Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Blue sky winter pruning

We commenced  hand pruning the old Sangiovese vines last week. As you can see from the photograph, we were blessed with glorious blue sky days early in the week and it was pure joy to be out among the vines. But alas, this week the weather has changed and the days are bitterly cold as snowy winds blow in off Mt Canobolas, making the essential task of pruning far more onerous. But there is an upside - working in such bleak conditions calls for hearty fare washed down with fine wines at the end of the day. Tonight's menu - local lamb shanks slow braised in tomato, cumin and fennel. Stay tuned for recipe and photos...

Friday, August 2, 2013

C.W.A. Golden Syrup Dumplings

Have you ever considered how many sheep it would take to cater for 300 adults at a public stock sale? Neither had I. But I find comfort in the knowledge that, should I ever find myself needing to cater for 300 at a public stock sale, my trusty C.W.A. Cookery Book and Household Hints, first published in 1936, will tell me everything I need to know. Apparently, I will need 2 whole sheep, 6 pressed ox tongues, 35 kg of potatoes and 18 lettuce (Iceberg, of course). It is recommended that a tasty beef curry be included on the menu, for which I will need apples, tinned plum jam, tinned pineapple, bananas, sultanas, shelled almonds and, for that authentic curry flavour,a tin of curry powder.

Towards the back of the book are Hints that Help in the Home and Preserve the Temper including such gems as "a good bedside mat can be made out of old silk stockings, cut into strips and crocheted up". (Christmas spoiler alert to friends and extended family!)

Although this old-fashioned book has given me more than a few laughs over the years, it remains a treasured possession and the go-to resource for pikelets and scones in our house. Some of its recipes should be banished for all eternity (sheep's head soup and baked liver for a start), but others, such as this delightful, simple and thrifty Golden Syrup Dumpling recipe, are worthy of resurrection.

Rub a tablespoon of butter into one cup of self raising flour. When the mixture is crumbly, add one beaten egg with a dash  or two of milk. Roll into small balls and drop into a simmering syrup made from one cup of water, one cup of sugar, one tablespoon of butter and one generous tablespoon of golden syrup. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the syrup has thickened a little. Serve with home made custard, thick cream or ice cream.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness," said Jane Austen...

A very welcome seasonal gift
left on the doorstep!
The same could be said for good apple cakes, especially this time of year when apples are in season and can be bought by the box-full directly from the orchards around Orange. Just last week a kindly neighbour dropped around a large basket of  fresh apples, which resulted in a frenzy of apple eating and baking.
One of our favourite family apple recipes is adapted from Matthew Evans' wonderful The Real Food Companion cookbook. It is moist and heavy and delicious - perfect with a cup of tea or in a school lunchbox. Add a dollop or three of clotted cream and it is a magnificent winter desert. Comfort food at its best!

A very appley apple cake!
Apple Cake

About 1 kg apples, peeled, cored and diced
200g raw sugar
2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
125ml extra virgin olive oil
200g chopped pecans or walnuts
250g self raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a few drops vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and line a round spring form cake tin (about 28cm).
When preparing the apples, which will take a while, store them in a bowl of water with half a squeezed lemon or a splosh of vinegar. This will stop them from going brown while you slave away peeling and coring.
When the apples are diced, add them to a large bowl with the sugar, eggs, vanilla, lemon rind, oil and nuts. Stir to coat, then add the sifted flour and cinnamon. What you will have will resemble apples coated in batter more than a standard cake mix. Smooth the batter into the cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before attempting to turn out.

This weekend (11-13 May 2012) is the Orange Apple Festival, celebrating 170 years of apple growing in the Orange region. The festival will include cooking classes, orchard walks, school activities, cider tasting and apple bobbing. And of course, Orange is in all it's autumnal splendor at the moment - one of the best times of year to visit!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Local Harvest Challenge

