Missives From Margs – The Farmers Market From The Other Side

It was 6:30am and pitch black outside. I had just arrived at the Farmers Market to set up my stall, and despite having a map to guide me, it was too dark to find my allocated spot. The early birds were there, headlamps ablaze, scurrying about erecting their gazebos and preparing their produce. I found Kat, the Market Coordinator, and together we identified my stall area and I was able to start this new adventure.

Rewind a few days: Nicci and Bryce run the Margaret River Cracker Company and we met through a mutual friend. They always have a stall at the weekly Farmers Market so I came to know them by my frequent visits. They hate missing the market as their regular customers expect them to be there, but occasionally they have other committments and can’t attend. So last week they approached me to see if I was willing to help them out by setting up and running their stall for them. How could I say no? I attend every market that I can, and love the atmosphere. I go early and meet the stall holders as I buy our weekly meat, fruit and vegetables from superb locally grown produce. The chance to actually be a part of the market, even for one day was exciting, so I enthusiastically agreed.

I had arrived early, wanting to make sure I had plenty of time to set up before the market officially opens at 8:00am. I knew that local shoppers started arriving at 7:30am so gave myself an hour to get organised. Nicci admited to me that even though they are the physically closest stall holder to the markets (they live just round the corner from us, less than a kilometer from the Market!) they often don’t arrive until 7:15am! I decided I needed much more time than that. Setting the Gazebo up was straightforward until I had to lift and lock to roof section. Luckily Neil, the honeyman, was close by and he happily helped me with that tricky assembly. After setting up the tables, I then had to carefully lay out the very light packets of crackers on the tables and arrange the tasting bowls and signs. Presentation is not usually my best skill, but, guided by some internet photos I saved from their website, I reckon I did an admirable job and was happy with the finished product. I’m sure the hot coffees delivered right to the stall by the Yahava Coffee van helped!

Pretty happy with how the stall looked

It was now 7:15, fully light and a hive of activity. The empty row I had set up in was almost full. Beside me Uralba Eco Farm were displaying beautiful fresh produce, olives and preserves, and on the other side The Berry Farm had a truck full of the first of the seasons Avocados, all bright green and delicious looking. The stallholders were rushing around buying produce from each other before the shoppers arrived, and grabbing a last minute breakfast snack from the Community Fundraising Stall, where a different community group runs a breakfast bar every week.

The Margaret River Cracker Company (https://www.margaretrivercrackers.com.au/) was started by Nicci and Bryce three years ago and makes beautiful crackers to go with local wines, cheeses, dips, relishes and vegetables. They bake all their produce from home, and have chosen flavours that reflect the local areas best produce, from organic garlic, herbs and onions to cheese and truffles. They have even developed a fantastic range of gluten free products, blending their own flour mix to make sure they retain their crackers trademark fresh crunch. They sell their product at the weekly Farmers Market, and also in many of the local gourmet shops and wineries, and even the Margaret River IGA. They also have a growing business selling to gourmet shops in Perth. Its a great business and they have done a terrific job with smart, modern packaging and eye catching graphics. And, of course, the products are very, very good.

For the next hour it was mostly locals doing their weekly fresh vegetable shop so business was a little quiet, but as soon as the tourists arrived, I was busy. We’ve been amazed at how many tourists still visit here in winter. Many Perth locals fill up the local accomodation for a gourmet weekend away, and the Farmers Market, which won Delicious Magazine’s 2018 “Best Farmers Market in Australia” Award, is a major destination. And the number of Asian tourists is huge, being so close to Singapore and Malaysia. They are very keen to taste local fresh produce and often buy packaged goods to take home. Although the crowds ebbed and flowed, it was steady all morning and plenty of people tasted and bought crackers. I loved that I was set up between two popular local cheese makers, Cambray and Heidi, so many visitors arrived at the stall with cheeses in hand, wanting recommendations for a matching cracker!

