Several years ago, Barry and Liz wound up their professional jobs in teaching and accounting-law in East Gippsland, and moved to the Indigo Valley in north-eastern Victoria. That enabled them to relocate to Liz’s family home and farm, where several siblings live nearby. We recently made the four hour trip up from Melbourne to see their property for the first time.
While they had previously described it to us and shown us many photos, we were not prepared for how idyllic the setting would be and how self-sustaining they were with their extensive garden and orchard. Their home grown produce meant we would be served their own figs (wrapped in prosciutto), cherry tomatoes (with basil and local olive oil), creative salads and vegetable dishes (such as steamed Japanese beans). A highlight was a fig and almond torta (recipe at end of this blog post).
The house and farm
The house looks out over a small lake and up towards gorgeous hills where their cattle graze.
While the house is relatively new, it has a country farmhouse feel of yesteryear with beautiful stonework, wood fire and a large open kitchen and family area. Vases held magnificent roses from the garden. There was a bowl of fruit on the dining table and a collection of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen bench. A stockpot of tomato passata simmered away on the stove top.
The garden and orchard
A weatherboard cottage once stood on the site of the ‘new’ house. Nothing of that cottage remains, but much of the original garden does, including a 100 year old fig tree and a similarly aged pear tree. Other fruit trees and rose bushes date back many years as well. The vegetable garden, though, has been replaced by numerous raised beds that overflow with greenery.
The surrounding region
The Indigo Valley is right in the middle of a food and wine lover’s paradise, with plenty of sightseeing distractions. In our three days there we would visit the nearby historic towns of Yackandandah (and taste a local pie) and Beechworth. We also visited Albury (with its stand-out Art Deco buildings). We would also take some walks in the hills and forests and drive along the edge of the Hume Weir and Murray River. We didn’t have time to visit the wineries at Rutherglen nor the cheese maker at Milawa.
We had beautiful weather. On our last day, we returned from our travels late afternoon to find a basket of goodies ready to be tackled. Our hosts would lead us across to the island in the lake for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles.
Fig and Almond Torta
We would leave the next day for Melbourne with a bottle of homemade plum sauce, some cherry tomatoes, plus figs, peaches and pears. We also had a copy of the recipe for the torta and planned to make one using the fruit.
Below we reproduce the recipe by Sue Wallace, as published in the local Albury-Wodonga newspaper. The article said: “This stunning ‘cake’ is semi-sweet and the figs can be substituted with any fruit in season. The wetness of the fruit may need a smidge extra flour or meal.”
(Back home, we did make a torta from the figs, peaches and pears – see photos below. We doubled the ingredients and used a 26 cm pan. We also pushed the cooking time a little so that the edges of the fruit would brown a little, as for a French fruit tart.) (Updated May 2020: Right at the end are two photos of the same recipe but using hazelnut meal instead of almond meal, and sliced poached pears.)
- 120g almond meal
- ½ cup caster sugar
- ½ cup plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 80g melted and cooled butter
- vanilla essence
- 4-6 fresh figs, stalks removed, cut into quarters
- 1 tbsp extra caster sugar
- 1 to 2 tbsps extra butter
- Set oven to 170oC.
- Butter and dust with flour or almond meal a 23 cm loose-base pan. (Note: The original recipe specifies a 26 cm pan; but a smaller one seems appropriate for the quantities given, possibly even a 20 cm pan would be better. If you are increasing the quantities, use a 26 cm pan.)
- Cut a circle of baking paper for the base.
- Mix the first five ingredients until well combined.
- Whisk the eggs, butter, milk and vanilla until just frothy.
- Stir wet and dry ingredients until well combined.
- Spread batter into tin and arrange fig pieces as desired – not too many if they are quite juicy.
- Sprinkle with 1 tbsp caster sugar and small dots of butter.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve with runny cream or ice cream. Serves 4 to 6.
Degree of difficulty: 3/5 (moderately difficult).
Equipment: Loose-base pan.