This week I, along with some other local food lovers in Canowindra and Orange, have taken on the Local Harvest Challenge and pledged to eat only food (and wine!) sourced from within a 100 mile radius (160km). The "hundred mile" concept comes from an experiment in local eating which turned into a best-selling book called The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Canadians Alisa Smith and JB Mackinnon, in 2005. The 100 Mile Diet’s motto is “Local Eating for Global Change” – it’s all about food miles, carbon footprints, how far food travels from paddock to plate and supporting local farmers.
When it came time to clear out the fridge and pantry to make room for this week's Local Harvest Challenge  food boxes supplied by Katie Baddock from The Farm Gate and Lisa and Jess Lovick from A Slice of Orange, I had a chance to really take stock of the food I buy for the family and where it comes from.
Unless desperate, I always steer clear of the big bad supermarket chains. ( I love thinking woman's crumpet Richard Glover's commentary about truth in advertising in this week's Sydney Morning Herald. He suggested a more truthful advertisement for the supermarkets might go something like: "Here at Colesworth we use our vast market power to crush farmers and exploit workers, thus allowing us to offer prices that are not too bad..." If only the cameras would pan back so we could see the gun to the head of the farmer in the paddock!)
But I am lucky. I live on a vineyard in Canowindra, NSW and I am surrounded by an abundance of produce and value added local products, from apples, hazelnuts, truffles and cider up the hill in Orange, to lamb, vegetables, cherries, figs and olives around warmer climate Canowindra. Just as importantly as being surrounded by producers, we also have some fantastic providores - it's one thing to live near the source, but you have to be able to actually get your hands on it!  A Slice of Orange and Totally Local sell a great range of local produce in Orange, and here in Canowindra, our local grocer (also a grower) , Gaskill Greens, is committed to fresh, seasonal, organic local produce. For a classic country town where men still dip their hats to ladies and the main street is lined in utes, we have a very sophisticated food scene! :-)

At this juncture, I would like to claim immunity for the following items during the Local Harvest Challenge:
  • Milk. When it comes to buying locally and supporting producers, milk is perhaps the most difficult and problematic product. I refuse to buy the heavily discounted milk, but I know the supermarket duopoly is crippling the dairy industry and soon there will be no more small family dairy farms. I can buy my milk straight from a local dairy, under the cover of darkness, dressed in fatigues and a balaclava, after receiving the all clear from check point 1 that the milk truck has left the dairy, ten four rubber ducky... but the effort required actually outweighs my moral objection!
  • Cereal. I have an eleven year old son. Say. No. More.
  • Chocolate. Fair go. It's the week before Easter and there are not a lot of cacao plantations in central NSW. But, at risk of coming across as a complete bleeding heart, I will pledge to purchase only Fair Trade chocolate for Easter.
  • If I can't source my produce from with a hundred mile radius, I will endeavour to ensure it is as close to that as possible. For example, I will choose Riverina rice over imported rice.

DAY ONE - Sunday night, our first Local Harvest Challenge dinner, was a simple Sunday supper of wholemeal sourdough bread from Racine restaurant in Orange, our own happy, free range poached eggs sprinkled with Italian parsley from our garden.

Mandagery Creek Vension loin
DAY TWO - Last night, we invited friends around for dinner, who, in the spirit of the Challenge, presented me with a beautiful bouquet of local beetroot. We feasted on Mandagery Creek Venison with potatoes and beetroot roasted in local olive oil with halved lemons, garlic and fresh thyme. Venison is a very lean meat which is easily overcooked. I seared it in a hot pan then roasted it in the oven for about 10 minutes (it was only a thin loin). It was then left to rest for another 10 minutes. The result was the most tender meat I have ever had the pleasure of eating!
To drizzle over the venison, I made an amazing Sangiovese reduction sauce with meat trimmings, garlic, onion, bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, 100 mls balsamic vinegar, 50 mls red wine vinegar, 150 mls port and a full bottle of Sangiovese, left to simmer for about 2 hours. The trick with a good reduction is to build up the flavour in increments. Let the vinegars reduce to about 50 mls before adding the port. Let that reduce again, before adding the red wine.
Naturally, we matched the meal with a bottle of our 2002 Hamiltons Bluff Sangiovese :-)

Follow these other local foodies on their Local Harvest Challenge...
Kate Barclay at the Bendy Street Emporium in Canowindra
Lisa & Jess Lovick at  A Slice of Orange in Orange
Katie Baddock at The Farm Gate in Orange
Shawn & Willa Arantz at Racine in Orange
Sophie Hansen at Local is Lovely in Orange (Sophie and her husband Tim own Mandagery Creek Venison)
and our token bloke, David Cumming at Define Wine in Orange

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fig Tart inspired by Anna Del Conte

So many people think of spring as the season of abundance - but I am convinced it is autumn, especially out here in regional NSW. Now is the time of year we purchase crisp fresh apples directly from the orchards up in Orange, and my favourite fruit of all, the delicate, mythical fig, is ripe for the picking.

