Lessons from the locals – living from the land.

Peter and Elma from Karrke (which means western bower bird in Arrente language) treated us to a demonstration that included seeing seeds and grains ground with a hard round stone and flat stone and have water added to make a dough that when cooked in the coals, made a seed cake or biscuit.

Women’s Work – the grinding stones, head ring and coolamon

We also saw a range of fruits including desert passion fruit, desert orange, desert raisin, desert tomato, desert banana and desert plum.

The biggest thrill was having a lesson in finding witchetty grubs or maku in the Mulga or ilykuwara or witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana) that they like to feed on. The mulga imparts a delightful nutty flavour to the grubs.  The roots can have grubs every 15cm along the root and a swollen section indicates their presence.

Cooked in the coals, the grubs taste a bit like buttery popcorn crossed with scrambled eggs.

Palya (thank you) Elma, the traditional owner of Wanmarra, for sharing your home and knowledge of the land with us.


Lost and Found: fungi and mushrooms

Assorted Mushrooms. Image by Sue Stubbs from Harvest, by published by Murdoch Books

On a recent trip “hunter gathering” at Nabiac Farmers Market I couldn’t help but be impressed by Mooral Creek Mushrooms and their superb looking collection of oyster, shitake and field mushrooms.

I left my run too late, however, and by the time I’d done a lap of the place and come back he had sold out, with nothing left but some dried porcini for my risotto.

Mandy Sinclair’s Mushroom and Ginger Pot Sticker’s, from our book Grow Harvest Cook (below) will have to wait till next time.

Mushroom and Ginger Pot Stickers, Grow Harvest Cook, published by Hardie Grant

We got chatting, however, so I can tell you the extroadinary way he is growing his crop of treasures.  In shipping containers. Reinforced and half buried into an embankment to keep them cool.

Mushrooms are one of those strange things that actually like growing in the dark…as long as the air is cool and moist then they’re happy.  They are sometimes grown commercially in disused railway tunnels.

Growing your own mushrooms step x step from Dig Deeper, published by Murdoch Books

Gathering wild mushrooms is enormously popular in Europe, and in some parts of Australia Europeans often forage in forests for some of their favourites. Mushrooming in the Oberon Pine Forests with some Italian family friends is one of my favourite memories from childhood. They would have the BBQ set up there and cook them as they were found. Eating wild mushrooms requires an expert eye, as poisonous toodstools can be deadly.

Our First Nations people handed down knowledge of which were good to eat orally from one generation to another. For a fascinating look at what some Aborigines regarded as “fallen stars”, the Australian National Botanic Gardens website has a great article.

…and if I make it back to the markets in time for mushrooms next time, here’s the recipe.

Mushroom and Ginger Pot Stickers

¼ cup vegetable oil

600 g (1 lb 5 oz) button

mushrooms, very finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 long red chillies, finely chopped

3 spring onions (scallions),chopped

½ cup chopped coriander

(cilantro), plus extra leaves to garnish

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

250 g (9 oz) fresh wonton wrappers

Dipping sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon finely shredded

fresh ginger

2 teaspoons white sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a high heat.

Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes until soft and dry. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the spring onion, coriander, fish sauce and soy sauce and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.

2 Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place 1 teaspoon of the mushroom mixture into the centre. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with a little water. Fold the wrapper over and pleat the edges together to enclose the fi lling. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.

3 Heat half of the remaining oil and ¼ cup water in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add half of the wontons and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 2 minutes, until the water is evaporated and the wontons are golden and crisp on the base. Repeat the process using the remaining oil and another ¼ cup water and cook the remaining wontons.

4 To make the dipping sauce, mix together all the sauce ingredients.

Serve the wontons with the dipping sauce and garnish with the extra coriander leaves.


TIP You can assemble the wontons up to 4 hours ahead of time.

Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.


Oranges and Lemons

Image from The Produce Companion by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair, published by Hardie Grant Books

With the first day of winter upon us it’s worth remembering that our very own cold and flu remedy from Mother Nature is ripening on trees this very moment in many backyards around the country.

Not to be sneezed at, citrus are handsome trees that can be particularly beautiful when in fruit over winter or in fragrant bloom during spring.