I enjoyed interacting with the visitors, and met so many people from around Australia and WA, as well as overseas. Grey Nomads, Hipsters, Hippies, Farmers and kids, everyone was out enjoying the dry morning and the market vibe. My stall was close to the busker too, so I had some good background vocals to chill too. The crackers were a real hit, Nicci and Bryce have done an amazing job with their flavour combinations and tastes. Nothing you buy in a supermarket will compare: the flavours and aromas jump out at you as you taste. There was a real sense of comerarderie amongst the stall holders too, some friendly rivalry and genuine interest in how everyones morning was going. They even “stall sit” for you if you need to duck away for a break or to buy some more food or coffee!

The view from my stall

All morning I had been tracking a big thunderstorm that was threatening to interupt our day. It appeared that it had bypassed us completely until, with only 15 minutes of market time to go, it hit and dumped heavy rain on us. The visitors scattered, my crackers were blown over and pack ups commenced in earnest. Luckily I got all the produce packed away safely without getting wet, but the tables and gazebo were drenched by the time I was finished. As was I! So I headed home to unload the car and hang everthing out to dry in the garage.

I had a fabulous day and really appreciated the opportunity to take part in one of Margaret River’s iconic attractions. Not only was it fun interacting with all the shoppers, I really enjoyed getting to know more of the local stall holders. I’m really hoping I can help Nicci and Bryce out again!

Missives from Margs – Olive Curing

Have you ever tasted an olive straight from the tree? You’ll only ever do it once! They are so bitter that they are inedible, impossible to leave it in your mouth for any time at all. The bitterness will hang around too, reminding you to never do it again! Before Olives can be eaten, they have to be processed to remove the bitterness, which is caused by a phenolic compound called Oleuropein. The Romans worked out that by soaking the olives in water and changing the water daily, the bitterness was eventually removed, but the process took many months. The process could be sped up a little by using a saltwater brine instead, but it was still slow. They then tried soaking the olives in lye, yes, good old caustic soda, and the debittering happened in hours. (I can’t imagine what possesed them to soak bitter olives in caustic soda, but hey it worked!) Commercial olive processors still use that method today, but for home curing, its better to steer clear of such aggressive chemicals.

Talking to a neighbour who has her own olive tree and cures olives every year, piqued my interest in the process. A chat with my preferred olive supplier at the Farmers Market, Ronnie from Jersey Farm ( Jersey Farm Olives ), revealed that after they have completed their own harvest, I was welcome to come over and pick some of the remaining olives from their trees. Now mechanical olive harvesting is a pretty agricultural process. A machine grabs each tree and shakes it violently, causing the olives to drop off where they are caught in large batwing umbrellas attached to the machine. From here they are loaded into tubs to be taken away for processing.  Here is a video of a harvester in action. Olive Harvesting video  Commercial operators spray their olive trees with a release agent a few days before harvest to help all the olives separate from the tree during harvest, but as Jersey Farm is organic, they refuse to do this. As a result, there are plenty of olives left on the trees for us to pick.

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Jersey Farm Olive Grove

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Olives left on the tree after mechanical harvesting

So we headed up to Jersey Farm, 30 minutes from Margaret River to try our hand at olive harvesting. Picking them was pretty simple, but painstakingly slow. Olives don’t grow in neat clusers like grapes, they are all single olives attached individally to the tree. Each one has to be pulled off one at a time. “Professional” pickers lay a tarp under the tree and use plastic rakes to pull the olives off, but we just hand picked into buckets. The fruit we picked was Minerva, a smaller variety, so it was slow going. We stuck at it for over an hour, and ended up with 8kg of fruit. It was a very pleasant afternoon though, warm and sunny, and we were accompanied by the wild emus that had wandered into the grove from the nearby bush for a feed of olives!

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Deb getting into the swing of picking

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The local emus allowed us to share their olive feast

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The stepladder helped us to reach more olives

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Our harvest, 8kg freshly picked olives

Deciding how to cure them was my task when we arrived home. An internet search revealed an infinite number of different ways to traditionally cure them, and talking to locals revealed a whole lot more methods. I decided on three different methods for my first attempts:

  1. Water Curing: The olives were placed in a bucket of cold water and left to soak. Every day, the water is drained off and replaced with fresh water. As the olives cure, the water gets a purple tinge and starts to smell of olives. I need to do this for as long as it takes to remove the bitterness before I can then store them in brine.
  2. Brine Curing: This is a traditional Italian method where the olives are washed, then placed in a jar with a 10% brine solution. The jar is topped up with olive oil as an air seal, and then left to up to 12 months.
  3. Dry Brining: This method is used by Jersey Farm to produce small jars of delicious table olives really suited as a cooking ingredient. The olives are placed in a pillowcase with 2:1 ratio of olives to dry salt. The pillowcase is hung over a bucket, and as the olives cure, moisture with the bitter flavours drips off. The olives need to be mixed up with the salt every couple of days. After the bitterness is removed they are washed and can then be stored in jars with olive oil.