Although the fig tree in our orchard is still only small, it has produced buckets of beautiful fruit this year - the only challenge has been to get to the figs before the birds and the fruit flies! Our most productive fig tree this season has been the White Adriatic, with its bright lime green skin and intense ruby flesh.

With figs to spare, now is the time to make my recipe of the year - a simple, Italian style fig tart inspired by the wonderful Anna Del Conte in her book "Risotto with Nettles - a Memoir with Food". The recipe is ridiculously simple, but as in all Italian cooking, the secret is to get the key ingredients right.

You might think the hero of this recipe is the fig - but it is, in fact, the pastry. Sweet, textured with crunchy raw sugar, and lifted to a higher plain altogether by the addition of fresh lemon rind. Please don't use thin, flimsy castor sugar in this pastry - it must be raw and granulated. And the lemon rind is non-negotiable!

Fig Tart (Crostata di Marmellata di Fichi)

225 g plain flour
100g raw sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
120g cold butter
2 free range egg yolks
splash ice cold water

1 190ml jar Rosnay Fig Preserve*
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Fresh figs, sliced
egg yolk and milk wash to glaze

I cheat and make the pastry in my trusty food processor. Just zip all the pastry ingredients up quickly until they come together, then wrap the pastry in plastic and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour.

Once the pastry has chilled, take it out of the fridge and roll half of it out quickly onto a floured surface. Line a loose bottomed tart tin in pastry, making sure you have buttered and floured the tin first. Now, spread a thin layer of the mixture of fig preserve and lemon juice over the surface of the pastry. If fresh figs are not at hand, the fig preserve and lemon juice is all you need, but if you have the luxury of fresh figs, arrange them, sliced thinly, over the preserve. Now create a pretty lattice pattern with the remaining pastry, glaze with egg and milk wash, and sprinkle a little castor sugar for sparkle (you can use castor sugar for the flourish, but you must use raw sugar in the pastry!) Cook in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

Anna Del Conte notes that in Italy, tarts like this are served without the embellishment of cream or ice cream - and she is so right! Just serve with an espresso coffee or a glass of our Dolce Nero!

*Rosnay is an organic vineyard here in Canowindra, which also produces organic olives and figs. To purchase their fantastic Fig Preserve and other products, go to

Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 Vintage update

The intense colour of our Sangiovese grapes - gorgeous!
"How's the grapes goin'?" We hear that a lot lately. 

Most folks out here realise this is not shaping up to be an easy vintage. It has been a wet and mild summer - it's very unusual indeed to be using the winter doona in the middle of February! The vines are certainly loving all the natural rain - a big change from the drought years - but the wet summer means we are under fairly high disease pressure and we are on the lookout for downy and powdery mildew. On the bright side, there has been so much rain that we have not needed to turn on the massive pump to water the vineyard from the bore, saving us thousands in electricity (or is that millions these days?)

Ripening is very slow (in the orchard too - the nectarines were devoured by birds before they could ripen and the figs are still green). Wet weather like this can produce lots of growth and heavy crops, but we pruned hard this year, so our yields should be low and the quality high. We are not sure if we will be able to make a Dolce Nero from this vintage. For our "Sweet Black' we need to ripen Sangiovese grapes on the vine for weeks after the standard Sangiovese has been picked, but with all this humidity we just don't know if it will be possible this year.
But that's the magic of wine - every season, every vintage, tells its own story!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Panforte & memories of Siena

It was so hot the day we arrived in Siena - one of those blistering Italian August days when only tourists and shopkeepers remain inland and all the Italians flee to Sardinia or some equally exotic coastal location.
To escape the heat, we left the sunny piazza with its pigeons and tourists and apricot tablecloths and headed down a cool, dark cobbled lane, sheltered by tall, thick walls of history. Down the lane and around a corner we discovered a little shop selling Panforte - Siena's traditional cake, heavy with nuts and spices, honey and chocolate. We ate panforte with espresso that day as we wrote postcards home.
Panforte has since become a Christmas staple in our household, but I have been known to make it all year round as it is a wonderful way to end a meal. It is also a great way to showcase our local produce - I use hazelnuts grown up the road in Orange and local honey, prunes and figs. My recipe is - as all the best recipes are - a concoction of a number of recipes. A little from an old Italian baking book, a pinch from  Maggie Beer, and a nod to Mathew Evans.
It is important to get the "stickiness factor" correct when attempting panforte. The mixture will be very heavy and appear to need more liquid - but persevere and get it into your mould or pan as quickly as possible. The "showy" ingredients  - the  fruit, nuts and spices - can be played with according to taste. You may prefer almonds to hazelnuts, more ginger, less white pepper. I never use glace cherries because I despise them - but they have been known to appear in Panforte.

