It was late Sunday night when I realised how much the lunch that day was a microcosm of life at Olive’s Cottage, with memories from my parents’ time mixing with aspects of how the cottage works for us now.
During the afternoon we had lamented to our Tassie friends that we had eaten our breakfast while a recalcitrant wallaby calmly grazed in the middle of the lawn. While they are really cute, wallabies cause problems for the garden and gardener, nibbling at plants and poohing on the lawns and paths. The high perimeter fences of the property are meant to keep them out, but somehow the odd wallaby gets in. And they like to stay, especially in the drier weather when the watered gardens are somewhat more tempting than the dry bush and paddocks next door.
“If you think you only have one wallaby, think again”, someone said. “Tonight, shine a torch over your lawns – you will have six at least!”
When we did, we counted four!
The immediate thought was: “What would George – my Dad – have done? What would Olive – my Mum – have said when she heard what George said he would do with the little ….”
After all, this used to be their backyard and garden!
Good planning goes awry
Back in August we had booked flights to Tassie for a five-day visit in November to catch up with our manager and gardener, to meet up with friends and family, and to attend to miscellaneous jobs.
The main event would be on the Sunday when we would organise one of our all-afternoon lunches for ex-university colleagues and their partners. All are great cooks and willing to reciprocate with generous contributions.
The lunch was gradually planned and organised in the weeks before. For the main course we decided to do my take on ‘coq-au-vin’. The recipe suits the style of cooking we generally need to do at the cottage: due to limited time, we don’t want to fill the fridge with ingredients we won’t use, nor spend hours cooking and cleaning up, but at the same time we want the results to be pretty good. My sister Pat had organised for two of her sons to supply us with vegies from their gardens to go with the chicken and we would drive down to Hillwood on the Sunday morning to pick those up. Denis and Helen would bring a salad or similar as a first course; Heinz and Irma would bring one of their extraordinary desserts; Peter and Jen were in the throes of moving out of their large Rowella property and so would bring supplies of their wine.
Delay of our Saturday flight meant we had lost the two hours we had planned for shopping and then cooking the chicken. On landing we only had time to purchase wine for the lunch, then head straight to a school reunion in Launceston. Our shopping was done before the supermarkets closed at 10.00 pm. Twenty minutes later at Windermere, we unpacked and stocked the cottage fridge but we jettisoned any thought of food preparation.
A wallaby joins us for breakfast
Up early to a glorious sunny morning and a sparkling river, we managed to get things under way. Rhonda drove the two kilometres back to the Windermere Cafe and Store. It was well and truly closed when we went past last night. We have an arrangement whereby people staying at the cottage stop at the shop on their way in. Kerrie puts together a hamper of provisions for them, enough for a decent first-day breakfast and maybe some of her homemade cakes.
Breakfast on the deck consisted of a ‘Boyle’ egg each (more on that in a future blog – you might never cook an egg any other way again) and Mum’s very easy fried tomatoes.
For the tomato recipe, click here: Breakfast Tomatoes.
The wallaby hopped right into the middle of the lawn, totally oblivious of us! Our gardener, Warwick, had told us he had managed to chase a wallaby out a few weeks earlier and so its appearance was a surprise. No time to shoo this one out – maybe tonight or tomorrow!
Vegies and a remarkable cheese to collect
By 9.30 the chicken was in the oven, on ‘low’. Into the car for the ten minute drive to Hillwood, on the Tamar in the direction of Bass Strait. Even though George and Olive passed away some time ago, my builder nephews, Steve and Todd, remember them well and both have developed George’s passion for growing fruit and vegetables. We needed to be back at Windermere by no later than 11.30.
Entering Hillwood we drove past the iconic Hillwood Berry Farm – a place we have visited for what seems like umpteen years; well they have been operating for 50 years. But we would aim to visit later as we had no need today for freshly picked strawberries or any other berries – not with Irma’s dessert on the way.
Soon after, making our way through his manicured lawns and masses of roses looking down to the Tamar, we found my nephew Steve in his vegie garden picking broad beans for us. George insisted that broad beans, peas and corn had to picked and eaten as soon as possible, preferably within the hour. Steve had several garden plots, all well-fenced to keep out wallabies, among other animals. Tomatoes were already forming in his new glasshouse. He uprooted several large white turnips for us, saying they would be deliciously tender. We also left with a large handful of fresh silver beet leaves. His parents, Pat (my sister) and Kevin (my brother-in-law) have a house just two hundred metres away among the eucalypts but we would have to catch up with them a few days later.
Kevin and his family have operated Miller’s Orchard since the end of World War II. It is one of the largest apple producers in Tasmania, and one of just a handful remaining on the Tamar, where formerly there were many dozens of orchards. They now also grow cherries that are exported to South Korea and Japan to be sold at amazing prices. For years they have run a fruit and vegetable stall from the corner of the main packing shed. We stopped there to buy two dozen small pink eyes (my parents’ favourite potato), and some locally made pickled onions, coconut ice and praline. We could have bought ten different varieties of apples and numerous other things but they would have gone to waste.
And then we had to make a stop to pick up some aged cheese – we just happen to know someone who, over 25 years ago, acquired a significant supply of Hillwood made cheddar. They still have a small amount in storage that is still eating well and which they were sure our lunch guests would enjoy.
Crossing the highway, then into a side road, we drove up to Todd’s place, passing one of the family’s orchards of verdant apple trees. His house is on a hill looking back to Hillwood proper. Most of his garden was fenced or netted too. Todd showed us his canes of loganberries and raspberries and the blueberry bushes, all massed with fruit soon to ripen. We walked around the mini-orchard which included a green gauge and a golden drop plum. Then into the vegie patch. His broccoli had gone to seed, but Todd had saved the green ‘broccolini’ shoots from the stems for us which he knew would be perfect, so we picked several large handfuls. With those we had enough vegetables for lunch.
With a promise of a catch-up Thai dinner in the next few days, we headed back to the cottage. It was 11.30 and we had heaps to do still.
(Continued in: An Afternoon Feast)