Meet the fabulous Fred – bush tucker cook and expert forager as he showed me how to make this superb and simple dish near Seven Mile Beach in Australia https://youtu.be/40kJYIzyNw4
This was one of the most memorable days during the whole of my time cooking around the world – entirely due to Fred, his knowledge, humour and great food. His whole sense of place and history brought all those generations of the indigenous people of Australia alive for us email@example.com. He even had a perfect way of catching fish with leaves from the wattle tree.
But, being modern folk, we’d come equipped with a fresh snapper fish from just an ordinary supermarket while Fred had brought the rest of the ingredients and his barbecue to a local wildlife area. He too has some disability – along term back injury – but he used his bushcraft to find and make his own walking cane.
This was nearly the same as cooking en papilotte (in a paper parcel) and even his bush equivalent had a similar name. He’d gathered the paper bark from trees near the Wolagong steel works so they came impregnated with their own Smokey flavour.
The bark was thoroughly soaked while we filled the fish cavity with river mint and lemon myrtle gathered fresh from the wild.
The fish was wrapped in the bark with a knot that would embarrass any Boy Scout. Paper bark is very waterproof so it has many uses from thatching to being aboriginal greaseproof paper for us. The final touch was to enclose the whole parcel within two huge lily leaves. They are enormous, thick and succulent with the perfect shape to enclose a whole fish. They needed trimming with an axe – I did the chopping while he kept his fingers clear. The whole plant-made package went straight on to the barbecue for about half an hour and the end result was succulent soft fish scented with the herbs – delicious.
Meet the CWA and their scones – https://youtu.be/I3M-tbtufog down-under equivalents to our British WIs and their Victoria sponges. I was learning from the very best in Kiama, Australia
Jo, one of the renowned champions of the Country Women’s Association was generous enough to share her amazing recipe for lemonade scones: just self-raising flour, cream and the fizzy drink of your choice. She and others make over 50,000 for just one local show so I knew she was a top expert.
This was my first cooking session after landing in Australia following a long and day-late flight from China. The warm Spring weather and the charm of this little seaside town nestled in the countryside was a complete change from the teeming metropolis of Chongqing.
It was a real privilege to start with a lesson from Jo, an award-winning cook who has turned her skill in to a thriving business (Sweetwood cakes). We spent a sunny morning in the bright kitchen of Ken and Rosemary, long-term friends who were generously hosting me in their Kiama home. Gemma, herself a professional pastry chef, and fellow CWA-member, Jennifer, were there too – making sure that my attempts wouldn’t utterly disgrace their exacting standards.
Cooking alongside Jo was a delight: her passion, knowledge and great sense of humour were just what I’d expect from a completely confident and super-competent cook. We laughed all morning and invented new recipes on the spot: how about beer in place of lemonade to make scones for a ploughman’s lunch; perhaps even a cream tea would be more luxurious with a champagne scone? The variations could be as endless as there are carbonated drinks in the world!
When I got back to the UK, sparkling wine was the perfect alternative and I added horseradish sauce to half the mixture for savoury scones to serve with a smoked salmon mousse. Definitely one for the recipe book!
Hello Kiama, the start of my Australian cooking tour : meet aboriginal Fred, see the air/sea rescue and more over the coming weeks https://youtu.be/Aaw-pL63vI0
A few hours and life lurched from one extreme to another: a truly enlightening morning getting a glimpse of bush tucker with aboriginal Fred followed by the high drama of nephew and videographer Toby and another friend being rescued from a life-or-death sea emergency.
With Fred (www.fredsbushtucker.com.au), I felt rather foolish and thoughtless for not recognising that his ancient culture had the sophisticated development we see in our own more modern societies. Hence, it is no more reasonable to ask him as an expert bush tucker cook about the medicinal qualities of plants than expecting a chef to know the best treatment for an illness. Aboriginal culture, like ours, has a whole range of experts – from law and medicine to cooking and childcare.
Fred showed me the plants that can be ground in to flour for bread, the seed head that can be carried from camp to camp to light fires and much more. He helped me wrap a snapper fish donated by the local fish market (www.shellharbourfish.com.au), stuffed with lemon myrtle, in soaked paper bark and lily leaves for smoking on a barbeque – the origin of French style “en papiloutte”.
