There’s no end to the interest in food!
I’m not talking food as fuel, but food as experience – food that can conjure up memory. Food that can create a taste of place and time – or the sense of terroir. So it’s hardly surprising that we’re all hooked on the plethora of gourmet pleasures surrounding food that is at our finger tips that offers us a huge range of armchair gastronomic experiences through books and TV programmes – and for those even more committed – the real-time encounter of – ‘The Cooking School’.
There are numerous opportunities to educate one’s self in the culinary arts in Tasmania that range from the basic to the more sophisticated. Brunyfire was drawn to the bush tucker advertising at the Red Feather Inn recently, that promised a ‘walk on the wild side’…….
The Red Feather Inn is a collection of historic sandstone buildings located in Hadspen, eight miles from Launceston, Australia’s third oldest city in the north of the State. Notable Georgian architect John Sprunt built the Inn with convict labour circa 1842, and it became one of Van Diemen’s Land’s first coaching inns in 1844. The Inn has been turned into a kind of Georgian/faux French provincial style luxury accommodation. Very nicely done, with fluffy white bath robes and more cushions than we knew what to do with – but all in all, a little too twee for a couple of hardened techno-hippies (we do live in a fibreglass dome after all) with a preference for contemporary design, such as ourselves.
However, it was not the modernised country comforts or the attached cooking school that I had come for……….but The Wild Larder – Tasmanian Bush Tucker Experience that the Red Feather Inn were billing as ‘an amazing nature and wildlife experience’ that promised antics with wildlife in the Tyne Valley, on the side of Ben Lomond, and gourmet camp-side dining featuring all Tasmanian ingredients complemented by native spices and herbs.
The tour was led by a 7th generation Tasmanian and a veteran of the bush, Craig Williams, of Pepper Bush Adventures ……..who is passionate about the forest, is an environmentalist and is also a master butcher. Pretty impressive for a man that cultivates the image of being an ordinary bloke. A group of us, all Tasmanians as it happened, were introduced to the spice world of the bush – in particular, Sassafras and the Tasmanian pepper berry.Having identified and collected a handful of these flavoursome food enhancers, we continued further until we reached Craig’s bush hut, situated in a large flat plain of freshly mown grass…. …..here we would spend the evening wining, dining and wooing the wildlife. Built with secondhand, scavenged and recycled materials, with an outdoor kitchen and an interesting collection of fireplaces and heating contraptions, this bush haven had the rustic charm of a traditional bushie’s shack.
I never did find out if the devise on the left was just a giant heater, or if it was used to bake in. The fireplace however, was soon put to use, and featured a unique cooking attachment in the form of an old circular saw blade, fitted so that it could swivel across the fire when required for direct cooking, or kept to one side as a food warmer.
Once we had donned our Red Feather Inn pinnies, removed the wine from the cooler and got stuck into the rabbit and pistachio terrine platter (with fruits, lavosh and cheeses) we got onto the real business of the evening – cooking dinner.So I was very amused to see that our campfire cuisine was going to be cooked on portable gas stoves…….
…….and that the Tasmanian produce would emerge from cans and jars!! As Craig said, his outdoor kitchen is not called TinJar Cafe for nothing!Despite the skepticism, what followed was indeed a gourmet feast of our own making. First course, miniature pancakes (or a kind of blini), topped with ‘blueberry’ cheese (blueberry cheese? Ah – Blue Brie!), sun dried tomatoes and pickled cucumber.Next – a frenzy of meat ball forming with prime venison and wallaby mince, onion chopping, mixing and stirring. The meat balls were fried first and then brought to a roiling boil in a sweet and sour sauce and served up with caramelised onions.
…….to be served with gently steamed Tassie salmon with a Sassafras and Pepperberry flavoured butter sauce. And this was what I’d been waiting for! A lesson in how to make a truly gourmet dish over an open fire. Craig’s technique was a unique take on a practice many of us would most likely use at home. Firstly, a decent fillet of salmon was gently slashed on the diagonal, half way through the flesh (to allow the subtle bush flavours to penetrate) and placed gently onto a sheet of cooking foil, skin side down. Generous (and I mean generous) knobs of butter were placed on top with washed Sassafras and Pepperberry leaves scattered over the butter. Finally, another sheet of foil was then placed carefully over the top, and the top and bottom layers of each side of the salmon parcel then carefully folded, making sure the foil wasn’t pierced.