Making good on a promise

Saturday, February 22, 2014

You know how it is when you have a picture in your mind of what a place will look like.  More often than not the reality just doesn't live up to expectations.  Tasmania had been on my list of places to visit for years, however when it came time to book our holidays invariably other places always came first.  Friends would comment that it reminded them of England or New Zealand.  I grew up in both of those countries and as fond of them as I am, I preferred to travel and explore new places.  Tasmania was always put on the back burner with a promise to one day visit.

The time had come to make good on that promise.  I had read that January was a perfect time to visit Tasmania.  The weather at this time of year is warm and dry with lovely long sunny, summery days. My first glimpse of Tasmania was from the air, early in the morning as we flew into Hobart. I had pictured green rolling hills spilling down to white sandy beaches. I had the white sandy beaches right and the rolling hills, it was the colour of the landscape which took me by surprise.  It was not the lovely emerald green I had imagined instead the hills and valleys were pale brown almost blonde, parched, gasping for rain. There were fields of freshly mown hay waiting to be baled and bales waiting to be collected and stored for winter as far as the eye could see.  As a child, I had loved this time of the year and now memories came flooding back of the English countryside I loved.  My story books from England were full of images like these.  It was love at first sight.

First things first, we needed breakfast and a lovely cafe in Battery Point exceeded our expectations.  Lovely sandstone cottages and beautiful gardens were overflowing with colour in full summer bloom.      One delightful cottage had an apricot tree in the garden completely laden with ripe fruit.  I was amazed that it had no netting over it. I made a quick mental note, firstly they didn't have possums in the area as it was planted right against a brickwall with easy access and secondly being so far south of where we live, the growing season was not as advanced.

The hunter and gatherer within me had kicked in.  If apricots were still on the trees what else was going to be available.   Plans were made over breakfast to travel south to the Huon Valley along the coast road towards Bruny Island. We continued on the road hugging the coast all the way.   The lighting here was different, there was a clarity and an intenseness which made everything look so inviting.

When we travel, we have a habit of discussing past, present and future culinary experiences and this was how the topic of blackcurrants came up.  We were reminising about a trip to France and the blackcurrant sorbet drowned in Cassis (blackcurrant liquor) that we had enjoyed one evening after a particularly memorable dinner and wondered if we might find some while we were here. Rounding a bend we saw a big sign advertising cherries for sale and stopped to buy some.  On the counter in the D'Entrecasteaux Cherries packing shed they had several varieties of the biggest, darkest red cherries for customers to taste and they were firm and oh so sweet.  I hadn't noticed at first with the excitement of the cherries the little fridge that was on the counter next to them.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing, it was full of blackcurrants.  We immediately bought plenty of both making up for all the samples we had eaten.

The orchard was family owned and operated and they were delightful sharing with us the last of their gooseberries, loganberries even red and white currants.  We learned that cherries have to be picked with  their stem in place to ensure that they stay as fresh as possible with each cherry picked individually by hand to ensure that next year's buds aren't damaged.  We left with a new found appreciation for this lovely fruit.

The next day we were off to Salamanca Markets they are well known and didn't disappoint.  Everything from fruit and vegetables, to plants and organic cider was on offer.  There were over 300 stalls in total including lovely artisan shops in the historic Art Centre.  I had read about A Common Ground in magazines and watched the show Gourmet Farmer on SBS so it was a delight to pop into the store owned by Mathew Evans and Nick Haddow and try some of their products

The Fork & Hoe Collective was a particularly impressive stall. Run by four young farmers who have purchased a 200-acre farm, they work the land and grow organic fruit and vegetables which they sell weekly at the Market.  Their produce was so creatively displayed it was impossible to resist buying.  Jostaberries, a cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant were one of the rare fruits they had on offer.  I had never heard of them let alone try them, we bought a few punnets to have later that afternoon.  We left the markets armed with everything from fruit, cheese and apple cider to cured meats, smoked fish, organic cream and artisan knives, perfect ingredients for an al fresco picnic later.

There is a reason why world renowned chef Tetsua Wakuda sources his atlantic salmon from Tasmania.  We made some enquiries and a place called Dunalley was suggested, a small fishing village on the way to Port Arthur.  When we arrived at Dunalley we were told we would find the best fish shop in town run by a local fisherman.  The fish shop was rustic and charming, the owner equally so and very informative.  We left having learned a lot about the perilous state of the fishing industry in the area.  A seal was floating happily in the outgoing tide and a dog sat on the edge of the wharf occasionally barking at the seal.  We learned later that the dog and the seal had a love hate relationship and had been friends for sometime.

Sadly this was the area that had experienced the terrible bush fires a year earlier with everyone having to be rescued by boat.  It was sobering to drive through kilometres of countryside that had been so ravaged by fire.  The local community had produced a lovely cookbook with the proceeds going towards the re-building of the local school.  I couldn't resist buying a copy to add to my collection.

The fridge at our hotel was filling up quickly.  Every time we ventured out we couldn't resist buying from the local orchards as we passed them on our travels.  It became a nightly routine after our evening meal to fill a wine glass with berries and cream enjoying every mouthful.  I could see I was going to miss the wonderful abundance and variety of fresh locally grown produce.  I felt rejuvenated and am inspired to return and explore more of this magnificent island.



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