I’ve been heading along to the Southside Farmers Markets collecting tasty treats and stories from stall holders along the way. One of my favourite people to meet at the market was the beautiful Dianne from Wyld Palate – who was just so passionate about what she does. I love hearing about people’s food journey and why they love local produce, so I thought that I would share some of these stories with you here on the blog. Come by each Sunday to hear a new story about a local Canberra foodie.
What is your food story
I was born on the Murray River (NSW side) and lived my younger years there. Typically, we had a large veggie patch which I maintained from a young age. There was also a wonderful orchard of fruit trees, in particular stone fruits. How I would love to have the same today! My mother went to work when I was about 13 and I took over the family evening meals. Making preserves was a natural part of country living. Even now, when autumn approaches and the evenings cool and darken early, I am reminded of being dropped off by the school bus at the front gate and getting home to a cold house with my siblings. The first task was to light the wood stove and prepare the evening meal. I can remember using an axe to chop the lamb cutlets off the bone. How things have changed, but my love for growing things and making preserves has remained constant. Starting my own label gives me a fortunate excuse to indulge in this passion. I make each batch of preserves as if they were destined to be eaten by my own family.
Why are you passionate about Canberra’s local produce?
In one word, proximity to me and my table. I like the idea of food miles. While I know it is impossible to gather all my edible needs locally, I do what I can. I like to experiment growing my own things, not so much vegetables because in season they are reasonable prices.
I have a bit of a bent towards self-sufficiency. While I do not have the space or time to be self-sufficient I do play with the concept. I try and create ecological niches (bunching them together against walls etc) in which to grow unusual plants. I have grown from small tubes 3 Davidson Plums which are now bearing fruit. I have done the same with lillipillis from seed and strawberry guavas. While out of the question I would love to grow my own subtropical plants, such as sugar cane and star anise and cinnamon.
Why is it important that we understand where our food comes from?
To me place of origin equates with freshness and goodness. If it had to travel that far, then the chances of it being picked yesterday is very small. To me the fresher a food the tastier it is.
Many years ago I fell in love with the Southwest of the United States and have grown and stone-milled my own blue corn since then. When I mill and cook the blue corn it’s unique aroma fills the kitchen and brings joy. While there are imported blue corn flours available now, it is not the same sensual cooking experience. I put this down to the time lag between milling and cooking, which is why I only sell a small quantity of blue corn flour at the market each week.
Where a food comes from also gives an insight into how sustainable a product might be and if it was produced ethically. For example, at the moment coconut everything is the fad and I was reading recently that very often it is child labour climbing the trees. Coconut palm sugar is produced from the flower which means the productivity of the coconut tree is lost for that year.
What differentiates your produce from those found in the supermarket?
FRESHNESS – I have mentioned that above.
TASTE – the supermarkets jams are generally over sweet — cloying. They are often sort of gluey, dissatisfying as if you know you should be tasting apricots, and there appears to be fruit but where is the apricot taste.
DIFFERENCE – as The Maters Foods advertisements states, I can create. I grow or source foods that supermarkets either can’t or it’s just not economical for them to stock. I source my products from farmers, I forage and I grow my own products. I often cook from inspiration, tasting as I go I will add something unusual. I added chilli to my cumquat marmalade on a whim. I could do this because I was cooking a small batch and could experiment. Big supermarket chains can’t afford to experiment. They have to cater for the mass buyers. I can cook for discerning buyers.
Another example is my pink sparkling and Australian native finger lime jelly. I love the little caviar-like balls of finger limes and had to grow some. My small tube purchases are now large plants, and produce a good quantity of limes. When I started my business I wanted to share the finger limes, but what to make from them. I wanted something that would showcase the limes. I had used finger limes on oysters and in a eureka moment I thought champagne, grey oysters and pink, lovely colour and taste combinations and so pink sparkling and native lime jelly came into being.
LOVE – all my products are cooked by me. I cut up, stir and jar. It is labour intensive. I do this with a lot of love. I get great enjoyment out of cooking and sharing food. I know it sounds immodest and corny but I cook with love. I cannot cook my jams if I am not in the right mood – it never works. The funny thing is I do not like marmalades, but I love making them. Making marmalade is a time honoured tradition and there is a satisfaction, when an elderly gentlemen returns for another jar of Seville Marmalade. You have made it just as he remembers. The supermarkets in their push to provide quantity have lost the quality and marmalades announce the deficit in price versus taste, as do other jams.
Have you tried anything from Wlyd Palate? Is there a local Canberra food story that you would like me to cover? If you would like to share your local food story I would love for you to get in contact with me!