Fussy eaters harm the environment
Dead easy lamb necks recipe
White Hat criticism of Grocery Choice vindicated?
Eating Out – Melbourne
Eating Out – Hobart
Friday Night Tea
How sustainable is eating seafood?
Are farmers’ markets sustainable?
Australia’s Hidden Food Gems
Eating down the foodchain
The White Hat Food Quiz
It has been some time since our last food newsletter. In the past few newsletters we have been looking at some the issues connected with the currently popular concept of SOLE food where the SOLE stands for Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical, so we might continue with that theme for a while and examine SUSTAINABLE food.
This article can now be found at Fussy Eaters Harm the Environment
Lamb necks are one of the cheapest cuts of meat (currently $2 to $3 each at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne) and can be dead easy to cook. Firstly, we should explain that the word ‘lamb’ is used rather freely in Australia as a general term to describe lamb, hogget or mutton and we described this confusing terminology in a previous newsletter which you can now find at The White Hat Guide to Lamb & Mutton.
To be precise we would recommend hogget neck but don’t expect to find it labelled it to be labelled as such. So here is our simple recipe. The only particular skill for cooking this is the ability to sing loudly and slightly off-key.
“Once a jolly swagman . .” Take a neck of lamb (or two or three). Chuck it in an oven bag “Down came a jumbuck . .” “Ooww daaad!” with some cloves of garlic (no need to peel – just cut in half), a lemon cut in half, a couple of sprigs of rosemary or whatever herbs you have lying around. Seal the oven bag, “And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag . .” and place in a low oven (say 180 degrees) for about an hour and a half or until the meat is falling off the bone. Serve. There – that was easy. You may care to take the juices from the tuckerbag and thicken with some butter and cornflour to make a gravy. Mint sauce goes well too. The gravy is an important part of the process of getting your child to eat brussel sprouts. Place half a brussel sprout on the fork: “Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong” Dunk brussel sprout in the gravy billabong “You’ll never catch me alive cried he” Remove brussel sprout from the gravy and place in the mouth of aforementioned urchin. Place your ear on the urchin’s stomach and sing very softly “and his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong . .”
I have also tried this technique while courting attractive young ladies but to date have had little success.
It is worth remembering that the great majority of obesity in the Western world comes not from eating cheaper ‘fatty’ cuts of meat or offal but from eating processed, pre-packaged or junk foods. I often walk through the Queen Victoria Market late at night or before dawn. The produce sits under a thin layer of hessian where it could be easily stolen, but in general this is not a problem. I sometimes ponder how we have come from being a country to which people were often transported for stealing fresh food to one where people are more likely to steal a mobile phone in order to trade it for franchised junk food.
In early September there is a free public forum in Melbourne on the issues surrounding obesity. You can find details at The White Hat Guide to Forums in Melbourne.
Everyone has an Auntie Francie. My Auntie Francie lived at Clarkes Hill on a farm outside Ballarat. Chocolate soil – great for growing spuds, but still plenty of protruding volcanic rocks betraying the origin of the rich soil. When the family car turned off the main road – well, there’s not really a main road at Clarkes Hill, but that’s what the locals called it - Auntie Francie would see the dust rising on the track and by the times you arrived at the back door (nobody used the front door because that would be ‘giving yourself airs’) Auntie Francie would already have scones or a pav in the oven.
When fruits were in season they would go into the pav, and when vegetables were fresh they would go into the ‘casserole’ (a casserole was a stew cooked in a fancy dish) and when various things were plentiful and cheap she would preserve them or, as she said, “put them down”. Her pantry was full of jars of colourful preserved fruits and vegies and preserved meats, and, as a child, I imagined that when Uncle Walter died she would not bury him but simply “put him down”.
Preserving foods for later use while they are in season is becoming a lost art and maybe it is time for us all to dig out those old CWA cookbooks. The refrigerator and the freezer have made us lazy and here at White Hat we are as bad as anybody else. Instead of throwing out our leftovers, we carefully cover them with foil, place them in the fridge for several weeks and then throw them out. Discarded food of this nature, I am told, is a major contributor to unsustainable food practices. And while refrigeration and freezing has proved a major contributor to the preservation of food, I am unsure where all that energy use fits in our overall ecological footprint. I would be grateful if anyone can point me in the direction of reliable information on that front.
Everyone has an Auntie Francie, whether they are from Tuscany or Mumbai or Ethiopia or Vietnam or Clarkes Hill and they all pull you into their bosom when you arrive and they all smell of flour and fresh food and they all have a lot to teach us about sustainability.
