version based on a traditional English picnic pie, like a pork pie, served cold. I posted the recipe a few months ago and it was a great success. The pie stood proudly in the middle of my party table, the center of attention, it was carved with some ceremony by an eager friend who dished out handsome slices to all the carnivores present.

Cutting into the chicken and ham pie (photo by Pobke Photography)

Cutting into the chicken and ham pie (photo by Pobke Photography)

Although the books only every talk about salad in a generic way, I made three different salads to accompany our meal. The first was quite British, inspired by the boiled potatoes in that passage, it was a simple dish of home grown potatoes with watercress, dressed with snipped chives, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. It was a great success. The second was a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes with fresh basil, and the third was one of my favourite combinations: rocket, char-grilled capsicum and balsamic glaze. All the salads were vegan friendly, otherwise the rocket one would have also contained shaved Parmesan, a fabulous addition to a very flavourful dish.

I could not have a Potter Picnic Party without pumpkin pasties. I’ve been working on this recipe for several years and got it to a place where I’m finally happy to post it here on the blog. I often make them with a little bacon fat in the pastry, it makes for a great flavour, but I was expecting vegetarians at the party, so I made an all butter pastry, and one with copha instead, so my vegan friends could also partake. I was given very high praise for the vegan version, I understand it is quite difficult to get good vegan baked goods. Of course the filling was great, but the pastry can be a trick. The taste buds of both little people, and big, were pleased with my party sized pumpkin pasties.

Molly Weasley made her children corned beef sandwiches for the journey to Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron says to Harry,

“She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”

Well, Ron may not like corned beef sandwiches, but I certainly do! I bought my beef from Manda at Gilmore Braes and used her family recipe to cook it. With some good quality, three year aged cheddar from South Coast Cheese, and my Dad’s fabulous tomato relish, there’s not much more one could want in a sandwich. And so we did. Plates and plates of them. I made some without beef, and some without cheese and butter for the vegetarians and vegans respectively. Not a single sandwich was left by the end of the party!

Drinks

Pumpkin Juice (photo by Pobke Photography)

Pumpkin Juice (photo by Pobke Photography)

In the world of witchcraft and wizardry, pumpkin juice seems to fill the same role orange juice does in the muggle world. It is served at breakfast, lunch, a feast or any other occasion. Of course I had to serve it at my picnic party. The party was on a very warm day, much like the day Harry and Ron chased after the Hogwarts Express in Mr Weasley’s flying car. After a while, Harry “stopped noticing the fantastic cloud shapes now and was thinking longingly of the train miles below, where you could buy ice-cold pumpkin juice from a trolley pushed by a plump witch.” My pumpkin juice is crisp and refreshing, perfect for such an occasion. We also served soda water, wee little steins of butterbeer, and Win’s Creek mead which, I’m sure, would rival any served by Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks. in Hogsmeade.

Sweets

Dumbledore: “Would you care for a sherbet lemon?”
McGonagall: “A what?”
Dumbledore: “A sherbet lemon. They’re a kind of Muggle sweet I’m rather fond of.”
McGonagall: “No, thank you.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

We did have a bowl of sherbet lemons on offer, because I love Dumbledore that much. They’re quite a fun British sweet. I think they’re quite like an Australian lemon sherbet bomb, but I can’t be certain.

Of course we also had to have Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans. I could easily promise my guests they would not get a boogie flavoured bean, or one that tasted of earwax for that matter, by going down the known list of Bertie Botts flavours, buying my beans in bulk and mixing them all up. I must say though, it was kind of fun to see an almost I-just-ate-an earwax-flavoured-bean expression on one guests face when she ate a banana flavoured bean. She does not at all like bananas. Sad though I was for her suffering, it was also kind of fun, and a reminder of how much in life is perspective. We had loads of flavours including lemon, cherry, green apple, toasted marshmellow, buttered popcorn and watermelon.

In Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone, “Mrs. Figg let Harry watch television and gave him a bit of chocolate cake that tasted as though she’d had it for several years.” But then, later in the book, Hagrid baked a large, sticky chocolate cake with “Happy Birthday Harry” written in icing for Harry’s eleventh birthday. My birthday cake could have only been a chocolate cake, and was festooned with a golden snitch, which I caught, in my mouth… and ate. It was delicious. I baked it myself, from a recipe in my favourite chocolate cooking book. It was covered with dark chocolate ganache and topped with golden candles

Treacle tart

Treacle tart

I made my first ever treacle tart for the party and my it was magnificent! I absolutely understand why it is Harry Potter’s favourite dessert. My illustrious pie cutter, was not stinting in his praise. He said, ‘while everything has been delicious… this tart is life changing.’ I will soon post my recipe on the blog, but it was based loosely on Mary Berry‘s recipe. I doubled the filling though, and increased the portion of citrus. It was certainly a thing to behold. To go with all that we had fresh strawberries and cream.

