THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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Recipe of the month
with Kirsten Bacon
The sun is well and truly out now and there are spring blossoms everywhere. However there is still a coolness in the air, making it perfect weather for a hearty bean stew. Over the last six months we have hosted a lovely young Brazilian boy. This has been delightful as we have learnt many different recipes which I’d love to share. One of our favourites was the famous staple food feijoada (brazilian black bean stew). There are plenty of versions, and some very elaborate ones using all different ingredients, but this is a simple version we liked. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and then has a slow cook in the oven or a slow cooker. It can be made vegetarian by leaving the meat out and adding whatever you desire. This one feeds about six people.
Brazilian black bean stew (feijoada). The perfect slow food…
2 cups black beans, dry, soaked overnight and drained (canned can be used as a quick alternative)
3 slices thick bacon chopped
2 red onion diced
2 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon cumin
1 ham hock
200g chopped tomatoes
• Sauté the bacon in a large frypan or a pan that can go in the oven (cast iron, Le Crueset style pans
• Remove the bacon once crisp.
• Add the diced onions and sauté over medium high heat until softened.
• Add the minced garlic and cumin and sauté until fragrant.
• Add the bay leaf and soaked, drained beans to the pan.
• Place the bacon and ham hock into the pan.
• Add the tomatoes and enough water to cover the beans and hock by about 3cm.
• Cover the pan and simmer until the beans are tender, roughly 1 hour, checking occasionally and adding water if necessary. Place in the oven for 2-3 hours until beans are tender and meat falls off the bone. I even leave it in a 100 degrees Celsius oven overnight. Using a slow cooker you will need a good 6-8 hours, so if you put it in in the morning it will be ready at night for dinner.
• In some versions of this dish, a few beans are removed from the pot once they are mostly cooked, and pureed in a food processor until smooth or just crushed with a wooden spoon. This bean paste is then added back to the pot of beans to thicken it and give it a bit more of a saucy feel.
Serving instructions: Serve with steamed rice topped with roughly chopped coriander.
First, catch your flamingo!
No, no. Forget the flamingo. It’s only in Alice in Wonderland that croquet players wielded a flamingo. And apart from the awful spectre of calling down the RSPCA on your head for cruelty to animals, flamingos are a bit thin on the ground around here. During Seniors’ Week the Kingston Croquet Club – with nary a flamingo in sight – held some introductory sessions to the game, and I was lucky enough to attend one of these. First, we were introduced to the mallets that replace the long-necked birds, and given one that suited our height. Then we gathered on the grassy court, shepherding four differently coloured balls along with our mallets, and prepared to ‘run the hoops’. To ‘run a hoop’ means to hit the ball through a hoop; we all pretty quickly learned the terminology, and as no one in the group was totally ignorant of the general aim of the game we made pretty good progress, considering our lack of expertise. Our game is known as Golf Croquet, the simplest and quickest form of the game. It can be played at a basic, beginner’s level or with a bit more finesse and more refined rules for the more skilled – something we beginners could perhaps aspire to with practice and experience. Golf croquet is the easiest form for beginners to learn, and it’s played both socially and competitively up to international level. Association Croquet is the older and more complex form, and perhaps the more prestigious – challenging, intriguing and tactical, according to oxfordcroquet.com. For now, we were engrossed in entry-level golf croquet – simpler, quicker, but just as exciting, according to croquetvic.asn.au.
Why choose croquet?
At the after-game cuppa, one of the Kingston Club members told of how croquet helps keep her fit, at the same time as she’s enjoying a team sport where men and women compete on equal terms. Among the many health benefits from playing croquet, a game where you don’t need a high level of fitness, are that it’s an outdoor sport, good for combating stress and depression, and it’s a ‘fun way’ to get some physical exercise. With all golf croquet players on the court at the same time, it’s a social, friendly game that can be played at any age and anywhere – your backyard lawn can double as a croquet court. Croquet is also intellectually stimulating; the challenge of deciding where your next ball should be placed for best advantage,
and how to outsmart your opponent keeps you on your toes both mentally and physically. It’s hard to see how anyone could be totally hopeless at croquet – and that’s good for confidence and self-esteem – and there’s also a handicapping system to help the less able players along.
“A curious, ancient game”
In 1810, Joseph Strutt produced a book titled ‘The Sports of the People of England’. The origins of croquet are unclear, but Strutt’s book describes a French game that may be the forerunner of croquet. What is known is that the game came into England from Ireland, where contact with France had been regular since the Norman invasion. It may be a modern version of quaintly named games like pall-mall, trucco and kolven, or the more familiar golf or ground billiards, all of which can be traced to medieval times, even to antiquity. Croquet was first named as such in 1856 and, along with the rules, was listed in a document that is now historic. What’s not in dispute is that it became very popular in the 1860s and quickly spread to Britain’s colonies, including Australia. Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 when techniques and equipment for croquet would have been very familiar to his readers. However, the sport succumbed to the fickleness of its adherents in the 1870s when many, indeed most, croquet lawns of the time were transformed to accommodate a new craze – lawn tennis. So croquet has become a minority, or niche, sport and sometimes it takes a day in Seniors’ Week, such as the Kingston Club held, to bring it to the forefront of people’s minds.