It’s been 6 weeks now since I started the curing and I’m finally starting to see some results. The dry brine cured olives are just about ready now, the bitterness is almost completely gone. They have shrivelled and wrinkled a lot too. Next step will be to rinse them then store them in jars with olive oil. The jar of brined olives is also getting close. They are very salty, but the bitternes has almost disappeared. Next step will be to wash them, then store them with brine or olive oil, and some flavours like garlic, herbs or chilli. The slowest cure is the plain water. These olives are still quite bitter, but better then when they were picked! They’ll need a few more weeks of rinsing yet. I’ll gradually introduce a brine solution and reduce the frequency of rinsing until all the bitterness is gone.

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Dry brined olives sitting in salt in a pillowcase

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Dry brined olives getting wrinkley as they dry out

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Water curing – as the bitterness is released into the water, the colour also leaches out

I’ll bring you an update when all the curing is finished and let you know how they turned out. Another old fashioned skill being learned, and hopefully some tasty results after all the labour!

Missives From Margs – Sourdough

Who doesn’t love a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread? Straight from the oven, hack off a chunk and add some real butter and maybe honey or Vegemite? Delicious! We are lucky here to have a wood fired bakery just down the road where we can pop in after 3pm and grab a hot loaf straight out of the jarrah fired oven. In fact, there is a group of bakers here in the SW, who all use the same oven designed by the Swiss-German baker/owner of Yallingup Wood Fired Bread, and bake beautiful sourdough bread. (Yallingup Wood Fired Bakery, Margaret River Wood Fired Bread, Bread and Butter in Bunbury, and in Fremantle, Bread in Common). Here is a video from Yallingup Woodfired Bakery

I had never really been interested in baking my own bread. Apart from using a Bread Maker, I’ve only ever baked a couple of loaves from scratch. It seemed to me a lot of work for something that I could buy from the supermarket. But having tasted real sourdough bread, and now having time to experiment (you need plenty of time, a sourdough loaf takes over two days to make!), I decided to learn the art myself. And what better place to start then at Cree and Tim’s One Table Farm two day Sourdough Workshop.  One Table Farm Cooking School  Over two wonderful days, I learnt all the secrets of sourdough breadmaking from Tim, who has been making sourdough for over 30 years. And it’s not only bread that gets the sourdough treatment, I also learnt to make sourdough crumpets, hotcakes, pizza bases, crackers and the best of all, Sourdough Doughnuts! Here are some photos from the Workshop.

The beauty of Sourdough, in my mind, is that it doesn’t use any manufactured yeast. The bacteria and yeasts that slowly ferment the mix and give the bread that beautiful rich aroma and flavour, are all natural. The starter culture for all sourdough is just a mix of flour and water, carefully cultured to encourage the growth of the natural yeasts and bacteria that live in the flour. When combined with beautiful organic, stoneground flour from Eden Valley Biodynamic Flour mill near Dumbleyung here in the SW, the resulting bread is rich in flavour and deliciously moist in side that crunchy crust.  The long, slow fermentation creates that rich flavour. And there are health benefits too. Sourdough is made without any added sugar, and the fermentation process releases important nutrients.  It also creates useful probiotics that assist gut health. The slow ferment  breaks down the wheat gluten too, and although not fully gluten free, is better tolerated by those with gluten intolerances.

Since attending the workshop, I’ve been baking a loaf every week. And we have also enjoyed sourdough hotcakes and pizzas. So far, all my loaves have turned out OK. One of the joys of sourdough baking is that the process is always a little bit different. It’s a natural process and sometimes, nature just varies a little and the results are not always identical, week to week. Differences in flour, temperature, humidity etc can all create slight variations in the finished loaf. But, the aroma in the house when I’m baking is always so good, and the loaves so delicious!