Party favours

A young at heart birthday party would not be complete without party favours. Mine were chocolate frogs, not real chocolate frogs, and not real chocolate enchanted to behave like real frogs, but quite realistic looking frogs with delicious soft centers made from chestnut cream and wild blackberries. The chestnut ones were made with milk chocolate, and the blackberry ones with dark.

chocolate frogs

I had a truly glorious day. I will have the beautiful photographs to help me remember it in the years to come. I was very blessed for my friends to come from near and far to join me. It was wonderful to have them in town for the first time. In the morning, their help putting together some of the food was invaluable, and early in the afternoon, I needed their help walking to my chair. By the end of the afternoon, it was local friends who nearly had to carry me to the car, when my body finally gave up on me. But boy, we certainly had a sumptuous supper by then! Although exhausted, I was on a high for days afterward. My Potter Picnic Party was all that I had wanted it to be.

Potter Picnic Party (photo by Pobke Photography)

Potter Picnic Party (photo by Pobke Photography)

The beautiful photos of the day were taken by Pobke Photography. As I said, the invitations and food labels were penned and illustrated by Erin-Claire Illustration. The golden plates were from House. I hired the golden platters and serving dishes from Prop My Hire in Sydney. I also hired the glass drink container from them. The goblets, cutlery, chairs, tables, napkins and table cloths were hired from Barlens Party Hire in Canberra.

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Pumpkin pasties

I’ve been working on this recipe for a year or so now. It’s part of my pages to plate project, bringing to life the food of my favourite children’s books. Pumpkin pasties are, of course, from Harry Potter. They are sort of like a Cornish pasty, but filled with pumpkin instead of meat and potatoes. Harry Potter tried them for the first time on the Hogwarts Express, at the start of his first year, when he bought some of everything on the trolley. But they make many appearances thereafter, throughout all the books.

As much as I love pumpkin, I couldn’t deal with the idea of a whole pasty full of mashed pumpkin. I think it would just be too naturally sweet. So I’ve added some silverbeet (sometimes known as Swiss chard) to the filling, to cut the sweetness. I roasted the pumpkin with some red onion; the dark parts on the roasted vegetables give the filling a lovely complexity.

The pastry is based on the traditional recipe from the Cornish Pasty Association. If you aren’t making these for a vegetarian, I’d recommend saving up the bacon fat from your breakfast pan and substituting as much butter as you can with the bacon fat. I try to use as much as 50:50. Lard is traditionally used in pasty pastry; it gives the pastry an excellent texture. The bacon fat provides fabulous flavour. You need to use a strong flour, like the flour used for bread, pasta or pizza. This flour is higher in protein than cake flour. You need that protein for the dough to become elastic enough to produce a strong, pliable dough.

I also had great success making a vegan version, in which I substitute all the butter for copha. The copha is firmer at room temperature so it takes a bit of work to work into the flour, and will set quite hard in the fridge while it’s resting. But let the finished pastry come back to room temperature and work it up a little before you roll it out and you’ll be fine.

Pastry

245 grams butter*
500 grams strong (bread) flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
125 millilitres chilled water

* For vegans, substitute copha or another vegetable shortening. For non-vegetarians, substitute up to half of this with bacon fat or lard.

Filling

1 pumpkin
2 whole red onions
olive oil
½ bunch silverbeet*
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg or aquafava, for brushing on the pasties before baking

*also known as Swiss chard

To make the pastry, rub the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the salt, pepper and water. Bring the dough together and knead until it’s soft and elastic. It’s good to do this with a dough hook in your electric mixer, but I have also had great success doing it by hand. Because of the fat content, it will take a little while to come together, be patient; it’s worth it.

Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for at least three hours. This resting time is important for its pliability later. I like to leave mine overnight.

To make the filling, remove the skin and seeds of the pumpkin and cut into approximately 1 centimetre cubes. Peel the onions and cut into wedges, ensuring the base of the onion holds the wedges together. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and roast, in a preheated 200oC oven until dark brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Roughly chop the onion, discarding any tough pieces from near the root of the bulbs.

Meanwhile, remove the stalks of the silverbeet. Discard any brown portions, and finely dice the remaining stalks. Roll the leaves together and finely slice, then chop the strips so you have roughly chopped pieces, about 1 centimetre long. Alternatively, you could blitz the leaves in a food processor till they were coarsely chopped. Mix the silverbeet with the cooked pumpkin and onion.

