Kitchen Garden Guides

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What do pepper, lemon and mocha have in common? They are the flavours of Australian spices!

Most of us have ancestors from other lands and, no matter how Australian we ourselves are, most of what we eat originated also from elsewhere on the planet. There are several reasons for this; one being that Australian native plants, on the whole, are notoriously difficult to propagate, from seeds, cuttings or any darn part of them. Another reason is that, when our ancestors came here, they did not know what was edible and instead brought seeds, cuttings and whole trees with them to plant in their new land and we have continued with that tradition.

For an embarrassingly long time no-one consulted the aboriginal people! Even now, with a coin from 1792 that I found in my garden pointing to over 200 years of white history here, I seem to be trail-blazing with my recent introduction of some native spices to the range of spices I sell at the Cygnet market.

It is also interesting that, although practically everyone here knows of the Mountain Pepperberry (Tasmannia Lanceolata), which grows prolifically in the forests all over Tasmania, most Australians have never used it. Moreover, the plants are sold at many Tasmanian markets, making it one of the easiest natives to propagate and, even so, they are not used daily by most Tasmanians. The flavour is hot pepper, with a dash of eucalyptus and a background of a deeper aroma. For everything there is to know about this plant watch this video:

You can see in that video that Diemen Pepper are very professional and sell a wonderful product. However, I am simply selling the pepperberries picked from home grown bushes and dried without any fans or inputs of any sort. I met a local woman at the market who has several bushes and I bought the dried berries from her. When hers run out, I will be getting them from Rudy, who grows them in northern Tasmania….. that sweet bloke who sent me enough samples to last me for years, for my personal use. His are also dried without any aids. Because pepperberries are a bit bigger than a regular peppercorn, they mostly will not grind happily in a regular grinder, so Rudy also sells them cracked (not ground) and this allows them to go through any grinder. I am not selling the leaf yet.

Next is Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia Citriodora); an exquisite and incomparable spice sensation, something like intense lemon grass mixed with lime zest. It is native to the subtropics of Australia but will grow even here in Tasmania, although the flavour is less intense. I am buying the ground leaves from Warren at Tumbeela, in the Adelaide Hills, where The Hills and Plains Seedsavers visited when I was there a few years ago and Warren was just starting out. The leaves keep their brilliant green even when ground and do not lose their colour into the foods you cook them with. A pinch of lemon myrtle in rice is beautiful, but a pinch steeped in cream for a few hours and served with chocolate wattleseed mousse, is unbelievable! (Recipe soon to be uploaded here)

The aroma of lemon myrtle is so intense that it has to be kept in an airtight container ALONE! However, if you want to have a fresh, lemon aroma wafting through your house, this is your answer!

Lastly, wattleseed, roasted and lightly ground. Not all acacias have edible or flavoursome seeds but Acacia Victoriae certainly has. It is rich coffee mixed with hazelnut and chocolate. The aboriginal people of mainland Australia certainly had a wonderful treat with this spice and, if they had enough, they’d grind it to a flour. Here in Tasmania, wattleseed ice cream is THE most favourite, according to a friend of mine who has a stall selling her home made ice creams at Salamanca market in Hobart. I recently made some fabulous chocolate wattleseed biscuits. I am also getting the wattleseed from Tumbeela.

Slowly I will add to my range of Australian spices. They are unique, amazing, versatile and should fit easily into our cooking, once we give them a chance. Please do tell me your favourite so I can introduce it to people who live at the very bottom of the world!


africanaussie said...

You just reminded me how much much I want to grow a lemon myrtle. I always thought I couldn't do it, but I have heard you can grow it in a pot and keep it trimmed. I grow ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal and there is nothing better than picking these out of the garden and then crushing them with my mortar and pestle. By the way did you ever harvest your galangal, or is it wintering over in your greenhouse?

Emma said...

I haven't grown it myself yet, but I have seen round leaf mint, Prostanthera rotundiafolia, growing in Cornwall and it looks like a lovely plant :)

farmer_liz said...

I was wondering the same recently, from a permaculture context, surely I should be growing the native edible plants from my area, as they should do better (or as well) compared to the imported veges, but I don't even know how to find out what to grow. And if they are hard to propagate, I might have trouble with them anyway! You've got me thinking though, its time to find out what is available in my area. And I know people grow lemon myrtle here, yum, my mother in law has a tree and I've tried lots of leaves for tea, so that would be a good place for me to start!