And sitting by the oven watching the magic happen is a great way to relax on a cold autumn day!

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Evolution – watching the loaf “pop” in the oven

Missives from Margs – National Licencing?

There is one task I passionately hate when moving interstate: having to transfer our Drivers Licence and car rego. I hate public service beauracracy. And the beauracrats in each state seem to want to make licencing as difficult as possible, when in fact it shoudn’t even be necessary. Surely, in the 21st century,  we can have a National Licence system in Australia?

So it was with some trepidation that we headed off the the local Shire Offices recently to organise to swap our licences to Western Australia. At least here in WA, the larger local shires are agents for the Department of Transport so we didnt have to travel miles to find an office to put our application in.

Prewarned, we took all our original birth certificates and marriage certificates so we could prove who we were. Now, you would think that having a Victorian Photo ID Licence, one that is accepted universally across the country as proof of identity, that it would be acceptable to the beauracrats here in WA. Well, no. We had to provide all the ususal multiple ID documents to keep them happy. These were supported by Medicare cards and Credit cards. So far so good.

Then came the requirement where we had to provide documentary evidence that we lived in WA.  Should be easy I thought and produced a recent utilities bill with the home address on it.

Miss Shire Beauracrat – ” I’m afraid thats not acceptable as the mail delivery address is your PO Box, not the house address”

Me – “well yes. That would be because, as you very well know, there is no postal service in most of Margaret River, so everyone has a PO Box. We cant get mail delivered to our address!”

MSB – “Sorry, we need evidence of your actual address”

Increasingly Frustrated Me – “Well how abour our rates notice? You are part of the Shire, so surely that is acceptable?”

MSB – “Well no actually. That only proves you are paying rates, not that you live here in WA!”

IFM  – ” Your’e joking?” OK, how about an email from the Electoral Office confirming our address”

MSB – “I’ll have to check that one”

Patiently wait 5 minutes

MSB – “No, not acceptable as that’s an email”

IFM – “Well, here (showing phone screen) is the internet page from the Electoral Office confirming our enrollment and address?”

MSB – “No, still not good enough. I need an approved letter with your address on it”

Completely Pissed Off Me, thinking I’m actually in a real Monty Python sketch – “BUT AS I TOLD YOU BEFORE, WE ONLY USE OUR PO BOX BECAUSE YOU DON’T DELIVER MAIL HERE!!!!!! I DON’T GET MAIL DELIVERED TO AN ADDRESS THAT DOESN’T GET MAIL SERVICE”

MSB – “How about you go the the bank and get a letter from them confirming your address?”

So off we toddled to the bank, and returned some time later with a letter from the bank showing our address. MSB was ecstatic, almost gloating! I didn’t have the heart to tell her that a bank letter is far from the validated evidence she thinks it is. The last address our bank used was one from a friend in Warragul in Victoria who sent our bank mail on to us. We never, ever lived there, in fact had never even seen the house!

So, having resolved that issue it was on to the next challenge. This one almost sent me insane. We were required to fill in details on a form about the very first licence we held. They needed the date we received it and number of the first drivers licence we ever held! That was over 45 years ago in NSW! Who keeps that information on file?? Seeing my incredulous look, and perhaps an inkling of Shire Office Rage about to erupt, MSB decided to be helpful and, using a national database, looked it up for us. She found our licence number, but no date, so she suggested we guess a date!  Really!! So, I wondered, why is that info even needed if it’s already on a database and we can make up the date!!! I decided to keep that wondering to myself lest it lead to another terse exchange with the now happy MSB.

After handing over our Vic licence, we were finally allowed to get our photo taken and complete the transaction. MSB proudly advised that our new licence would not expire until the same date as our old Victorian licence, and there was no fee to be paid. Whoopty Do! Finally, some interstate cooperation!

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The end result of all that beauacratic pain

I now have to steel myself for the potentially even more complicated task of transferring our car and van registrations over! I need a few more Margaret River Cabernets before tackling that one!