If you want to make some serious money, forget about smuggling illicit drugs into or out of South East Asia, come over here and I’ll tell where the real shakedown money is. Come closer and I’ll whisper – “preserved lemons”.
“Preser . . “ “Shuuush! We don’t want to have everyone in on this caper! They cost next to nothing to make, whack them in a jar with a handwritten label and some gingham on the top, shove them in your boogie bag and take them to your local gourmet shop and you’ve got a markup of 1,000% with no hassles from the coppers.” “Who buys them?” “Matrons from the leafy suburbs. They rinse them, discard the flesh, dice the skins really fine just like that other stuff we used to sell and then put them in their ragouts.” “What’s a ragout?” “It’s a casserole. When you’ve finished cooking it you pour it out of its fancy dish into a rustic one so you can charge more for it - now are you coming in on this sting or not?” “What about Middle Eastern people? That’s where preserved lemons come from isn’t it? They’d buy it.” “Don’t be stupid. They make their own and then just wash the salt off and throw whole wedges into the tagine. No, gourmet stores are where we can get this scam going.”
Here is the White Hat recipe. We recommend you use lemons from your neighbour’s tree (in some suburbs it is considered polite to ask first) or from a local produce market. Lemons in supermarkets are always covered with wax so, despite rinsing, you will just be making preserved wax.
You probably need 10 or more lemons to make it worthwhile preserving them. Remember, it is the skin that is eventually eaten, so choose ones with reasonable skins. Unless you have a separate source of fresh lemon juice, reserve about one in five of the lemons for their juice at the end.
Wash lemons thoroughly then quarter into wedges. Place in large bowl and massage with coarse sea salt. Don't worry about losing some juice into the bowl. Use about half a cup of salt for each 10 lemons. Leave for an hour or so (optional). Take one or more clean glass jars - I prefer to use ones with a bit of a neck to help keep the lemons compressed. Start placing the lemon wedges in the jar and intersperse them from time to time with aromatic spices such as cinnamon stick, cloves, peppercorns and star anise. The star anise is not authentically Moroccan, but I find it works well. You can also try fresh bay leaves or even (Australian) lemon myrtle leaves. As the jar fills, keep forcing in more wedges so as to force the juice out of the lower ones. When the jar is fairly tightly packed, pour in any remaining juices from the bowl. You may then need to add juice from the lemons you have reserved in order to completely cover the wedges. Place the jar in a warm place for a month, turning the jar every few days to keep the juices circulated and topping up with lemon juice if required. Then place the jar in the refrigerator. The lemons will be ready to use a few weeks after that. To use the lemons, remove a wedge from the jar, scrape off the flesh, rinse well (remember it is very salty) and cut the peel into fine strips. Use in casseroles, tagines, on salads etc. It goes particularly well with chicken and lamb. I have even been known to use the flesh and a little juice in casseroles to which no salt has previously been added.
In August 2008 the Australian Government launched its Grocery Choice website as part of an election promise which it said would combat grocery price rises by publicising individual item price comparisons between major distributors. White Hat believed to model was flawed from the start and gave our reasons in the strong criticism stated in our food newsletter published two days after the launch of the site. In June of 2009, the Australian Government suddenly and unexpectedly terminated the scheme and now there is to be a Senate inquiry into whether the scheme was a major waste of money. You can read White Hat's initial criticisms here which could also prove useful in the implementation of any future scheme.
The first response to our quiz on some Australian food-related inventions came from Peter, so here they are:
- Adelaide invented a special culinary delight consisting of a brown disc allegedly containing animal substances floating in a green liquid. Inexplicably, I have never found this creation on the menus of supposedly high-end restaurants around the world. What is the name of this dish? – The Pie Floater – a meat pie floating on green pea soup which could only be invented by crow eaters.
- A piece of bush technology which uses the latent heat of evaporation to keep food cool can still sometimes be found in use in the outback. What is its name? – The Coolgardie Safe.
- An Australian inventor created what was then the world’s best grain harvester. What has this got to do with the basic wage? – H.V. McKay invented the Sunshine Harvester and when local production was threatened by cheap overseas imitations he applied for tariff protection. Judge Henry Higgins in the Harvester Case granted this protection provided local workers were paid a ‘basic wage’ which Judge Higgins then set about calculating.
- An Australian inventor created the world’s first commercial refrigeration plant in Geelong and later a second one in Melbourne. What was his name? – James Harrison.
- In the film ‘Sunday Too Far Away’ there is described a special method used to by a one-armed chef to add flavour to a hamburger patties. What method was this? – The mince meat was formed into patties by the cook by compressing the mixture in his armpit thus giving them a distinctive salty taste.
