Herman The German Friendship Cake

Hello my name is Herman, read the opening line of a letter I received. The letter was accompanied by an ice-cream container holding a bubbling yeasty batter.  This strange gift came from a friend of my father-in-law. I was so intrigued. It appeared to  be the culinary equivalent of a chain letter with a sourdough starter in tow.

I looked at the bowl of unsightly fermenting dough, read through the letter containing the instructions and curiosity got the better of me.

The letter read:

” Hello my name is Herman. I am a sourdough cake. I’m supposed to sit on your bench for 10 days without a lid on. But you can cover me with a tea-towel. You CANNOT put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling I am dead.

Day 1: Put me in a large mixing bowl and cover with a tea-towel.

Herman-1
Day 2 – 3: Stir Well
Day 4: Herman is hungry. Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well

Herman-4
Day 5 – 8: Stir well each day.

Herman-5
Day 9: Add the same as Day 4 and stir well. Divide into 4 equal portions and give away to friends with a copy of these instructions. Keep fourth portion and make more of me.

Day 10: Now you are ready to make the cake. Stir well and add the following:-

1 cup sugar, 2 cups plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2/3 cup cooking oil, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, 2 cooking apples (cut into chunks), 1 cup of raisins, 2 heaped teaspoons of cinnamon, 2 tsp bicarb or baking powder.

Herman-6

Herman-7

You can add any dried fruits or essences (lemon, blueberry and coconut make a nice cake)
To bake: Place all ingredients together, mix then place in a large greased baking dish, using a 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of melted butter. Bake 45 mins at 160 degrees. Test middle with a clean knife. You need to cover in foil and bake for further 20 mins, make sure its cooked in the middle. When baked Herman can be frozen.

Herman-8

Herman-10

Herman-12

I have to admit that for those ten days, Herman owned me. I had to keep him alive, even just for experiment sake.  Every day I nurtured him the anticipation grew.  Herman has been baked and passed on into the world yet again, multiplying each time. He truly was delicious, heart warming and rich with intrigue and story. Just my kind of thing.

You can start your own Herman starter, follow the link here for instructions.

Or you never know, he may just turn up in your life randomly, like he did to me.

Nicklup Orchard

        Nicklup-Orchard-1

Yesterday we visited Nicklup Orchard to buy local stone fruit. We are on holidays again in Albany, the beautiful coastal town in the south west corner of Western Australia. Nicklup Orchard is located along Moonlight Road,  Lower Kalgan in Albany.  Turn down East Bank Road at the eastern end of the Lower Kalgan bridge, follow this for just under 2km before turning right onto Moonlight Road. The orchard is clearly signed and for a while the road meanders alongside the Kalgan River.  Nicklup Orchard has a small rustic farm shop situated on the family orchard that grows stonefruit, apples, pears and quinces.  The orchard shop is only open in the warmer months, closing in April each year.  During our visit, there was a number of varieties of peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums, macadamia nuts in shell, handmade jams and dried peach fruit leather. I love the old vintage cash register, artwork and the view of Lower Kalgan River and Oyster Harbour from the orchard car park. It is a fun outing for small children too as you can wander down to the chook yard, watch the speckled hens and roosters or have a peek into the orchard itself. The stone fruit was a flat $5.50/kg for all fruit. This is an easy way to try different heirloom varieties as you can mix stone fruit in the one bag for weighing.  The love for growing and preserving heritage stone fruit is evident and the owner was happy to share knowledge about the fruit – for example the Tatura Clingstone peach is crisp and firm whereas the Loring Freestone Peach is soft, juicy and sweet. Definetely worth a stop over if you are in the area but bring cash as there is no EFTPOS facilites.

Nicklup-Orchard-2Nicklup-Orchard-6Nicklup-Orchard-9Nicklup-Orchard-10Nicklup-Orchard-8Nicklup-Orchard-3Nicklup-Orchard-7Nicklup-Orchard-2Nicklup-Orchard-4Nicklup-Orchard-5

Blackberry foraging in The Summit

Foraging for wild grown food is frugal and nutritious. Since the start of summer I had been watching the various blackberry patches growing along the train tracks and road sides up here in the Granite Belt. I had romantic notions of me skipping along filling up buckets and my mouth.  As a child I used to pick blackberries in Albany, WA.