Missives From Margs – Winemaking 101

We are standing in the middle of the vineyard, first thing in the morning on Easter Saturday, and it’s bitterly cold. It could have been worse. Yesterday we were pummeled with 28mm rain and a howling south westerly gale that bought snow to Bluff Knoll, very rare in April here in WA.  This morning, thank goodness, the rain passed through overnight and although it was cold, the sun was starting to shine around the last of the black clouds. We were out at Cape Grace vineyard in Wilyabrup, picking the last of their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for the 2019 vintage, destined for the 2019 Storyteller Red.

Our morning started early as we rummaged through our little used winter wardrobe trying to find beannies and coats before heading off to Cape Grace. There, we met up with our fellow pickers, about 15 altogether, and headed off to the Cabernet Sauvignon rows where Dylan, Cape Grace’s winemaker showed us how to use the secateurs to remove the bunches of bright purple ripe cabernet grapes from the vines. Most of us sneaked a taste and were surprised at how sweet the grapes were. As we worked our way down the row, we chatted quietly and slowly warmed up as the sun strengthened. Picking grapes is not really that difficult (I guess that’s why so much of Australia’s hand picked grape harvest is done by backpackers!), nor physically demanding. You do have a reach a bit into the vines to locate all the bunches, but then its just a matter of cut, catch  and drop them into a nearby bucket. Bucket boys have the heavier job of lifting the full buckets into the trailer and off again in the winery. So its actually quite a pleasant job, out in the morning sunshine and fresh air. Many of the bunches are very easy to grab, but some are twisted around the vines and can be more challenging to pick without loosing precious grapes onto the ground. The going rate per bucket this year is $3, so even good pickers have to work fast to earn their money. We labour away for an hour or so, kept entertained by Dylan and Rob, the vineyard owner, who teach us about the finer points of growing and picking wine grapes as we work.

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The pickers assemble at the winery

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The buckets are ready!

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Busy pickers harvesting the grapes

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The sun starts to warm us up

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Deb showing how its done!

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Our first bin of rich, plump Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

As we neared the end of the rows we encountered significant bird damage to the grapes. Tiny Silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) sometimes take a fancy to the vines, specially in years when the local marri trees do not flower as well as usual, and they peck a hole in nearly every grape in a bunch. This causes the grape to quickly rot, and we could smell the vinegarey odour rising from these spoilt bunches. We tried to recover some of the untouched grapes, but there were too many, so we left these bunches to rot on the vines. Most vineyards place nets over the vines to prevent the birds getting to the grapes, but that has its downside too. Silvereyes can squeeze into the tiniest of gaps, and if they get under the nets, can then spend all day eating to their hearts content, doing even more damage. Rob’s preference was to let them have a few sacrificial grapes and hope that they left the majority of the row alone, which seems to have worked.

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Grapes damaged by Silvereyes, a neat peck mark in every grape

While the bucket boys collected the grapes and transferred them to the winery, we were taken around the vineyard and given lots of information about soils, grape varieties and the intricacies of grafting, where, for example, Chardonnay is grafted onto old Shiraz vines.  This speeds the process up of getting grapes by about three years, rather than planting new vines. Pruning is one of the most important procedures undertaken every year and decisions made about how to best prune can have a significant impact on the next years crop. As can the quality of the pruners, who are usually experienced locals who slave away in cold and rain in July, whilst earning very good money for their efforts.

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Dylan Arvidson, Cape Grace Winemaker

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Dylan explaing how “cane cut” wines are made. The canes (branches) of the vine are cut so it dies off and the fruit shrivel and sweeten

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Cane Cut Chenin Blanc nearly ready to make their sweet Desert Wine

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Robert Karri-Davies, Vineyard Owner

After our lesson on vineyard management, we headed back to the cellar door for morning tea, hot cross buns and hot coffee which Deb was almost ready to kill for! Then is was off into the winery to start preparing our grapes for their transition into wine. The first step was to pass the bunches through a destemmer to remove the stems which can give the wine a bitter, overly tannic flavour. The destemmer is not used for all grape types, and at Cape Grace is not required for any of their machine picked grapes, where they use a “selective” picker that destems as it picks. But our hand picked bunches required destemming so we had to laboriously feed them into the tiny destemmer, a bunch at a time. The destemmer we used was really designed for home winemakers and regularly overloaded if we fed too many bunches in at a time, so it was slow work. But what came out of the destemmer was partially crushed grapes with most of the green stems removed. These landed in 1 tonne tub and it didn’t take long before we had raw cabernet sauvignon grape juice filling the bottom of the tub. Dylan collected a sdample for us to try and it was delicious! Deep ruby red, very cloudy and so, so sweet with beautiful fresh berry cabernet flavours!