- An Australian inventor created a refrigerator running on kerosene which made refrigeration in the outback practical in a way which it had not been before. What was his name? – The inventor of the Icy Ball Refrigerator although his name escapes me
- An Australian inventor devised a method of creating high potency fertiliser out of chook poo. What is this fertiliser called? – Dynamic Lifter
- The Australian diva Dame Nellie Melba had at least two dishes named after her. What are they? Another Australian diva, Kylie, has adopted a number of the promotional techniques pioneered by Nellie. Suggest a dish in her honour. – There is Peach Melba and Melba Toast. Maybe Kylie could have Pie Minogue – four and twenty budgies baked in a pie.
For those interested in Australian inventions you can find more information at The White Hat Guide to Australian Inventions.
Australia, in recent decades, has particularly adopted the food of the warmer climates assisted by new arrivals from those countries. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian all seem to fit well with our climate and lifestyle. Except, come a cold winter, there’s nothing quite like some middle or northern European food. And, let’s face it, even those of us who are proud of our Anglo-Celtic heritage rarely say to our friends “I know this really good English restaurant that does a . . “
Anyway, tucked away amongst construction sites in a converted warehouse about a block away from Sydney Road Brunswick you will find a sort of Polish/Ukrainian/Hungarian café and gallery. The eating area is mainly one large wooden table. It even comes with wood carving chisels so that, if you feel inclined, you can inscribe your artistic design into the tabletop. There are board games, couches and local art work. Then there is good middle European winter fare. It is only open from 7am to 5pm Wednesdays to Sundays because on Mondays and Tuesdays David and Justin together with David’s Polish/Ukrainian/Hungarian Mum, Dad & Grandma are preparing the food for the rest of the week.
If you are after silver service with white tablecloths and expensive wines, try another suburb. If you are after cheap, honest, winter food prepared with love and shared at a table with strangers who may later become friends White Hat can recommend the Court Jester at 15 Breese Street Brunswick.
It is a year or more since White Hat has been in Hobart so please let us know if things have changed dramatically since then. However, as newcomers to the Apple Isle will know, you don’t start to become considered for acceptance as a local until you have been there for at least two generations so I expect things hasn’t changed all that much since we were last there.
On the docks at Hobart the fishing fleet ties up with its daily catch. Well, not daily actually because it is no longer economic to go out for only a day at a time, but that is what the crowdsourced travel sites say and who are we to argue with that. On the docks you will find Mures with three main eating areas all sourcing their seafood from the fishing boats bobbing close by. There is a fine dining area, a sushi section and a fish café. We have enjoyed all three, but when we visit Hobart, one of our first meals is trevalla from the fish café. This is not to be confused with the more familiar trevally. Trevalla is a deep sea fish from the colder waters and has dark flesh. We love it. See what you think.
Now, we should add as a warning that although Tasmania has a fine maritime tradition, it cannot always be trusted with its treatment of seafood. The Tasmanian Scallop Pie makes even an Adelaide Pie Floater seem palatable.
If you are eating at home, Friday night tea is usually the meal where you want to put in least effort. It’s been a long week, and you just want to flop on the couch and watch some brainless television which treats you as though you have a mental age of twelve which is about right for that time of the week. When you were a bit younger and trendier you used to go to Friday night drinks and consume enough to reduce your IQ to room temperature but now a glass or two of red wine does the trick just as well. You are just starting to relax and the news comes on. Droughts, terrorism, global warming, murder and mayhem. Why, you ask yourself. Why has it all come to this?
Well White Hat is here to tell you why. It all dates back to when the Micks stopped eating fish on Fridays. First they put the Mass in a language the people could understand and then it was no longer required to eat fish on Fridays and the result is the mess you see today. Nowadays, some pubs rely on Fridays for 90% of their weekly take, but back then it was the same with fish shops. Institutional meals were nearly always fish because that catered for the Catholics and made it easier all round. I remember reading a schoolboy book where the chapter about Friday night tea at boarding school had the supplementary heading “The piece of cod that passeth all understanding”. The Jews went off to synagogue and came home and ate gefilte fish and matzoh balls (I don’t know if any other part of the animal was eaten) while the Protestants mainly went with the flow and ate fish because that was easiest. Then it all started to break down. Well, I believe it’s time to take a stand and even non-believers should stand up for what they believe in and demand that Catholics eat fish on Fridays.
Here is our suggestion for Friday night tea to get you started.