To assemble the pasties, remove the pastry from the fridge. Divide the pastry into 6-8 equal sized portions. Alternatively, if you want to make mini pasties, like I did for my Potter Picnic Party, weigh out smaller portions of the dough, so you have equal sized pieces. I think my portions were 80 grams each. Roll the dough onto a floured work surface till it’s a circle and about 5 millimetres thick. Scoop the relevant potion of filling into the middle of the pastry. Fold the pastry over and crimp the edges. Place the finished pasties on a lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash or aquafava and bake in a preheated 200oC oven till golden.

Serve the pasties warm or at room temperature.

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Cooking for a year without a cent spent at Coles or Woolworths

I don’t much go into New Year’s resolutions, but this time last year a friend of mine suggested I resolve to not spend a single dollar at Coles or Woolworths for the entire year. Given my view of the practices of these two monolithic stores, and my food ethics, it was a challenge I wanted to accept.

The greenhouse emissions of the transport system that takes fresh food and other grocery items from their country or place of origin, to a wholesale market, to a warehouse, trucked to a grocery store, and sometimes onto a second or third store are huge. Products criss-cross the country, and sometimes the world. If you try buying a locally grown mango in Darwin, and it will have been shipped to the wholesale market in Brisbane, before being trucked all the way back to Darwin for retail sale. Then there’s the food miles of importing foods like garlic (commonly imported from China), lemons (often from the USA) or asparagus (from Peru) into that system for them to be bought to you in the off season. On top of that, there’s the hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs) used in the refrigeration of all that food throughout its journey. Many of these chemicals are potent greenhouse gases. HCFCs also deplete the ozone layer. HCFC-22 is the most common refrigerant in Australia. 

I also have social concerns with both businesses. Farmers have been complaining about unfair prices for produce, and unreasonable contract requirements for years. The $2 milk wars were a very visual example of some of these practices, but similar complaints have been made by vegetable producers including those producing potatoes and onions. Indeed, in 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission undertook an investigation of the major supermarkets. They began with over 160,000 complaints, took a deeper look at over 3,000 of those and commenced about 550 individual investigations. Around 140 of these progressed to in-depth investigations, resulting in more than 30 court proceedings, over 30 court enforceable undertakings, and the payment of numerous infringement notices. Most recently, the watchdog launched major legal action against Woolworths for unconscionable conduct toward suppliers. In November and December last year, it is alleged that Woolworths developed a strategy to demand payments totalling $18.1 million from its suppliers to increase the supermarket’s profit margin.

I have allowed myself to shop at other supermarkets during the year. In Canberra, we are lucky have a third supermarket chain, Supabarn, but the stores are entirely out of my way. So I have purchased very little from them during the year. Perhaps I would visit every 6-8 weeks and stock up on my favourite chocolate or some household items like cleaning products or shampoo. I shop at my local IGA relatively regularly though. I am happy to buy items from them because the service is friendly and personal, and I prefer to support independent and family owned/operated business. IGA stores are always stoked with items that are reflective of the locals and the owners, providing a community feel that I prefer to the nationwide grocery chains. While IGA still has some power of collective purchasing, stores have more flexibility to buy from local suppliers and don’t have the same power to force unreasonable expectations on suppliers.

Before the year began, I already bought the majority of my fresh food from my local farmers market. This resolution meant that I needed to better plan my food needs, so I didn’t need to dash to the shop for just that one thing to make dinner complete. The market is a cash only (pretty much) zone, so I go with my $50 and get my food for the week. I know the name of the person who produced every item in my market bag each week and that’s a great feeling. It is the polar opposite of the Woolworths/Coles shopping experience.

I recognise how lucky I am to have such a good quality farmers market so close, on such a regular basis. I firmly believe that weekly farmers markets are the way to change people’s shopping behaviour, with this regularity there is a viable shopping alternative that can be relatively easily incorporated into a routine. A fortnightly market may be OK, but a monthly market will only lead to specialty and luxury items that people might buy for a treat. A monthly market does not provide a serious alternative for daily food items.

I urge market organisers, and communities considering the beginning of a farmers market to plan for a weekly market, containing as much locally produced food as shoppers would reasonably consume within the seasons. I would highly recommend upcoming markets look for inspiration from the Capital Region Farmers Market. They take great effort to get good variety of produce so that it is possible for shoppers to buy all their food there each week. This does not mean that everything on offer at the supermarket is available at the farmers market, but with due consideration of seasonality and what actually grows in the region, you can easily buy food for a balanced, healthy diet.

