(Continued from: Preparations for a Long Lunch)
Back at Windermere after the cheese and vegies pickup, we had forty-five minutes or so before our friends arrived.
A quick check of the chicken in the oven showed all looked fine. The broccoli shoots and silver beet were quickly trimmed, washed and shaken dry. The white turnips peeled like a dream – a teaspoon would have done the job, they were so tender and almost translucent. The pink eyes were scrubbed and set aside, however, my parents would have used a paring knife to scrape off all the skin, revealing the distinct pink colour.
Rhonda set to readying the deck for pre-lunch nibbles and drinks and loading trays with crockery, cutlery, condiments and glasses to take down to the barbecue pit later.
The time challenge of podding the broad beans was mine; I would need twenty minutes or so. They were so tender there was no need to peel off the outside layer, something my parents never had to do.
Podding green peas or broad beans was one of the less favoured jobs we had as kids. How many times had I, or my brothers and sisters, stood in Mum’s kitchen or found a comfortable spot in the lounge or on the lawn to get them ready in time for Sunday dinner? We didn’t use the word ‘lunch’ then and it wouldn’t have been appropriate because it was a substantial meal, usually a roast leg of lamb with amazing roast potatoes, onions and pumpkin and about five other vegetables, almost always from Dad’s garden, to be boiled or steamed.
The original 1966 kitchen was marvellously modern for us then, though a challenge for Mum for a while – she had only ever cooked with a cast iron wood stove, not with an electric cooktop and oven. Two small windows above the sink looked out to the backyard and garden and beyond to the river; views weren’t valued in those days.
When we took over the cottage 12 years ago the house required a total rework, though little structural work was required. The kitchen required the most attention. Working with Steve and Todd, we designed a U-shaped working space. We opened up the views to the river with plenty of glass and a sliding door to the new large deck. A normal-sized fridge would have obstructed the river views from the lounge room, so we installed two bar fridges under the benches instead.
With the new kitchen connected to the dining area with its round yellow table, a surprisingly functional area resulted. More than a few are able to mill around cooking or cleaning up without getting in each other’s way. When we have family get-togethers at the cottage, my sisters and their husbands turn up with contributions and within minutes have packed things away or found a work station for any last minute touch-ups. The same would happen soon.
With cars pulling up and feet crunching on the gravel paths, we were in fact ready on time.
A glass of Tassie sparkling on the deck
The big question remaining was how to prepare and serve the vegetables. We’d have to think about that over a glass of sparkling.
Everyone had been to the cottage several times before. Denis and Helen found a spot for their entree in one of the fridges while Irma and Heinz unloaded a couple of coolers into the other. Pete and Jen arrived with three wines from their vineyard.
So how do you start a long Sunday afternoon lunch on a gorgeous sunny day, looking out at sublime views of the Tamar River and the vineyards on the other side of the valley?
With a bottle of Tassie bubbly, quarter-century old cheese and pickled onions, of course! Though not necessarily together.
We started with a bottle of Chartley Estate Lavinia 2009 (Pinot Noir – Chardonnay). By tradition we don’t use Champagne glasses when friends visit us at Olive’s Cottage but instead use the tall, elaborately decorated, parfait glasses my mother used for some desserts. The Lavinia was creamy and refreshing in the gentle sun. Chartley Estate is located at Rowella on the West Tamar and we chose them to supply the wines for guests staying at Olive’s Cottage. (A few weeks earlier the Chartley Estate 2014 Riesling took out the top award at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, beating entries from around the world.)
On to the pickled onions and the cheese, both from Hillwood. The cheddar was remarkable for something 25 years old, possibly older. It had a taste of aged cheddar of course but there were distinct similarities with an aged ‘Parmesan’ both in the taste and in the texture, which was waxy and crumbly at the same time.
Vegetables at their best
By 1.30 we had moved down to the barbecue pit and were seated at the large macrocarpa pine table enjoying Denis and Helen’s delicious san choy bau with a chicken filling and peanut sauce.
Back up in the cottage the pink eyes were gently being heated on the stove and two other saucepans of hot water were simmering away. My parents used relatively few ingredients, possibly because they couldn’t afford an elaborate pantry. But it is a practice I follow, generally finding that fewer ingredients tend to work better than more. They never over-cooked their vegetables nor served them ‘al dente’ with an undercooked taste.
We steamed the turnip chunks over one saucepan and the broad beans in the other. The broccoli tips required just a few minutes on top of the broad beans and the silver beet leaves wilted quickly on top of the turnips. With the chicken and pink eyes on the way down to the pine table, we layered the silver beet leaves over a warmed, long platter, then added the turnips, then the broccoli tips, finishing with the broad beans. We dobbed some butter on each layer and put more on top, along with some parsley and thyme.
The chicken, with its orange rind flavoured sauce, matched the pink eyes perfectly.
For the recipe, click here: Chicken in Red Wine.
However, it was the steamed vegetables that people remarked on: the tenderness and clarity of taste. Steve had said we would be almost able to taste the earth in the turnips and it was true.
I had forgotten how marvellous simply dealt with vegetables could be. Yet as children we took them for granted with the Sunday roast and at the uncountable evening meals where Dad’s home grown vegetables starred. With modern, city-based living, have the taste buds of most Australians become anaesthetised or are we just unaware of what fresh food tastes like? Are we too accepting of the fruit and vegetables we buy a week or two after picking? They have inevitably lost much of their nutrition, are almost devoid of natural flavour and often deteriorate within a few days due to mould or rot.
Dad’s rule was to pick the vegetables and have them in the pot within the hour. Later we would text Todd and Steve to say what a hit their contributions were.
The wines we tried during the afternoon included Pete and Jen’s latest Waterton Riesling and Shiraz from their former Rowella property. (One of their earlier vintages also won the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, in 2010.) We also tried an impressive organic Pinot Noir from Liffey, 35 km south-west of Launceston.
Irma makes extraordinary desserts. Today it was one of her mother’s old recipes: lemon curd and apple torte, served with lemon sorbet. With it we had a Waterton botrytis Riesling.
There were other highlights during the afternoon: a trio of black cockatoos flew in to settle on the branches above us; later, two hundred metres away in the sky, a large sea eagle fended off the swoops of a pair of squawking, protective plovers.
By 6.30 everyone had gone, most of the cleaning up was done and the dishwasher was on.
Later, we would retrieve the big torch from the bottom drawer and head back to the deck to reveal our four wallabies!
(Continued in: Jobs and a Family Catchup)