I love summer berries but even when in season, a punnet can be expensive.  The prospect of filling a whole bucket of blackberries for free is awesome.  I watched the patches eagerly for weeks. Finally a few days before the end of summer, the number of berries turning from red to black was at an all time high. It was harvest time.

Originally I planned to wander a 1-2 kilometre stretch of barely used railway track that runs parallel to Granite Belt Drive, in The Summit. This path was dripping with berries and fairly accessible.  Even though I had not seen any active spraying in the area, I had a few concerns about weed control spraying. It is easy to spot signs of weed kill after a few weeks but not easy to detect recent spraying. Blackberries after all are considered a prolific weed in Australia.  Eating recent sprayed berries (even after washing) is not advisable and particularly so for me being 7 months pregnant with the twins at the time.  Lucky for me, I found a spray free berry patch on private property behind our studio shop.  If you are looking to pick on public property,  contact your local council for spraying information.

EquipmentArmed with basic equipment, I told myself I would be cautious and stick to the edges. Despite my husbands disapproval, I wore a dress and thongs. I did bring gloves, but quickly abandoned these in favour of bare hands. You need to be able to feel the softness of the berry to ascertain ripeness and this is hard to gauge with gloves. I started smugly, with a sense of propriety, managing to avoid scratches, falls and stains. That lasted all of 5 minutes, before the lure of the big berries deep in the patch got too strong. I was balancing on bits of half buried wood, stomping through long grass, getting rips and scratches and pink stained hands but it was so satisfying seeing my bowl quickly fill up.

Blackberry-picking

Brambles

Blackberry-pickings-in-progress

A few blackberry picking tips:-

  1. Pick as long as can from the one spot. Try looking from different angles. You will be surprised how much you can pick if you stop to look properly, checking under leaves and down low.
  2. Only pick ripe berries. Unripe red berries will not ripen once picked.
  3. Blackberries are easily squashed. If you plan on picking more than a few cups, bring different trays. Berries on the bottom of a large bucket will get bruised and squashed.
  4. Do not wash the berries until you are ready to use them or freeze them.
  5. Refrigerate after picking and freeze any surplus for later use.

VistaAfter about 1 hour,  I had a bowl full ( 2 – 3 cups worth). If I was feeling more adventurous, more could be picked. I was happy with the mornings effort.  My husband and I washed a few handfuls and ate them fresh and I saved the rest to make a pie.

Blackberry-up-close

Blackberry-PlateWhen I got home I realised we didn’t have a pie tin.  I made mini pies instead using a muffin tray. Earlier in the week I found an old 1970’s Margaret Fulton recipe book in an Op-shop. I used to pour over this same book as a child and the dessert pages were thoroughly stained with cake mixture.  Purely for nostalgic reasons,  I used the Margaret Fulton Lattice Apple Pie pastry recipe. I made the blackberry filling by boiling the blackberries with a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves. As usual I did not follow any recipe but let the berry mix simmer down like jam for half an hour.  I rolled out the chilled pastry, filled up each pie with filling and baked for 30 minutes.

Thick buttery pastry with  rich full blackberry flavour – country home cooking at it’s best.

We enjoyed these pies for  morning tea the next day.

Cook-book

Home-made-mini-Blackberry-pie

Late summer coming into the start of autumn is the best time for blackberry picking in the Granite Belt.  You can’t miss the berry patches as you drive around the country lanes. I am looking forward to next season already!

Blackberry-tea-towel

Blue sky, mussels & ocean

Middleton beach boardwalk, Albany, Western Australia

Middleton beach boardwalk, Albany, Western Australia

April this year was spent hanging out in Albany, the town of my childhood.  I grew up in this beautiful place, nestled on the wild and wooly south west coast of Western Australia.  Albany is classified a city. It is about 400km south of Perth. It is a major regional centre and visitor hub but has managed to avoid taking the tacky tourist path and has mostly kept it’s sweet fisherman town vibe. My husband and I stayed right in town along the historic terraces that face out to Princess Royal Harbour.