Most people who have visited Hobart know Mures restaurant and café on the docks where they take their produce straight from the fishing boats moored alongside. Well, they produce a few pre-packaged goods including excellent smoky fish chowder. This is not one of those creamy, milky varieties but a rich, smoky, fishy concoction to which you can add cream if you like. A $7 package provides a hearty serve for two. I prefer to add a little fresh fish or marinara mix. No point going to the supermarket. When is the last time you saw “the fresh food people” selling fresh fish? It is all “thawed for your convenience”. The label omits that it was frozen for their convenience. Just one fillet of a delicate white fish or about 125 grams of marinara mix is fine. They may not sell it in such small amounts so use the rest the next day for a pasta. Finely chop some onions and maybe some garlic. Soften in a little olive oil then add the fish. After a short time add the chowder and bring to the simmer. Serve with some toasted crusty sourdough bread, sprinkle on some chopped fresh chives or dill or whatever you have to hand, a container of sour cream on the side so those who wish can add a dollop. If you don’t have any of theses extras to hand then the chowder straight out of the container is fine.
I buy my chowder and extra seafood at a stall in the Vic Market called The Happy Tuna. As a tuna I think I would feel happier swimming around without a care in the world other than when I was next going to hook up with a tuna of the opposite sex rather than sitting dead on a pile of ice with my mouth open and eyes bulging, but if the proprietors tell me their dead tunas are happy I am prepared to believe them.
So, while your friends are out there eating their overpriced overcooked eggplant parma with seasonal herbs (packet herbs are always in season) you can sit at home with a much better meal knowing you are helping to restore world balance by eating fish on Friday.
When the Press Club in Canberra invited ecologist David Suzuki to speak, the journalists started out by chowing down on pink-fleshed ‘Tasmanian’ farmed salmon which did not reflect well on our mainstream media. Whether this style of fish farming is sustainable is somewhat contentious, and the chemical feeding of the fish to create pink flesh rather than the less saleable natural grey flesh was unlikely to go down with an ecologist. Needless to say, David Suziki let our ‘quality press’ have it with both barrels. You can find some of his objections to this form of fish farming here.
For countless centuries man has eaten the fruits of the sea. The oceans were vast and seemingly inexhaustible. However, modern fishing methods have to exhaust this seemingly inexhaustible resource. You can hear an excellent summary of many of the issues on the ABC Radio National website.
On a related topic you can hear an examination of how Australia manages its ocean territory together with some rather sobering home truths.
A couple of months ago, the weekly ‘Bible’ for farmers – the Weekly Times – declared “Much of the popular farmers' markets movement has been exposed as a sham.”
At White Hat, we attend many farmers’ markets across the country and speak to many of the farmers and stallholders. Farmers’ markets have of course existed in Australia since the early days of European settlement, and many markets which aren’t exclusively for food have always had their direct-from-farm produce. Head along to a market such as the weekly ones in showgrounds such as Bendigo or Warrnambool any time in the last 50 years and you would find farmers selling their produce off the back of a dray or a truck. Go back a century and the majority of Australia’s population lived on farms or in the country so sourcing your food direct from the farm was the norm. New-style farmers’ markets have attempted to recreate the direct link between producer and consumer, but some farmers have become disillusioned with the way some are organised. Some have told us words to the effect of “The organisers require the stall to be manned by the grower. I have to take off a day when I could be working productively on the farm, pay someone to come and milk the cows, in order to stand behind a stall and I am not allowed to pay an outsider to man the stall. How sustainable is that?” Others have told us they have been told that certain markets have to be not for profit. “Can you believe that? It’s OK for them to draw a salary from the taxpayer but it’s not OK for me make a profit to create a salary for myself and my family. It’s crazy.” Actually, the words were a little more colourful than crazy but they did imply that model was only sustainable as long as the organisers could convince people who were making a profit through honest toil to pay taxes in order pay the wages of “people who had time on their hands but no dirt under their fingernails”.
So are farmers’ markets a feelgood activity for city slickers based on unsustainable practices which will gradually whither once their current patrons are “soo over that”. We would point out that reactions like those mentioned above are just part of the story and in our next newsletter we will look at many of the good things that have emerged form the modern farmers’ market movement.
You can find a listing of selected farmers’ markets across Australia at The White Hat Guide to Markets in Australia.
If you are in Adelaide we can highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Economic Botany. This wonderful little institution is in the best tradition of 19th century educative museums. It has systematic displays of all varieties of fruit, vegetables and grains together with their known properties. Farmers and gardeners could make their own evaluation of what might suit their conditions best then go away and experiment. Colonial Australia had ‘acclimatisation societies’ where people would undertake to help find out which (mainly European) crops and animals could be ‘acclimatised’ to Australian conditions or help adapt them through selective breeding. Of course not all these acclimatised plants and animals turned out to be sustainable in the long term as we are still finding out.