What I most admired was his clear and close connection with nature: the scrub land that he uses as a super market; his equanimity in the face of modern hustle and bustle; his irreverent sense of humour. It was a real privilege to be shown just a glimpse of his world – all thanks to the planning and organisation of our Kiama hosts Rosemary and Ken. They managed a week of different experiences: cooking with the award-winning Jo (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the Country women’s Association; Martin, the blind chef in Sydney (www.enabledcooking.com); wine-tasting with Raj (www.thesilos.com); an Iranian fire-pit and barbecue meat fest with Eddie. The generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for cooking was the essence of a magnificent week that had taken huge effort to arrange by Rosemary and Ken – huge thanks to them.
But, even the best laid plans couldn’t have prepared us for the drama that was unfolding as I was still chatting with Fred. Toby and another friend had slipped down to the beach for a quick swim. Within minutes, a rip tide had dragged them out 300 metres from the beach and was pulling them further out. Thankfully, 12 year old Hannah had spotted them (not waving but drowning) and her family called the emergency services. We arrived to find police cars massing alongside paramedics and lifeguards with two helicopters close on their heels. Eventually a surfboard lifesaver reached them with the board providing extra flotation as they had reached critical levels of exhaustion and cold. One-by-one, they were helped back to shore and encased in huge foil and thermal warming suits – they looked like two capons ready for roasting! But, it was no joke at the time as they were probably less than 10 minutes from tragedy. The emergency services did a wonderful job and I cannot be more thankful to them. And the whole drama completely upstaged the Baking Blind activities on the local TV – you can watch the clip on YouTube.
There’ll be lots more videos and recipes from this latest visit as soon as we have edited them – probably early next year so please do keep tuned in.
You might not have heard of Kiama, a delightful seaside town about two hours south of Sydney by road. It will be my first proper stop in Australia with old friends Rosemary and Ken.
Ro and I first met many years ago when she was working at St Dunstan’s charity (now Blind Veterans UK). She madly volunteered to accompany me to a European Blind Union conference in Athens and we had a true meeting of minds over enjoyment of good food, much shopping and great fun. We left loaded with leather goods, shoes, crystallised fruit, jewellery, pistachio nuts and more – and still enjoyed meeting all the blind delegates from all over Europe too.
We’ve kept in touch over the years and even went on a cooking holiday in Umbria, Italy last year. For the first time, I’ll be able to visit her new home in Kiama and get a sense of living in a small Australian town. She’s working hard at arranging a great variety of cooking opportunities so that my Baking Blind adventure (www.bakingblind.com) includes the less well-known aspects of Australia.
And, of course, none of this could happen without the support of the Holman prize being run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
You can keep up with my trip on YouTube.
How can you make a journey of discovery nowadays? I cast my hopes to the winds of social media and found new people around the world.
My goal with the Holman competition was to cook with new people wherever I could find them – through e-mails, social media, interviews and every other way I could think of. My thanks go to the outstanding group of new and willing supporters spread far and wide: from Noam in Costa Rica who runs his own speciality Jungle Culinary Adventures. To Stephen in Malawi who supports local women through re-recycling projects (Our World International), from Jo in Virginia Beach with whom I haven’t had any contacts since our paths crossed in the Women’s Royal Naval Service nearly 40 years ago to Colin in Melbourne who used to cook in the Royal Navy too; others welcoming this complete stranger such as the Rotary Club in China plus Tom and Fran in Dover (New Hampshire, USA); Rosemary in Kiama (Australia) is the sole previous regular contact – she took me cooking in Umbria last year.
If I’m lucky enough to win, all this generosity would enable me to travel through six continents meeting even more new people, cooking in amazingly different places and having the adventure of a lifetime. I couldn’t have got even this far without all the help and enthusiasm from so many distant places and many others closer to home. Just putting together the plans has been an exhilarating whirlwind so, fingers crossed, for the future. The prize winners are due to be announced on 1 July.
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk
Helping disabled people to work since 2000