Earth Oven Food Feast at NAIDOC

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—What a bonus to sample the aromatic pleasures of an Aboriginal earth oven feast in Sydney’s Hyde Park last week.

The earth oven food was part of Naidoc in the City, where visitors could enjoy a taste of Indigenous food and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures while listening to live performances from artist such as Radical Son, Green Hand Band, Jessie Lloyd and Mi’Kaisha.

Apart from a host of activities such as storytelling, language workshops, bush tucker talks, weaving and demonstrations by Aboriginal chef, Mark Olive, the food sampling seemed to be of particular interest, judging by the long queues.

Lamb, beef and pork were slow cooked from pre-dawn using a traditionally styled ‘earth oven’. The oven is created by digging out a shallow pit and lining it with native Gymea Lily stems – the heating comes from the addition of burning hot rocks.

Wet hessian bags and sand seal in the heat and the result is a rich smoky cuisine – a method that ‘steams, roasts and barbeques’ the native herb-infused meat all at once.

NAIDOC SydneyAnd while the lunchtime patrons and spontaneous tourist passers-by may not have known the intricacies of this ancient cooking technique, the appreciation was palpable. Mounds of pork, beef, lamb and vegetables subtly infused with flavours such as pepper berry and lemon myrtle were memorable – and entirely delicious.

Hearty and flavoursome on a crisp winter afternoon, this earth oven food celebrated the rich diversity of Australia’s bush flavours while ensuring that this age-old tradition received the recognition it deserves.

Ugly Fruit and Veg – bring it on

ugly fruit and veg

BRITAIN–Jamie’s done it again – taken the road less traveled when it comes to food and exposed that lo and behold, consumers in Britain and surely elsewhere, have no problem buying what he terms ugly fruit and veg.

Tons of fruit and vegetables deemed not perfect enough for consumers is dumped each year or turned into animal fodder. At one Norfolk farm he visited, up to 10 tons of imperfect vegetables were dumped a week. As Jamie pointed out in his Food Revolution series, this is perfectly edible fruit and vegetables, with exactly the same nutritional value as its prettier peers, it’s just a bit more gnarly and quirky than its commercially acceptable counterparts.

Testing his theory about ugly fruit and veg

To test his theory that consumers were not averse to buying deformed vegetables, he placed cameras at a particular supermarket and viewed customer reaction to the not so perfect vegetables which were marked 30% off. To his delight, consumers bought with gusto – they understood that not all vegetables grown are perfect and they were definitely not repelled by their appearance.

I sincerely hope he starts a revolution, particularly with many families struggling to put fresh fruit and vegetables on the table. It starts with major suppliers. What large supermarket chains are failing to get is that not all consumers want picture perfect carrots. Ask any organic grower. Consumers are more informed than they’re given credit for. Many of us grow our own veggies and know that the tastiest tomatoes, for example, are not always the prettiest.

‘Beautiful on the Inside’ ugly fruit and veg

asdaTo prove his point, in January this year, Jamie approached the UK chain, Asda to test his theory and launched his ‘Beautiful on the Inside’ range. It’s working – consumers are buying. And why shouldn’t they? In a survey, 65% of people said they would buy the ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables and 75% said they would if the produce was marked down.

I would choose wonky any day. As a child, I remember pulling out carrots from my mum’s garden that were downright comical. Often, at least three roots curled around each other in a carroty embrace – quite unlike the straight as a pin packaged carrots in our supermarkets. They were eaten anyway. Potatoes often had extra knobs on them and the insect nibbled bits of cauliflower or broccoli florets were simply cut out.

Most of us are fine with a little imperfection. And if ugly fruit and veg comes at a reduced cost, even better. Best of all, our farmers could get a lot more value out of a crop rather than having to dump perfectly good fruit and veggies simply because it didn’t make the supermarket grade.

Jamie, I salute you. I, for one, will be first to sign up for the “ugly” fruit and veg revolution.

Bring on the gnarly, the discarded and disenfranchised produce.

Their time has come.

© Lois Nicholls 2015

Carrot image credit: Twitter

San Diego’s Public Market is Coming!

Dale Steele and Catt White

Catt White and Dale Steele

AFTER TEN YEARS of tenacity, chutzpah and vision to see a public market established in San Diego, Dale Steele and Catt White have finally signed a lease on a massive 92,000 square foot property near the harbor and Petco Park.

Watch the Kickstarter video below to discover more about this exciting development that will become a landmark for the city.

Read about the venture on Kickstarter

Mangrove Jack – Serial Killer or Fine Fare?

Anyone ever sampled a Mangrove Jack? Forgive my ignorance but this is the first time I’ve cooked this Northern Queensland fish with a name that sounds more like a serial killer than a rather palatable fish.

Not being an angler of any notoriety, I cooked, not hooked this fish. He turned up in my local supermarket deli in fillets and after wrapping in foil and slow baking with lemon juice and butter, he was surprisingly tasty. The flesh was more like a steak, really – meaty, not flaky.

Turns out, our Mangrove Jack is, in fish terms rather a meaty, mafia type. In fact, the Aussie fisherman’s bible, Grant’s Fishes of Australia describes the fish thus:

“It is a violent ruffian; a hooligan; a thug; a close associate of terrorists.”

Apparently the modus operandi of this notorious killer is to ambush its prey with a vicious attack on anything venturing close to its lair.

“With a powerful sweep of their broad tail they will actually swim past the “food” and hit it going full pelt back to its home.”

Anglers are also at the mercy of this brute force. If their reflexes are a tad slow, or their line not taut enough, in a split second, Mangrove Jack has hit the throttle and escaped the frying pan.

I’m rather glad he didn’t escape mine.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L Hopp and Camille Kingsolver)If there’s one book you read this year, make sure it’s this one.

It took me a month of Sundays to finish on account of the detailed content, (and reading another book in between) but wow, was it worth it! I came away inspired, informed and far more aware of the adage, ‘you are what you eat’.

American author, Barbara Kingsolver, best known for her fiction titles, The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees – (two of 12 published works), tells the story of her family’s year-long sojourn – their challenge to only eat food produced on their 100-year-old farm or sourced from the area.

 In her words, “this is the story…of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place we worked, went to school, loved our neighbours, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

It gives fascinating, and sometimes shocking insight into the American food industry often monopolised by huge corporates. While her husband, Steven, an environmental studies expert interjects her story with informative theory, facts and figures, her daughter, Camille offers insight from a student’s perspective – providing family favourite recipes at the end of her chapters. I tried the zucchini choc chip cookies which looked somewhat suspicious with their green bits but were surprisingly well received.

What does come across in the book, is that living off the land is not all romance – it takes perseverance and pure hard work. A bountiful crop has to first be planted – and then harvested. Excess produce has to be frozen, bottled or roasted, roosters have to be culled and turkeys killed for Thanksgiving … not for the faint hearted.

There are some charming life lessons learnt along the way, for example the adorable sounding Lilly’s foray into the egg business – working out profit, expenditure and losses – how to market her product and reap the rewards.

There is triumph when Barbara’s carefully raised Heirloom Bourbon Red turkeys learn the art of procreation and how to sit on eggs. Shocking to learn that battery raised turkeys are unable to procreate and have to be artificially inseminated so fat and listless do they become.

With her artful prose, clever humour and ability to tell a really good story, Barbara captures her reader from the start. While we can’t all live on a 100-year-old farm, we can still make informed choices. I came away inspired to grow a veggie or two, support local farmers’ markets, check labels and know what’s seasonal before forking out money for Californian oranges in January.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is published by HarperCollins