My purpose for writing this blog is to share and give a little insight into why I love my food so much and hopefully to inspire others to keep these methods of food preparation alive.
I grew up on a farm in country New South Wales. My Mum and Dad are first generation Australians. I’m the eldest out of the 6 children. Our farm is located a 20minute drive from the main town. On the farm we grow mainly rice and lucene; however, we also had cows, pigs, chickens, various cats & dogs, a paddock of fruit trees and massive veggy & herb gardens.
When I was a very small child, my parents would get up early in the morning to milk a cow so we would have fresh milk daily. Honestly, I wasn’t particularly fond of the milk because the floaty cream bits, but I drank it. Sometimes we would also make our own butter, but not very often. As I got older and Mum and Dad continued to have children, this stopped and we got milk from the supermarket or sometimes our neighbours would give us fresh milk from their cows.
Our vegetables came from the garden picked fresh and eaten straight away, the same with herbs, unless there was too much and then we would dry them for use later. Our eggs came from the wheat fed, chemical free chickens that we kept.
Mum prepared every meal and baked all our treats. She loved to bake cakes, biscuits, bread, pies, slices, you name it, Mum made it with the help of her trusty Commonsense Cookery Book. Meals were prepared from scratch and made with love. We had an electric stove in the kitchen and an old wood fire stove. In winter we would have the old wood fire stove going. One of the things Mum would make was an amazing slow cooked lamb stew. Another tasty treat was to butter bread and place it face down on the top of the stove so the butter would toast into the bread. When the oven was going it smelt divine of wood and smoke, like a little campfire in the kitchen.
The wood fire stove also doubled as a water heater as the water pipes ran behind the stove and heated the water for our showers, when it was sunny there was a solar panel on the roof which did the trick.
My Italian Grandparents (Nonno & Nonna) lived on a fruit farm close by. Throughout my childhood I picked oranges on their farm. We would get up at 5am, wear long sleeves and long pants (to keep the mozzies and spiders off) and we would pick trailers of oranges. Sometimes just Nonno, Nonna, Mum, Dad, me and my brother, sometimes with a few of my Dad’s sisters and my cousins.
A lot of food preparation was done as a family group. Annually we would pick all the leftover fruit off the trees, we would sit around the table to peel, de-pip, slice and preserve the fruit in vacuola jars, dry them on a rack in the sun or make jam out of them.
Sometimes we made our own wine by filling a tub full of grapes and stomping them. The outcome of each vintage would vary, sometimes a bit hit and miss, but that’s part of it. Nonno still to this day makes his own wine.
We would have tomato days (very Looking for Alibrandi) and the kitchen would be a sea of red. A few methods of preserving tomatos are: cut them in half, salt them and place them on the rack in the sun and turn occasionally until dry. Once dry chop up garlic a fill old jars with the garlic, tomatoes olive oil and herbs, yum yum! Alternately you skin them, puree them and bottle them or bottle the skinned tomatoes whole.
On occasion we would make our pasta from scratch and dry it over broom handles to keep for later. This is very easy to do and even to this day I make pasta from scratch with my friends, they love pasta days. Everyone gets together in the kitchen, drinking a few bottles of good red wine and pitches in to make dinner from scratch. If Nonna was making her gnocchi, you could guarantee that everyone would be there to help eat it.
On the slightly more gory side, we would also slaughter our animals for meat. This is not everyone’s cup of tea but that’s what we grew up with. Everyone had their job, when it came to chickens, Nonna broke their necks under the broom handle, Nonno chopped their heads off with an axe and we would string them upside down to drain out the blood before plucking and gutting. One of my earliest memories is helping to pluck the chickens, the job that the younger kids did. As you got bigger you graduated to gutting and preparing the carcasses for bagging and freezing.
We also killed our pigs and made them into salami, sausages and various cuts to eat. You’ve never had proper salami until you’ve eaten homemade salami. The pig is chemical and hormone free, raised on wheat and grass. The salami is rustic and chunky and tastes amazing.
It’s probably only the past few years that I’ve come to truly appreciate my unique foodie upbringing and how lucky I am to have this knowledge and experience. And although now I live in a rental property in a city, I have no garden and no animals I still practise a lot of traditional food preparation methods. I know where to get amazing fresh fruit and veg, I bring out the pasta maker when friends and family come over, I bake bread that I make by hand and my next venture is into making cheese.
If you have any questions or would like any further information on anything I have written about here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Alternately a fantastic book full of information is “Preserving the Italian Way” by Pietro Demaio