120 g  grated dark couverture chocolate (70% cocoa)
100 g dark cocoa
1 cup honey (I use local Cabonne Country Iron Bark Honey)
250 g caster sugar
350 g hazelnuts ( I use Fourjay Farms hazelnut kernels from Orange)
200 g prunes (I use delicious Budgi Werri Breakfast Prunes made from dried D'Arges plums and grown on the South West Slopes of NSW)
100 g glace ginger (Not so local, but Australian, I use Buderim Ginger)
250g glace figs (I use dried figs from a local organic grower)
200 g mixed peel
250 g plain flour
1 teaspoon-ish each cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, allspice and white pepper 
You can purchase the local ingredients mentioned above online at our local Regional Deli, a Canowindra-based business run by our good friends, Chris & Nerida Cuddy.
Preheat oven to 180 C (or 350 F). I usually make between 6 to 8 small panforte out of this mixture, using individual non-stick spring form pans about 11cm in diameter. But you could make one large panforte if you prefer - just be sure to leave it in the oven a little longer. Panforte is traditionally round, but I have seen rectangular versions.
Dissolve the honey and sugar together in a pan over a medium heat. Simmer for about 3 minutes. If you have a thermometer, you are aiming at 112 C for the syrup, or "soft ball" stage.
In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients and then stir in the syrup. Work quickly and use a bit of grunt.
When all is combined, press into your baking tin/s. Dampen your fingers with a little water to press the mixture in if it is too sticky. Cap with little rounds of baking paper to ensure the panforte doesn't burn and place in the oven. If making multiple smaller panforte, only cook for about 10 to15 minutes. One large panforte should cook for about 20 - 25 minutes at the most.
Allow it to cool before turning out. Panforte will keep for weeks. They make great Christmas gifts wrapped  brown paper and string. Below is a quick YouTube video showing the traditional method of wrapping panforte. Not a word is spoken but the crackling of the paper is utterly mesmerising!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Warm spiced Sangiovese with hazelnut biscotti and candied citrus

Dolce Nero barrels in the cellar door. Photo by Di Smith

It's freezing outside - snow is falling in nearby Orange - but its warm and cosy inside the cellar door. We will be open this June Queen's Birthday Long Weekend (Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th and Monday 13th from 10am - 4pm) for wine tasting and sales. To warm you from the inside out, we will be serving delicious warm spiced Sangiovese with homemade hazelnut biscotti and candied citrus. If you're rugged up, you're welcome to take a stroll around the winter vineyard or even try your hand at a game of boules on the lawn - or just sit inside and enjoy the view with a glass of wine. Call 02-63442670 or email me at for more information or group bookings.

Monday, April 11, 2011

One Hundred Miles of F.O.O.D.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming. Here, in the heart of regional NSW, the land of kelpies and white Toyota utes, I find myself in a scene similar to one I once stumbled upon (literally) down a midnight alley in Rome – family, friends, eating, drinking, dancing, laughing, under strings of festoon lights.
I’m in Canowindra for the annual 100 Mile Dinner – a highlight of the very popular Orange F.O.O.D Week festival held every April. Long communal tables are set for 340 guests, running the length of Canowindra’s historic crooked main street. Diners are bussed in 56 kilometres from Orange for this event, and tickets sell out on day one. Brightly coloured lanterns zigzag over head against a starry autumn night sky. The scene is quite delightful.

This year, F.O.O.D (Food of the Orange District) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over the past two decades it has become one of Australia’s most successful and authentic regional food events, never losing sight of its core philosophy to promote and support regional produce and producers, and in so doing, support the local economy and regional tourism. Considering the International Slow Food movement was founded only three years earlier in 1989, Orange’s F.O.O.D group could justifiably be described as a pioneer of the modern regional food movement in Australia.

The degustation100 Mile dinner represents the very best Central NSW produce prepared by the best Central NSW chefs and cooks. It takes its name from an experiment in local eating which turned into a best selling book called “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating” by Canadians Alisa Smith and JB Mackinnon, published in 2005.

One hundred miles is roughly 160 kilometres – but the “160km Dinner” just doesn’t have the same ring. The 100 Mile Diet’s motto is “Local Eating for Global Change” – it’s all about food miles, carbon footprints, how far food travels from paddock to plate and supporting local farmers.

