As a child, Julie Weatherhead learned to appreciate the richness and diversity of Australia’s native plants from what grew on her family farm at Tynong North. Following our feature on Bruce Pascoe in our edition on food and agriculture (Issue 2, Autumn 2017) Julie approached us with her work to continue the dialogue about native harvesting — and we gladly accepted…
Just over 30 years ago Julie and her husband, Anthony Hooper, had the opportunity to return and buy back a little piece of the family farm turning it into the enterprise known as Peppermint Ridge Farm. Peppermint Ridge Farm has been the testing ground for growing more than 60 species of native plants collected from around Australia. In an effort to share their knowledge and inspire people to grow more natives, Julie and her husband provide guided tours, education programs, food tastings from their Schoolhouse Café and a B&B experience, all from their farm.
To inspire people further they recently published a beautifully presented book called: Australian Native Food Harvest: a Guide for the Passionate Cook and Gardener. This fascinating and useful book shares their experiences and knowledge of growing and cooking with Australian native foods. It provides gardeners, cooks and students with botanical and culinary information on 20 easy to grow native food plants.
One of the things that stands out when reading through this book is the potential just waiting to be tapped into within our own backyard. Anthony Hooper, in his fascinating chapter “Our Native Cornucopia – A Story Of Lost Opportunities”, explains that while in the 1890s over 1,600 varieties of plants (212 being food plants) were identified as having commercial potential, almost none of them have been taken up for development in Australia. In fact, one of the greatest native food success stories, the Macadamia nut, was first cultivated for commercial production in Hawaii and later California. While the Macadamia nut was beginning to take off in the 1920-30s overseas, Australia didn’t take growing Macadamias seriously until the 1960s.
There is, however, plenty in this book to encourage us to take our native food plants seriously. Australian Native Food Harvest is packed full of useful information and stories to inspire us. Beginning with the Botanical Information, Julie mentions that only the plants that were easy to grow and had good flavour were selected for inclusion in this book. Julie then goes on to discuss how to grow and take care of each plant. This includes covering propagation, harvesting and the health benefits of each food.
The next section covers Garden Design. This is looking at the different ways we can use Australian native food plants and permaculture principles to create our own native food forest or include them in an existing garden.
The last section covers 68 pages of recipes. From starters and mains to sauces and dessert. Julie says that these recipes are some of their favourites. They are designed to be easy to prepare and demonstrate how Australian native foods can be included in our everyday cooking.
What Julie and Anthony have done with Peppermint Ridge Farm and the Australian Native Food Harvest, is provide us all with a new way to see something familiar. They have planted the seeds for tomorrow’s success stories, starting with our own backyards.
Australian Native Food Harvest was the national winner of the 2017 World Gourmand Cookbook Award for Food Heritage and was shortlisted for the international award.