The ongoing and seemingly endless love affair between the media and food or food sources has ensured that an apparently inexhaustible mine of food and cooking publications finds their way onto book retailers catalogues.
We can take our choice from over-rated celebrity cookbooks, chef memoirs, hastily penned food-themed novels and any number of glossy themed recipe books – although the literary or culinary merit of many new editions is, to say the least, arguable.
With the big named authors commanding the lions share of the publishers PR dollars, it can be easy to overlook some of the less prominent works and, in some instances, that would be a shame. With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to a recent ABC Books publication, From Paddock to Plate, by Louise Fitzroy.
From Paddock to Plate is a journey into the rural heartland of Australia, giving the reader the opportunity to meet with Australian food producers, learn a little of their stories and share a recipe or two of theirs. Louise is an ABC journalist and last week I had the opportunity to chat to her about her journey from the family farm in Guyra, in the New England region of New South Wales, to her innovative Western Australian food safari radio show, The Cold Esky Challenge, which resulted in her book.
It’s a long way from Guyra to Western Australia, isn’t it?
Louise was brought up on a mixed family farm and was exposed to all the fickleness and vicissitudes which come with a farming life. On completing her journalism degree at the University of Armidale, she headed overseas for a time before returning to a sports media job which eventually morphed into the life of a rural reporter moving from Tamworth to Alice springs then on to Port Lincoln, before finding herself in Bunbury, Western Australia.
And the “Cold Esky Challenge”?
The Cold Esky Challenge came about as a result of a trip Louise took herself on to try out the wares of the renowned wine-tasting area of Margaret River in WA. Once there, she realised the extent and diversity of the range of local food production. She was amazed to discover that, with no prior planning, she was able to trace a dish from the seedling to the table when she followed up a visit to an apple orchard with a trip to the local bakery who were more than happy to bake the apples into a dish for her. Thus began her hunt into the provenance of a range of local specialities and the quest to share the knowledge of this with the local inhabitants of the region. Her later move to rural Victoria was when she decided to broaden her scope and expand her research nationally.
What were the selection criteria?
Louise decided that she wanted her book to demonstrate to Australians the diverse range of products which we grow here and chose her inclusions based on their variety and, occasionally, the unique nature of the food produced. She relied upon word-of-mouth to source her producers, sometimes putting a call out on her radio programs to spread her search out. Thus the book covers growers and producers from all of the Australian states and territories with crops ranging from the familiar potato or tomato, to the exotic custard apple and on to some surprise inclusions (well, to me, at least) like saffron and wasabi. Each entry gives us an introduction to the people behind the produce and a recipe (or two or three) that they share to maximise our enjoyment of the fruits of their labours.
And the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect?
When I asked Louise what she enjoyed most about putting this project together she had no hesitation in citing the generosity, kindness and friendliness of the folk she met on her journey. From the bush man that she met near the Canning Stock Rout who taught her how to make a genuine damper, to the Western Australian country house wife who bottles all her neighbours excess produce, then donates it to raise money for the local community, Louise was struck by the eagerness to share and the strong sense of community inherent in the various people she encountered.
One of Louise’s hopes in penning this volume was to help guide and inform all consumers, but particularly urban dwellers, about where their food comes from and how it gets to them. Food security in general, and food security in Australia is an issue which we all need to be more aware of, if we are to have any control over it. I think that developing a more direct relationship with the providers of the food on our plates is a very good place to begin.