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Our grapes, ready for processing

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Deb doing some heavy lifting

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Destemming the grapes

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Everyone gets a turn….

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Destemmed grapes in the bin, the juice already getting squeezed out

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Pure, sweet, delicious cabernet juice

In total, we had picked 630kg of grapes, an excellent yield apparantly from the two rows we picked. This almost filled the large tub. This was now put aside to ferment. After innoculation with yeasts, the tub would be plunged 4 times a day for the next two weeks. Plunging requires the mass of skins that float to the top as the grapes ferment, to be pushed or plunged down to the bottom of the tub, mixing and wetting all the grapes and skins. A hard job that winemakers dislike, but it’s essential to get the best flavour and colour from the grapes. The mix will then be passed through the old basket press, where the grapes are cruched and the juice collected. The skins are pressed and repressed to get as much flavour and colour out of them. The juice extracted from the press will then be transferred to oak barrels for fermentation in wood before bottling. Our wine won’t be bottled until mid 2020, so we will have to be patient before we can tase the fruits of our labour!

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Fermenting Cabernet Franc grapes

So after all this work and education, it was time for lunch, so we walked back to the Cellar door where a beautiful BBQ lunch awaited us. Sausage and onions on bread, fresh local cheese and, of course, some lovely Cape Grace wines to sample. Rob had even pulled a couple of 2004 reds from the cellar for us to try and these were the highlight for me. Aged Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, both exceptional wines and a really good reason to try to keep those reds in the cellar for a few years before drinking them. A very relaxing time sitting under the trees soaking up the sun. After lunch and wine sampling, we reluctantly headed home with a renewed respect for the work our winemakers do in order to allow us put that bottle of liquid joy on the table.

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Well earned lunch

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Bubbles anyone?

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Missives from Margs – The Great Cocky Count!

We love our black cockatoos here in WA. The South West region has the only White Tailed Black Cockatoos in Australia, and unfortunatey both of them are classified as threatened. Baudin and Carnaby Black Cockatoos are magnificent birds, and we see them frequently when walking the trails and cruising around the region. They also occasionally fly over our house during the day and we see them in the nearby trees in the evening. Big, bold and raucous, they wing across the landscape, calling to each other as they look for Marri trees and their delicious “honkey nuts” to feast on. They are often joined by another endemic, threatened Black Cockatoo, the Forest Red Tail, a beautiful bird seen high in the trees with their brilliant scarlet tail feathers. They are the jokers and will spend hours in the trees joyfully tearing apart seeds and nuts. All these birds are facing significant reductions in habitat due to clearing for agriculture, mining and also reduced rainfall. They need old marri trees, jarrah, banksia and hakea to nest and provide feed. Because all these beautiful birds are classed as “Threatened” there is a program to monitor and research them to ensure they are never lost to this beautiful landscape.

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Forest Red  Tail (photo courtesy Museum WA)

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A Carnaby enjoying some Banksia (photo courtesy Museum WA)

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A Baudin, showing its longer beak (photo courtesy Museum WA)

The Great Cocky Count is part of this program. It is co-ordinated by BirdLife Australia and the data is analysed by scientists from the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. The count is part of a long-term, very successful citizen science survey and the biggest single survey for black-cockatoos in Western Australia. On one night in autumn, volunteers across the south west set up at known roost sites and count black cockatoos as they come in to their evening roost sites. The data obtained provides a snapshot of black-cockatoo populations, and how and where numbers are changing.  It is important research and helps the scientists to better understand how to preserve these beautiful birds.

