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Food Fusion in South Australia

The fusion of different food cultures in South Australia reflects the diversity of its land. In the South, dense pine forests and green pastures cover the land that is used to grow beef cattle and prime lamb, whilst its cold, clean southern waters provide delicious lobster and scallops. Grazing gives way then to the lush vineyards growing on the Terra Rosa soil of the Coonawarra, and cropping lands of the upper south east with their majestic red gums. The mighty River Murray turns red desert sand into a lush market garden and orchard as it wends its way from our northern border, to the sea on the south coast at Goolwa. Along its length are orchards and market gardens growing citrus, grapes, stone fruits, melons, tomatoes and a cornucopia of vegetables crops for local, interstate and international markets. World class wines grow in the slightly cooler climate of the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, whilst the west coast has a wealth of seafood such as whiting, oysters and tuna. vale.jpg

The food culture brought to South Australia by English immigrants.

English immigrants first settled in South Australia in 1836, in ships such as ?HMS Buffalo?, a replica of which is to be seen at Holdfast Bay. These folk established themselves on the Adelaide Plains, some gradually taking up agricultural land in the Adelaide Hills. In 1839 persecuted Lutheran immigrants from Prussia arrived, looking to establish their community in a free land. My own forebears arrived on the ?Isabella Watson? in 1846. These people brought with them traditional English recipes many of which appear in my own grandmother?s handwritten recipe book, such as Stewed Chops, Potato Dumplings and Brown Pudding. They were all simple recipes, not requiring complicated ingredients, and not costing much money, a style of cookery that reflected the modest means of the time. Among the English immigrants were sheep graziers providing prime lamb, others farmed beef cattle and still others became the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of newly established towns.

In the 21st century, our cuisine is a fusion of English, German, Italian, Greek and Asian, with some French thrown in for good measure. These varied food cultures make good use of the natural resources of South Australia, and ensure that a veritable feast awaits visitors to our region.

Had I been asked in 1950 to give a typical Australian menu I should probably have said: Vegetable soup, an entr饠of Seafood Cocktail, Roast lamb, roast potatoes, carrots and peas as main course, followed by Bread and butter pudding?

Today the most wonderfully fresh food is enjoyed widely, without a sting in the hip pocket, and can be washed down with an amazing variety of world class locally produced wines. A typical menu at ?The Limeburners Restaurant? at McLaren Vale might read like this : Turkey liver and Mountain Pepper pate, braised Chicken breast with red wine and Muntrie glaze, sweet potato chips and fresh garden salad followed by Lemon Myrtle curd tart and Kangaroo Island clotted cream, with a glass of excellent mellow shiraz or a crisp fruity chardonnay. The wine will most probably have been produced from the vineyards surrounding the town, the reds having mellowed in the autumn sun, and the whites exhibiting the crisp fruity style of the vale, such as D?arenberg?s The Olive Grove Chardonnay.
Italian food culture

Italian cooks, using to great advantage locally grown and wonderfully juicy tomatoes, local pasta and fresh herbs, lamb and olive oil, have introduced many of their traditional dishes to the region, to which, by reason of the climate they are eminently suitable. Italian immigrants have seduced us in to their way of preparing food, as well as their way of producing it. Many of the state?s successful winemakers and olive oil producers are second generation Italian/Australians. South Australia has a Mediterranean climate, and therefore many of the same crops that grow in Greece, Spain, France and Italy grow superbly here, including that damned olive. Someone planted a few olive trees – probably an Italian or Greek immigrant longing to have the taste of home, and soon we had innocent little Australian bush birds eating the fruit, and pushing the seeds out the other end to plant them in other regions. Through the Adelaide Hills we have many self sown, or should I say bird sown, Olive trees from which some pressing plants produce what they label Ferral Olive Oil. It is a sought after oil, being a full flavoured and peppery golden drop.
Greek food culture

The Greek influence has made good use of beautifully fresh seafood, farmed and caught in the clean waters surrounding the South Australian coastline. At Port MacDonnell, Robe and Kingston there are thriving lobster fisheries. Port Lincoln is the home of Bluefin Tuna fishing, Port Adelaide is home port to a fleet of prawn, whiting and deep sea fishing boats, and the West Coast is home to a flourishing Oyster and Abalone fishery. Michael Angelakis of Angelakis Brothers in Adelaide says this about the early days in South Australia. “It was very tough,” says Michael. “A lot of families went to Thevenard on the West Coast because migrants had already established a fishing village there and you could speak your native language. “But this meant that their cultures were kept alive, too. And the best way to learn another culture is through food.”

German food culture

German immigrants settled both at Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, and in the Barossa Valley, settling in a lovely little corner called Bethany, and Gnadenfrei (meaning ‘freed by the grace of god’). Bringing with them their traditional industries and agricultural pursuits, as well as vine canes, they planted the first grape vines in the region, never knowing just how widespread the wine industry would become in their new land. German communities also had their own food producers such as traditional German bakers, German butchers with wonderful spicy metwurst, and pickle makers, finding the perfect ingredients here to continue the practice of their traditional crafts. What a treat it is to walk into one of these bakeries and inhale the yeasty aroma, to see the golden crusty loaves and delicious German cakes such as Bienenstich, a yeast cake, cream filled and topped with a sweet honey-nut layer.

Asian food culture

Asian cooks have brought to South Australians an amazing array of locally grown Asian vegetables and cooked dishes. What a proliferation of Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants since the 1950s. An amazing creator of Asian dishes of international renown is Cheong Liew, of the Grange Restaurant at the Adelaide Hilton. Cheong is renowned for his astounding ability to perform the marriage of Asian food and local ingredients, especially featuring Australian native ingredients which provide their own unique flavours.

The oldest food culture ? indigenous

For centuries the indigenous people of this country have used the fruits and plants growing widely on the land. It may have taken a long time but it is satisfying to realise that Indigenous foods are becoming more widely known and available, being grown very successfully by a group of visionary farmers in South Australia, and enabling the creation of dishes such as; Calamari seasoned with lemon myrtle, Lemon myrtle linguine tossed with local scallops and prawns, Native spinach fettuccine with Springs Smoked Salmon with creamy sun-dried tomato and macadamia sauce, Kangaroo fillet crusted with Mountain Pepper and served with a pepper berry dressing and fresh leaf salad.
In Oz we have a little freshwater crustacean that lurks on the bottom of streams, lakes and in farm dams, they are called Yabbies. Another term : freshwater prawns. They are absolutely delicious, and can be used in Yabbie Chowder, Yabbie Pate, or Yabbie Stir Fry with Asian vegetables. An enterprising lady at Inman Valley, looking to diversify on a dairy farm tried farming yabbies in her farm dams, and found that a successful enterprise could was established by buying yabbies from all over Australia and marketing them under the brand Galloway Yabbie Farm. Yabbies have been enjoyed by indigenous Australians for centuries. Now the rest of the world is waking up to their secret delights. Their delicate, sweet flavour and firm texture has won lavish praise from connoisseurs the world over.

Gone are the days when a lamb chop and three vegetables were standard fare in this community. Imaginative marketing presents the cook with many options such as marinated meats, fresh pasta and ready prepared vegetables. There is certainly no excuse for boring or unattractive food with the range raw products on offer in South Australia.

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