Monday, October 15, 2012

Focus on Australia: Bush Tucker


In a recent adventure program called Ray Mears' Walkabout from the BBC, which you may be familiar with, the host, Ray Mears, talked extensively about the survival foods, not sure what else you could call them, of the early settlers of Australia and the original Aboriginal inhabitants.

Bush tucker (pronounced "tucka" if trying your best Aussi accent) is any of the staple foods or dishes that would have been consumed routinely in the outback in the early days of Australia, and before. Using only very basic staples such as flour, sugar and salt the food focus of these hearty people was primarily on bread and tea. A bland diet to be sure unless meat was also on the menu. None the less, bush tucker, in it's simplest form, kept many people alive in the brutal conditions of the Australian outback.

                             Making damper in the bush

The bread made is called damper or bush bread if you are Aboriginal, and the tea most often consumed, Billy tea, made from the leaves of indigenous trees, typically was the staple survival diet of those explorers, settlers and Aborigines who truly invented them.

Bush bread, a simple flour and water bread, was cooked in the hot ashes of a campfire. Once cooked, the ashes would be have to be tapped off the bread. None-the-less, you would surely consume some of the ashes. And Billy tea, according to Aussies, has a real cultural component to it beyond the simple tradition of tea. Read more here on the art of Billy Tea.

In any event, these foods are the stuff of legend and survival. Entertain the kids and make it a truly cultural experience. Next time you are camping, make a batch of damper. Or fire up a DVD on Australia and enjoy a little bush bread and billy tea, wherever you are. Here are the basics for making your own  bush bread or damper.

Ingredients: - 5 cups flour (white or whole wheat or a combination of any kind of flour)
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup milk powder
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. fat (butter, margarine, shortening, bacon grease)
-place the dough in a greased and floured dutch oven
-place the dutch oven under the coals and hot ashes of your campfire (or place dough directly under the ashes without using a dutch oven! )
- bake about thirty minutes
- to know if it is done, tap on the sides with a knife. It should sound hollow
- serve with great amounts of butter and jam and a cup of your best Billy Tea!

More to come about other bush tucker in future installments.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Have you asked your grocer about these foods?

I have the good fortune of having a fabulous and low cost fresh fruit and vegetable market near my home once a week. Every Saturday morning, I do my best to get there by about 8am, before the crowds really hit. As I walked through a few weeks ago, I realized that supermarket shopping that I was so used to, often neutralizes food for us. It sanitizes the real plant, cutting it just so, removing leaves and flowers and roots, to make a carrot look dead or a cabbage like a bowling ball. When they do this, we miss so much! We miss not only in seeing the full plant as it was actually grown, picked or cut, but we also, frankly, get ripped off! And in these economic times, we should be making use of every delicious part of our fruits and vegetables as we can!

In purchasing my produce a little more rustic, I have been enjoying a few items that perhaps you can rediscover. These are true PovertyFood specialties and depending on where you are from you may already be familiar with them. Here are a few examples of what your grocery store should be providing. If they are not, ask the manager if they clean and prepare the produce in house. If so, take advantage of these fabulous foods that they will probably just give you for FREE!

Zucchini Blossoms: At my market they don't sell the simple zucchini. They sell it with the zucchini blossom still attached! This is amazing to me considering the zucchini blossom has become something of a delicacy that can be battered and fried as with a good Japanese tempura  or eaten raw in salads and other dishes.  HINT: Most squashes have edible flowers. If you are growing them, absolutely try the blossoms!

Turnip greens: If you are from the Southern part of the United States, such things as turnip greens, mustard greens, etc will be an old familiar favorite!  I have recently discovered their versatility and their flavor. Turnip greens are delicious. This is PovertyFood for sure! Indeed, greens were one of the major food stuffs of the poorest of the poor in the United States, including slaves, for generations. Today, they are a standard part of Southern cooking. I ask the turnip seller at my market for an additional bag of greens that most people here discard and he gladly gives them to me for free. I cook them within 24 hours or so, as they can wilt relatively quickly. Just boil in salted water until cooked, drain and add shallots or onions that have been cooked in butter, heavy cream or cream cheese and even a few dashes of hot sauce! Delicious!

Radish leaves: Another "green" that I have discovered the savor of here in France! And in France and Belgium, radish greens make a traditional soup, "Veloute des fanes de radis", or Pureed radish greens soup.   Here is the basic recipe:

Simply wash the radish leaves well and saute in butter in a large soup pot. Add 2 cut potatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to boil. When potatoes cooked, remove from heat and add salt and a little grated nutmeg and one egg yolk. Puree the mixture and serve with a little heavy cream or creme fraiche! Delicious  and peppery! I guaranty it!

Send me your ideas of foods that you have rediscovered and I will feature it here on PovertyFood!