Thursday, 1 December 2011

Behind the Scenes


A  glimpse of a little of what’s been happening behind the scenes here on
the farm.
In February  we had to make some changes as the farmer who has been agisting his cattle here for many years found himself like all the farms in the district with more than enough feed in his own pastures  to take his cows home.... I have been a little lazy with this cosy arrangement for many years but the change gave us an opportunity to see what could be done with the land that fits into our other culinary pursuits. I have been a little obsessed with bread over the last 7 years or so since the wood oven was built experimenting with different flours and grains and realised that I knew bugger all about wheat.
But then I did not know much about artichokes and many other food plants till we began to grow them. The link between the garden and the kitchen is strongest when you can see, sample and taste food plants as they develop so a bit of bullet biting was required.   We needed to grow something that could be managed efficiently and able to be stored safely as well as providing a staple-like role on our menus.
The first workshop we conducted with the wood oven just prior to our re-opening in 2008 was with John Downes and for one of those workshops we sourced about 25 different types of flours that could only be bought in 10 or 20kg bags. After the workshops I had an arsenal of commercial and  artisan flours left over with which to learn how to use the new oven. Amongst the more interesting flour that was left  was the Khorasan [Kamut] and Spelt and these seemed to elicit the most interest from our diners. I am slowly getting to understand how they can be used in the kitchen. I hope to entice John down again next year to conduct a couple of workshops on grains.
So a leap into the unknown was made last May when I approached our neighbour  Don Liggerwood. Don has a large model farm and seed growing/cleaning business about 3km from here down the Cape Otway Road. I must have hit a resonance because Don very quickly embraced the concept with much enthusiasm. Both spelt and Khorasan are hard to find seeds in large quantities but some serendipitous convergence gave us a chance to begin this experiment. The strike rate has been excellent, the rains so far kind and { I hope I don’t put a mozz on it } the crop is growing magnificently despite the recent heavy downpours. Watching a new plant develop is exciting. As the shots grew the central stalks shoot up and before you know it they have self pollinated and the ears fill out providing a carpet of swaying fields that change colour each month.

The most striking difference in the look of the two crops is the height and vigour of the Khorasan. Its tall with a massive seed head and a very long beard. The long beard I have read is to make it more difficult for the birds to get at the seeds. The spelt is shorter and a quiet achiever with denser growth, very sturdy and  less likely to lodge[fall over ]. About 3 months after Don did the planting he rang and nonchalantly mentioned that he bought a second hand flour mill in pieces that is specified to process 250kg per hour! So the kit up is complete when Don figures out how to put it back together again.
Then we should have fresh flour and seeds to continue the experiment....

The other new crop developing is a few Pistachio trees that we planted in 2007 as we were getting the garden ready for re-opening. After 4 years they are full of immature nuts that should be ready in February.  For those of you taking a stroll between courses have a look under the trees in the orchard and you will see hundreds of tomatillo, tomato, cucumber, pumpkin and  other seedlings from the compost that has been spread below all the trees in the orchard. 

We have upped the ante with the compost making. 
 We get our eggs from Annete and Stuart Rayner’s  free range egg farm about 2km down the Cape Otway Road next door to Liggerwood’s and they have a brilliant industrial sized mulcher. For the last 2 years we have asked them to construct a composting shelter from their  last year’s straw and we make compost inside this slowly using the straw for layering the organic waste. When the pile is complete the bales are gone and Stuart shreds it and it erupts into a Jeff Koons-like Puppy sculpture of Pumpkins, Melons  and all the rest of the seeds that have sprouted from the kitchen and garden “waste”. 

  Its sits for a year to ferment and when it’s spread under the fruit trees the second coming of the self seeded windfall begins again. This year the straw will come from our paddocks after the quail get their fair share.  I saw one take off from the middle of the Kamut yesterday.. not sure how I will feel about letting the guns in.  Good I think.


Anonymous said...

Are the pistachio's salted or unsalted

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...


john downes said...

Grains look fab George, well done! IM looking forward to baking with them. Ive discovered some very old hierloom wheat here in SA and will bring some seeds over. Thought you might like to check this site for inspiration...its a direction that was really growing in UK and more so in France.
best wishes for new year