Use the juice and rind of citrus to make your own cordial, or try drying the peel and adding it to sugar to create a fragrant sweet treat.

Growing Citrus

Citrus love regular fertiliser, lots of sun and great drainage, but for more compressive tips, check out my fact sheet in Gardening Australia or read my Column in Homes Plus this month.

Pruning Tips

For the latest…check out this article on the ABC

Cider Days as Fall Finishes


The the last day of autumn is winding up, and with it the last few crops of apples.

Cooking up relishes and chutneys is a great way of using the last of these “windfall” fruits and preserving them for months. Freezing cooked or bottling stewed apples is another. Grow Harvest Cook and The Produce a Companion both feature some sensational seasonal recipes.

However, before the last fresh apples disappear, consider making some fresh cider. Mandy Sinclair’s recipe, illustrated below, is a real treat.

Apple Cider, from The Produce Companion, by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair. Published by Hardie Grant Books

Community Harvest and Thanks Giving

The Saturday before thanksgiving saw the Sydney Weekender come to to the Foodfaith garden in Lane Cove to film a segment on Community Gardening and the unity social enterprise that’s being trialed here at Hughes Park.

The idea was to not only end the year thanking everyone who helped put the garden together, but also give thanks back to Mother Nature by feeding the beds with chicken manure…a fitting full circle for the garden.

We at scrambled eggs for brunch, marinated tofu and eggplant and char grilled pumpkin and squash. Accompanied by our own tomato salad, pickled olives and elderberry cordial…and Rosie and the film crew from seven seemed to relish the meal too.

Bon appetite!

Tea and Toast the Aussie Way

Everyday I have tea and toast for breakfast.  It got me thinking, how this might be possible if I was living in Australia prior to European settlement…

To get the dirt on bush tucker I chatted with didgeridoo player and Aboriginal Liaison Officer from the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney , Brendan Moore. He explained that there are a range of natives Australian Aborigines used as staples, even planting and cultivating themselves, and others that were seasonally harvested.

For the “toast” I would first have to make damper. This could be made with Burrawang seeds, first soaked in running water for a week to remove toxins, or perhaps by grinding up the seed heads from lomandra. Made into a paste, and perhaps flavoured with with nuts or native mint, this could then be baked on a fire to mar a “bread”.

I made a delicious cordial from Lemon Myrtle recently, one of the most popular of all Australian Native spices, that grows in my garden as a screen to my neighbours. But that got me thinking, what other ways could I use the Lemon Myrtle in my backyard,  it can also be steeped in water to make a lovely lemon scented tea. But what are some other easily grown natives useful for adding flavour to food in the everyday kitchen? To answer this, I also spoke with The Outback Chef Jude Myall, deputy chair of the Australian Native Food industry for some advise.

So back to my backyard orchard. We have a macademia growing around the corner, and Candle Nut that has reached about 2m in height, but not yet preduced fruit, and a Bunya Nut that produces it’s mammoth sized cones up at our farm but I am not quite sure what to do with them!

Having done a bit of research, seems like roasting and pounding are in order! And if I add a little macadamia oil to the mix, I can have a tasty Australian made nut butter spread for that toast! And if I’m going to do that, perhaps I should boil up some of those Lilly Pillies and make some jam too! Looks like the vegemite can stay in the pantry this week!

Nice Pear!

Cold nights seem to call for stewed fruit, full of sugar and spice and all things nice!

With pears and apples in peak season, now is the time to start up the kitchen production line and stock your pantry with bottled goodies.

Check out The Produce Companion and Grow Harvest Cook for inspiration, recipes and growing tips by Mandy Sinclair and Yours Truly. http://www.cooked.com.au and Harvest, the complete guide to the edible garden, for in depth growing information.

Olive Pate and Pea Pesto

Mandy Sinclair, who co-authored The Produce Companion and Grow Harvest Cook, is a sensational cook who creates delicious recipes that are easy to make and healthy.  Two of her recipes where used to make dips that could be shared by all Faith Groups.  For the Mint and Pea Pesto, simply omit the cheese or add Halal or Kosher Cheese as required, and for the Olive Pate, omit the garlic and make sure that the goat’s cheese is on the side.