In Margaret River, the count is coordinated by local conservation group, Nature Conservation Margaret River. Keen to get involved we registered for the count this year and were duly allocated a local roost site quite close to town and not far from one of our house sits last year. A quick visit to the site with a co-ordinator ensued and we were shown where the Baudin’s usually roosted and where they flew in from. Apparantly they fly to a watering point close to the roost to drink before bed time. They then move closer towards the roost, but stop short and wait until the sun has actually set before flying in to the roost trees. We even decided to complete a practise count a week before, just to make sure we were in the right position to see the cocky’s arrive!

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The Roost Site

We were joined on the Great Cocky Count night by John and Christine, also new counters. John has just assumed a board position on the local Nature Conservation Margaret River group and was keen to help out. In true Margaret River fashion, John bought a bottle of local chardonnay for us to sip while we watched the sun set and waited for the cockies. They started arrived just before sunset and confused us by circling around the roost site and settling in different trees around the area. Then, just as the sun went down they started to fly in groups to the roost. Counting silhouettes, checking they were cockies and not ravens, magpies or galahs kept us all busy for the next 15 minutes. Our final count was 21, 3 less than our practise run, but many more than had been recorded over the last two years. After the count we went back to John’s place and enjoyed a meal, a few wines and shared travelling stories.

It will be some months before all the data is collected, reviewed and analysed, but hopefully it will provide the experts with more valuable information to help us preserve these glorious Black Cockatoos.

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Counting Cockies at Dusk

 

Missives from Margs – Passata Making

One of the things I like most about settling down again is being able to indulge in my passion for cooking and creating food. There is a limit to how creative you can be in a caravan with limited cooking tools and space, and although I was able get a bit more creative during our house sits, it’s not the same as being in your own kitchen with your own cooking equipment. I have always wanted to go to an Italian Passata making day.  Ever since I worked in North Queensland with Sicilian cane farmers, I loved the way they talked about their big family “tomato days”, where the family all got together and made their annual supply of tomato sauce. Tomato days were immortalised in the Aussie movie “Looking for Alibrandi”, the story of a young Italian/Aussie girl who had to endure what she called  “national wog day” as she was growing up.

One Table Farm is a local farm cooking school near Cowaramup. Tim and Cree built the farm from scratch in 2014 using permaculture principals and now offer cooking classes and instruction in higher welfare, locally produced food. Check out the link to their farm: One Table Farm. Cree is a vet who has specialised in animal ethics and welfare and has also studied French Cookery at the prestigious Cordon Bleu Cookery School in Paris. She runs a half day course during tomato season for aspiring cooks like me who want to learn the secrets of Tomato Day! I had to make the most of this opportunity!

The class was held in a lovely rustic building, with views across the pretty farm. There was a full kitchen, work tables, communal eating area and lounge. My class had five other students including two local mother/daughter pairs and another local budding chef. Cree took us through the process of selecting, washing and preparing the tomatoes, before we were let loose on two big boxes of locally produced tomatoes. After preparing them, we were shown how to use the various types of mouli or vegetable mills Tim had set up for us. We all enjoyed using the electric powered one, but the small hand mouli felt the most authentic to me! After milling all our tomatoes, we filled the passata into clean jars, ready to take home and sterilise.

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Ready for blanching

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Blanched and prepped for the mill

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The “Clik Clak” mill

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Everone’s favourite, the electric mill

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Filled jars

While all this activity was going on, Cree also showed us her special recipe for pasta sauce and we watched as this bubbled away on the stove top, getting redder and redder as it reduced down, filling the room with delightful tomato and garlic aromas. She also made up a batch of delicious fresh pasta and the two young girls had a ball rolling it out into fettucine. The morning ended with a communal lunch of fresh pasta, tomato sauce and Tim’s extra special sourdough foccacia with cherry tomatoes. And to finish off, Cree served a beautiful lemon cake for desert.

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Lunch

I had a great day. I find it very rewarding turning beautiful, fresh local produce into a delicious ingredient. Not only did I learn the art of making passata, but I also met and networked with some lovely locals. And when Tim next runs a sourdough making course, I’m  going to have to get along and learn how to make his magnificant foccacia.

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My finished passata