The south west corner is full of wonderful memories and dearly treasured friends. It is also full of succulent seafood, local produce and wine. The air is fresh and salty. The harbour reflects the different colours and moods of the Albany sky. I love it.  The ocean is a huge part of this town. You can smell it in the air and riddled along the coastline are so many secluded bays, beaches and coves to explore. I spent my childhood rock hopping, sailing, fishing, swimming and exploring.

Princess Royal Drive, Albany, Western Australia

Princess Royal Drive, Albany, Western Australia

Winters can be a bit long, wet and cold. The wind blows in straight off the Antarctic ocean and can rip through you. On days like these you are better off inside, curled up with a book in front of a roaring fire.

During our stay it was mostly grey days with the occasional glorious day of sunshine where the ocean sparkles.

It is different over here, rugged and beautiful. Hardy dune plants and huge granite boulders decorate the isolated coastline. You should visit this corner of the world at least once.

Sandpatch

My parents live out of town on a private rural property. Mum has a flourishing garden with some produce and loads of basil.

Fresh-parsley

Basil-bees

Country-cottage

I was busy or out of town each Saturday when the Albany Farmer’s Markets were on.  These markets have been gathering fame for years and for good reason. It is a brilliant, genuine farmer’s market and should be on your itinerary. I have visited these markets many times before on earlier visits.

Since my last visit (in 2009), a new market has opened up called the Albany Boatshed Market. It is held every Sunday at the boat shed on Princess Royal Drive. This was a hop, skip and a jump down the hill from us. It is a small market with a smattering of produce, craft and food.

Sunny-harbour-time

Market-Trading

Mariners-tale

Down-by-the-harbour

local-honey

Fresh-produce

Local-fresh-mussels

I bought a kilo of  blue mussels. The mussels are farmed in the intertidal waters of Oyster Harbour which comes off King George Sound in Albany.

store

Mussels are marine bivalves that need to be treated with culinary respect. Mussels are best cooked the day of purchase.

They will keep a few days in the fridge and should be kept in a colander, covered with a damp tea-towel. Mussels are cooked while still alive and should be disturbed as little as possible until cooking.  Clean them only when you are ready to cook.

Mussel shells should not be open prior to cooking. If any are open, tap the shell gently on the bench. If the mussel does not close up then this mussel should be discarded.

Mussels cook by steaming, not boiling. Be mindful of how much liquid you add. Mussels release water when cooking, enabling them to steam over heat, without the need to add liquid. I like to cook mine with a bit of white wine for flavour.

Clean mussels under running water, scrub gently and pull out the hairy beard with a few twist/tugs or cut with scissors. Mussels should have a pleasant fresh ocean smell not a strong fishy odour.

For my lovely bag full of fresh mussels, I wanted a dish with simple ingredients that allowed the mussels to be the star.

In olive oil – I fried up garlic, red chilli, red onion and diced tomato.

Add-thyme

Once the onion was soft, in went a cup of white wine.

Once boiling, I placed the mussels in a single layer in the pan then tossed in a handful of fresh parsley and thyme (from my mum’s garden of course).  The mussels will open once cooked. This takes about 3-4 minutes.

Mussels-1

Mussels-6

I served the mussels on a bed of spaghetti tossed with homemade basil pesto. The broth is divine and I spooned this over the dish.  I would have preferred to cook alfresco at the beach with our little camp cooker, but it was raining at the time. Instead we had 3/4  of a bottle of white wine left and a very cosy couch.

Pesto

Mussels-7

Mussel-shells

 King-George-Sound

I highly recommend a visit to Western Australia, particularly the south west corner. If you are up for an adventure, you can drive across from the Eastern States. It only took us 10 days and 5000km from our home in Stanthorpe, QLD.