Protein

I buy my eggs, milk, poultry, pork, beef and fish at the Capital Region Farmers Market. There is also a lady there who sells amazing tofu that she makes in Belconnen. Occasionally I buy some tofu puffs, silken or firm tofu from her. It is by far the best tofu available in town. If a craving for tempeh comes to me, I buy it from the local food co-op in town, this has been my only exception to buying protein at the market.

I buy milk and cheese from the lovely folks from Tilba, who bottle their own delicious Jersey milk and make a very fine aged cheddar. Sometimes I buy goat cheese from Leaning Oak, and other specialty cheeses from Small Cow Farm. I buy my eggs from Sam at Holbrook Paddock Eggs. It’s a family business producing free range eggs of the highest possible quality. Indeed, the eggs have won gold medals at both the Melbourne and Sydney Fine Food Awards the past two years.

I buy free range chicken, occasionally duck, and at Christmas a turkey or goose, from Thirlmere Poultry whose farm is outside Canberra. I buy beef from a very small farm based just outside Batlow. Gilmore Braes raise heritage beef cattle that have excellent flavour, in happy conditions. Once a beast is slaughtered it is sold nose to tail. I buy all my pork products from Boxgum Grazing, who now make excellent bacon. Their fresh meat is of the highest quality, and comes from happy pigs who I have visited on their free range farm.

I buy my fresh seafood from Hayley at Narooma Seafood. Her family owns the boat, catches the fish and brings it to market for me to buy. It’s great fish, caught locally, just off the coast. I also sometimes buy smoked or cured fish from Ann, at Cypress Valley. Her smoked trout is to die for, and I do love her gravlax. Sometimes I’ll buy some of her other smoked goods, I’m particularly fond of her smoked baby octopus.

Fruit, vegetables and other greens

I buy most of my fruit, veg and other greens from the farmers market. I buy all my staples at the farmers market: garlic (when it’s in season), onions and potatoes. I buy brassicas, root vegetables and other green things as they come into season in autumn, winter and spring respectively. These vegetables come an average of 200 kilometres to Canberra, but many are grown right here around town. I buy some salad greens at market too, but come spring and summer I do a lot of foraging, picking wild greens and edible weeds to add to salads and stir fries.

There’s not much better than walking downstairs to the nature strip to pick some purslane, wild brassica or sheep sorrel to go in your salad or omelette. It’s far tastier than shop bought greens, packed with nutrition, and doesn’t cost a cent. It’s also a wonderful excuse to get into nature and relax outside. It’s certainly a superior experience than a peak hour visit to the supermarket.

Outside of summer, I don’t eat much fruit, but buy a couple of bananas when the north coast stall is at market once a fortnight. In summer, I buy locally grown berries and cherries from various market stalls too. I also do a fair amount of urban foraging for fruit to eat and preserve. Canberra is blessed to have streets deliberately planted with fruit producing trees. There are also all sorts of sites with fruiting trees on disused land. Soon enough, community initiatives like the Lyneham Commons will also be bearing fruit.

Dry goods

I mostly buy my flour, nuts and dried beans from the Food Co-Op Shop in Acton. The prices are very reasonable, the range is quite extensive and there are a lot of organic options. The co-op is on my bike ride from home to my office. I take the clear cubes and reusable tins into the store and weigh the containers before filling them up. If you volunteer your time once a month, you get a reasonable discount on your shopping items. They have a good supply of other local fresh produce including fruit and veg, vegan cheeses, tofu and fermented foods.

My pantry

A photo posted by Susan (@susansumptuousuppers) on

Sauces and condiments

The only tomato sauce I eat is homemade and I get it from my Dad. He also makes my tomato relish. I make other sauces from foraged fruit in the summertime. My two favourites are Canberra Plum and Ginger Sauce and Haw-Sin Sauce both of which I use in stir fries or to blend for dipping sauces. I buy things like soy from the local Asian grocer. Mustards I either buy from IGA or direct from a small scale producer. Ross O’Maera makes many of my favourites on Bruny Island. I buy my Murray River salt flakes from IGA, peppercorns from the food co-op and dried herbs and spices from Gewurzhaus.

I recently watched a great little video about how much change you can bring to the world by changing your own behaviour. It makes such a difference. Not only are you reducing your negative impact on the world, by choosing a better food system, buying into better, more ethical and sustainable systems, you are making a constructive difference. You are modelling that positive behaviour to your friends and community, and supporting others who are working and living in similarly positive systems. I love that I support the producers who are working in agriculture the way I want our food systems to operate.

Will you give it a go this coming new year? Can you do a year without Coles and Woolworths? I would not be surprised if you find it as enjoyable as I did.

If you’d like to read more about how I dealt with other household items, you can pop over to my other site: ishoblog.

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