By the 1980s a number of these educative museums were being replaced by interpretive museums where much of the systematic specimens were hidden away. Curators would only allow you to see items they had chosen to form a ‘narrative’ to fit a given post-modernist socio-political world view. Museums were moving from places that encouraged you to think to places that told you how to think. Much more efficient. It cut out the middle man. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find examples of the 19th century educative museum and the Museum of Economic Botany is one of our favourites.
Here you can see on display heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables bred for their flavour and nutrition rather than their appearance and shelf life, many of which have now disappeared. “Hang on” I hear you say. “If they are on display then they haven’t disappeared and their DNA could be harvested.” Well, not quite. What is on display in many cases are painstaking copies in painted wax, wood and other materials complete with all the imperfections of the original produce which look as fresh as when they were first created.
There is currently an exhibition at the museum called “Harvest: An exhibition about Plants & Place from South Australian collections”. You can find details at The White Hat Guide to the Museum of Economic Botany.
One of the problems of modern broadacre farming is that selective breeding often leads to a narrower and narrower gene pool with main heirloom plants disappearing for ever. If you are interested in sustainable gardening we can recommend the Food & Seed Swap this weekend at the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne.
One rule-of-thumb we are told will steer is the direction of more sustainable food is to eat ‘further down the foodchain’. Eating beef for instance involves much more embedded energy, embedded oil and embedded water than eating simple vegetables. Thus if we all resolve to eat less meat and more foods from lower down the foodchain the planet will better be able to support us. This is not a straightforward proposition and it is confused by a lot of misinformation out there but as a simple guideline I suspect that if most of us in Western society attempted to eat further down the foodchain we would end up doing more good than harm.
You have been convinced of the virtues of eating further down the food chain and have turned over most of your back yard into a vegetable garden. You recycle as much as you can through the compost bins and the chooks complete their wonderful cycle of giving back to the earth. The worms are starting to appear in the soil and when there is the first evidence of bugs eating your vegetables you spray them with environmentally friendly white oil and sprinkle pepper around the base of other plants to keep larger animals away. Your tomatoes are developing beautifully and tomorrow is probably the peak time to harvest them.
Next morning you come out and find - every last ripe tomato nibbled back to the core. POSSUMS! They know the peak period of every fruit and vegetable you plant. And you can’t touch them. They are indigenous and share this piece of Australia with you. Live and let live, brother. Yes but!! Live and let live. We are all part of a wondrous greater cycle. But you spent countless hours . .
Still, it’s important to eat down the foodchain. Even though last year, possums ate most of your best produce, at least it’s not like living in the sticks where overnight a bush turkey can destroy a complete vegetable patch that you have slaved over. Live and let live.
However, this year you are going to take precautions. As harvest time approaches you patrol the garden until late into the night. In the morning you find the fresh buds that were going to be next year’s crop have been eaten off. Still, you are not allowed to harm these creatures – they are protected. And they are easily stressed. You mustn’t stress this wonderful example of our native wildlife which neither weaves nor spins nor hunts but only gathers the fruits of your labour. Let me tell you who’s stressed here!
Still, you are determined to eat down the foodchain. As Tomato D-Day approaches you have the windows open with the speakers blasting Ride Of The Valkyries while you stalk the perimeter with your imagined flamethrower. “You venture down here, wretched dwarf marsupial and I will show you where you sit in the food chain. If I can’t eat fresh tomatoes I’ll eat char grilled possum!” In a brief flashback, you remember those peaceful, stress-free days before you became a gardener. At least your defensive tactics seem to be working until you notice a disturbance at the top of your fruit trees. “Native fruit bats! Flying foxes! We’ll see how well you fly with some twelve gauge shot though your wings!”
Good luck with your attempts to eat down the foodchain.
Sustainable food is such a huge topic that we can only scratch the surface in one newsletter. The next newsletter will contain more issues with eating sustainably.
- Name a food that will last hundreds of years without preservation or refrigeration.
- What is jugged hare?
- In your local Asian grocery you can probably purchase a product whose name suggests it is centuries old. What product?
- A particular salted fish is credited with being a key factor in enabling Portuguese voyages of exploration and colonization. What is its name?
- Certain meats can be preserved by being smoked, corned or jerked. Smoked is obvious. What do the other two terms mean?
- Certain foods are considered to improve by becoming mouldy. Name one.
- What are ‘old potatoes’?
- Many wines improve with age. Why?
- Some (not particularly reputable) restaurants have methods of ‘rejuvenating’ stale food. Name one (the method, not the restaurant).
No prizes – just glory and a warm inner glow.