Edwena Mitchell is a member of the F.O.O.D Executive Committee and the co-ordinator of the 100 Mile Dinner in Canowindra. She is also a cook and caterer of formidable reputation. A typical no-nonsense country woman, Edwena runs her own successful catering business, is on every committee under the sun, works the family farm and shuttles children from one sporting event to the next. I asked Edwena if the 100 Mile concept – eating seasonally and regionally and supporting local economies – could ultimately save the world?

“Not all at once!” she laughs. “But it is the trickle down effect – you have to start somewhere!”

At face value the 100 Mile dinner is an excellent tourism and promotional event for regional food and wine. But beneath the fun and frivolity lies a serious and worthy cause. Edwina says it’s all about sustainability and conservation .

“Many farmers and producers would laugh at being called conservationists, but in reality we all are,” she says. “Around our area, after eight years of drought, conserving moisture and pasture and still managing to produce was the only way to scrape an income. And then there are “food miles” to consider. Why are we importing apples and other vegetables from China when we produce our own?”

But for one night at least, economic and political pressures are swept to one side as people enjoy all that is good and delicious about fresh, seasonal, local food.

Braised duck with kipfler potatoes and beetroot relish from Lindl Taylor and Josie Chapman in Orange is simply mouth-watering.
I want to go back for seconds, but there are other things to try. Bathurst lays on a fantastic slow braised venison osso bucco with baby carrots, Tuscan kale, Dutch cream potatoes and gremolata. Canowindra cooks bring it home with an incredible dessert of organic honey panna cotta with poached organic figs and hazelnut bread. What makes the menu special, is that almost all of the produce has been sourced from within the region. Think of Orange as ground zero and the region radiating out over 160 kilometres. The pork came from Trunkey Creek Pork near Blayney, the duck from Dutton Park Ducks in Young, and the goat from Meadows Prime Chevon in Lyndhurst. Fruit, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, honey, oil, bread and wines are all sourced locally too.

Close to midnight, a conga-line appears out of nowhere and I am swept away.
A middle aged man, who looks like he should know better, grabs me by the waist and laughs “Let’s Conga!” Not usually a team player, I surprise myself and join in the festivities. A group of local musicians are playing on the sidewalk in front of the old bank building. It’s cold, but no-one seems to notice. There is a real atmosphere of carnivale.

Then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. Like a flash mob, one minute people of all shapes and sizes are dancing and laughing in the street, the next they have picked up their belongings, boarded a bus and are gone.

By midnight the hard working committee and local volunteers are stacking tables and sweeping the street. Like Cinderella, Canowindra has turned back into its normal, reliable, unadorned yet lovely self. The ball is over. By 8am the following morning it’s business as usual. A young bloke in a big hat parks his hotted-up ute and races in to the bakery for a pie, the local publican receives kegs from the daily beer truck, and the shop owners of Canowindra open their doors for another day.

If you want a seat at next year's 100 Mile Dinner (April 16th 2012), be ready to purchase tickets in February 2012 at

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The sweet smells of life

Today, the children and I experienced the pure olfactory exhilaration of a face full of tree ripened nectarine perfume.
Unimpressed by hard, odorless, tasteless supermarket fruit, neither Angus nor Ella were too keen to try another nectarine. Until today, when they picked their own sweet ripe fruit from the very tree they planted just eighteen months ago.

We were not expecting fruit so soon, but our little nectarine tree graced us with twelve perfect nectarines this year. The Satsuma plum also produced some fruit. We can't wait until next year's crop.

Of all the senses, I think smell is the one I would most hate to lose. A big call, I know. I can't say I would be too keen to give up sight or hearing either. But to go through life without the dimension of smell and taste would be bland indeed.
The nectarines got me thinking about my favourite smells. Apart from the obvious - baking bread, freshly ground coffee and garlic frying in butter - here are some of my sweetest;

                              wood smoke
                                                       musty fallen autumn leaves
Japanese incense

      sugar cane (from a childhood spent in Queensland)


                        Eau de Givenchy (my first French perfume!)

    kerosene (from a little kerosene heater that
    kept me warm through a Japanese winter)

                                                                   crisp misty mornings

the sweet, sticky grape juice left on
clothing after a night of harvesting
                              lemon zest freshly zested

                                                 that first whiff of the ocean  
        crushed kaffir lime leaves
                                                     Eucalyptus forest floors
aged red wine

And yours? Post a comment, share your favourite memory smells.