Saturday, 12 January 2008

Eels Dam Eels

Spent the morning adjusting the water systems.
Water conservation here at Sunnybrae is an ever-changing week to week proposition.
This area is blessed with good rainfall so I am not whingeing, but as so much of our time is spent on water management I thought you may as well be privy to the most important aspect of how this property works.
Drinking water comes from the roof into 4 tanks that are now all pretty close to being full. The large roof area means that each millimetre of rain gives 3 or 4 hundred litres of very fine clear drinking water. All the tanks are connected to an underground tank that dates back to 1868 when the house was built and for 10 years before the restaurant began [’81 to 91’] it was plenty for all our household needs. Now all the drinking water from the other tanks is filtered and gravity feeds into the old underground tank where it is cooled naturally. I think it is one of the highlights of a visit to the restaurant. It tastes great. Although the mains-water goes right past the front of the property we have resisted connecting to it.
Flavour especially in water is fundamental.

The dams on the other hand are a different matter altogether. We are on deep sandy loam and even very heavy rain like we thankfully had last month does not begin to create run-off these days unless we get a very sudden downpour. I say these days because the underground water-table has dropped significantly over the last 10 years. Some of our neighbours have bore-water and they have said that now they are sourcing the bores more than 15 metres lower than last year. They say that there is a very large artesian river under the Otways but the last 10 years or so has depleted this reserve considerably. While the garden can look quite green it’s an illusion.
Some call it a green drought. It is when large twenty year old trees begin to die that this becomes apparent. We have lost over 20 big trees in the last two years.We also use the dams for the 20 dairy cows that are agisted here, so it’s not all available for the garden. Just as the drinking water is connected to a central point all the dams are connected to the front dam and we use a windmill to pump water from our largest dam up to a holding dam and then gravity feed it to the central distribution dam that is near the road.

This dam gets good run-off from the road so it is only in these summer months that the windmill needs to be used. The cows had been playing with the now exposed pipes on the bottom dam so maintenance was needed.
Around this time of year we drain the holding dam into the front dam as evaporation in two places is wasteful.
We have used over 60 cubic meters of mulch this summer so the vegetable garden is holding its own but only tomatoes have been planted in large quantities. We need them for this year’s sauce and once you have tasted home grown there is no going back. It is all about the flavour.
Flavours can be elusive. They hide in the parts of an ingredient we sometimes find too difficult to bother with.
The shell of a cray, the giblets in a chook, the skin of an eel.
One way to capture a flavour is by infusion or slow poaching.
A few years ago as the dams were drying up, ever optimistic, we decided to enlarge one hoping for good rains later. The muddy bottom that was left had to be dredged out. As the ‘digger jigger’ started to move the sludge that was the only moisture left, we noticed a mass of what looked like wriggling agie-pipes.
Eels, lots of eels.

This dish uses smoked eel, the skin of which contains an intense flavour perfect with a fragrant red wine. This recipe was designed for a mate Barry Williams who loved Pinot Noir and is based on the traditional Burgundian dish of
Oeufs Meurette.
Smoked Eel with Pinot Poached Eggs

Skin a good fresh smoked eel I don't like to use them frozen. Check the regional produce guide on the right for details of where to source them. Or view the Skipton Primary Schools excellent eel project at
Cut up the skin and take the meat off the bones and cut it into small pieces.
Make a gutsy red wine stock from the eel skin and bones using good pinot noir for the liquid. Use lots of vegetables carrots, leeks onions garlic, a little celery. Strain and remove as much of the fat from the top as you can. If there is too much fat left cool it in the fridge it will set and be easy to remove.
Save a little stock to heat the eel in and reduce the rest till its rich and shiny. Toast a few slices of your favourite bread rub with garlic and set them aside. Fry a little bacon and leek till crisp and set aside.
Warm the eel gently in the stock you saved.
Poach the eggs in the red wine sauce place on the toasted bread arrange the eel around it and garnish with the fried leek bacon.

A breakfast dish for a sunny summer’s day by the shade of a tree?
I would prefer to eat it to the sound of a thundering storm on the tin roof, filling those thirsty dams.


Stephanie said...

Oh George,
I can't believe I left Victoria without coming to eat eel with you. It's one of my favourite things....
Last Western Districts eel I had was circa 1999 at Purumbeete with Will Studd.
Hope you and Dianne are well.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thanks for your kind words.
No eel here but we had our day in the forrest. It has been a long time since blooms like the ones on the ridge we found at Bambra have been around.
Will blog boletes and blewits when the season comes.

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

Informative post about your water management issues George. We too are on rain water & there is nothing like it for sweetness. The first thing I always do when I ghet back here is gulp a glass of it to wash away the memory of city water.
How resilient of those eels to be surviving in the mud! Do they just 'occur' or do they get introduced to the dams in Vic like yabbies?
We have an eel producer here near Deloraine who smokes them. They are also connected to an eel farm in Vic somewhere,
Anyway, ever on the regional bent, I used to do a dish in the Vitello Tonnato style incorperating poached & finely sliced Fallow Deer with some smoked Eel mayo with the usual garnishes. I really loved the full-on flavours, it sounds like too much on paper, but it works.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hello Mr G the life cycle of the eel is extraordinary, all is revealed in the link to Skipton Primary School in the post. It is very similar to bird migration but even more magical in that it happens under-water check it out. Especially interesting as this young researcher has connected brilliantly to his local food network. Much is owed to primary school teachers. They move from dam to dam as the weather shifts. We have had very mysterious mass eel deaths in some big dams here like Lake Modewarre in the last couple of years that have not been explained by the biologists yet. Possibly algea blooms.
Vitello Tonnata deserves post of its own I will get on the case. Your version version sounds interesting.