Where and what
The Kingston Croquet Club welcomes new members. Their two courts are in Summerleas Road, and a phone call – 0402 091 840 and 0419 672 655 – or a visit will provide lots of information. There are plenty of mallets for casual users, free sessions for new players, and people to encourage and help you learn the rules of the game. Visit The Croquet Association’s British website, www.croquet.org.uk or the Australian site www.croquet-australia.com.au to find out more. And there are plenty of Youtube clips to help you learn both the basics and the intricacies of playing and enjoying croquet. If you would like to read about Alice’s adventure with a flamingo, a hedgehog and a pack of cards, visit www.alice-in-wonderland-net. There are some wonderful accompanying images online.
Capeweed: an un-pretty subject
Capeweed – Arctotheca calendula – is not a pretty weed to have in your garden or in your paddock. Don’t be taken in by the jolly yellow flowers. Just because it has bright flowers doesn’t mean it’s good for this environment – it doesn’t belong here. Capeweed is everywhere and can very quickly become a “pest plant” because of its amazing recruitment abilities. It is spread by seed, quickly grows then spreads over and smothers other plants. Capeweed is a difficult weed to get rid of. For many years it was known as “Pretty Capeweed” although the descriptor “pretty” has since been dropped. That’s a good thing. Pretty sounds benign and nice, whereas the reality of Capeweed is that it is anything but benign. It is confusing how we should think of Capeweed because there is so much conflicting information around. One thing is for sure – any plant that takes a hold of every spare bit of ground in only a season or two is surely a weed. Twelve years ago, maybe even five or three years ago, there wasn’t an obvious Capeweed presence in the valley – now the horrible “yellow feral peril” is everywhere, noticeably on roadside verges, in parks and gardens and in paddocks, continuing to spread. Here is part of the confusion – some literature, aimed at the rural audience, says: “Although stock will eat Capeweed, it is of lower nutritional value than many good pastures. Plants die off after flowering, decreasing the food supply available to stock and leaving bare patches that allow more invasive weeds to establish.” Other advice says: “Stock have died from nitrate poisoning after grazing on Capeweed growing on highly fertile soils. Milk from dairy cows feeding on the weed can have tainted milk. Horses and donkeys can have
allergic skin reactions to the pollen encountered as they graze on the plant.” What to believe? I have never seen animals grazing on it, although they must – the literature says so! Certainly birds, especially the Pink and Grey Galahs (also feral creatures in Tasmania, imported here from the mainland) relish the Capeweed seeds and may contribute to the distribution of this pernicious, pesky weed.
The status of Capeweed
Capeweed isn’t a declared weed, although it is in the “Weed Warning – Weeds of Southern Tasmania” brochure, my bible and constantly-referred-to source of information, especially useful for weed identification. Although Capeweed seems to be a constant source of worry to Tasmanians, because seedlings are inconspicuous many landholders do not realise that they have a problem until it begins to flower. Capeweed is native to South Africa. It may have come to Australia by accident, in fodder or seed, or it may have been deliberately introduced, as is often the case with the weeds that have invaded this country. When I was growing up in the Western Australian wheatbelt (over sixty years ago) Capeweed suddenly appeared and has stayed, to no-one’s pleasure or delight. Capeweed is distributed throughout Tasmania, particularly on light sandy soils, but it seems to be able to grow almost anywhere. The main problem is that it can outcompete most plants, spreading over and smothering other plants. A herbaceous annual, from the Asteraceae family, Capeweed is a low growing roseate of heavily lobed leaves, the undersides of which are covered with woolly down (which can have an irritant effect, causing some itching). Plants germinate in late autumn, flower in late spring/early summer and die off over the summer. Capeweed is an inconspicuous seedling but becomes very noticeable in late spring and early summer with its increase in size and the profusion of large yellow daisies. It is a successful recruiter: seeds are spread by birds and animals, and as a contaminant in soils on vehicles and machinery.
Capeweed is a troublesome, widespread weed in Tasmanian pastures, crops, home gardens and disturbed sites like building sites and roadsides. It’s a persistent weed.
Do not harbour it in your garden or paddock.
How to remove Capeweed?
Small infestations can be physically removed or treated with poisons. Get in touch with the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE.) dpipwe.tas.gov.gov.au/invasive-species/weeds. It is said that for feed, the best long-term way to manage capeweed is to establish a dense competitive pasture, which means keeping clovers in the pasture system. On a smaller scale, if you do choose to remove it by hand, don’t leave it on the soil. In smaller infestations, try putting it in a thick plastic bag, tie up and the leave it out of the way, or drown it in a black garbage bin, until the seeds are no longer viable. That could take forever. Capeweed is an invasive weed. Complain to our council about it. Whatever you do, don’t pass on the problem to someone else! We have enough weeds already.
Spring time fungi: taking the Morel high ground
The blue skies of spring herald the time for some leisurely walks through our local parks and forests. For fungi lovers, even with the drier weather, some rare and exciting spring fungi await to be discovered and if you are particularly lucky, you might even receive an important lesson in Morelity.
The esteemed True Morel (Morchella species) and its poisonous, but interesting springtime travel companion, known as the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) appear during spring. Unlike the False Morel, the True Morel has been celebrated as an edible mushroom since classical times, and is one of the world’s most sought after and expensive mushrooms, selling for up to $370 for 500 grams.
As elusive as they are desirable, it has been said that True Morels provide those who seek them out with a ready list of excuses as to why there are never any to be found. “Either it is too hot, too cold, not enough rain, too much rain, not enough humidity, too humid, the tree hasn’t been dead long enough, the tree’s been dead too long, the May apples aren’t blooming yet, the oak leaves aren’t yet the size of a squirrel’s ear, and so on.”
Such is Mother Nature’s quirky sense of humour, that this aristocratic fungus often favours the crude hospitality of disturbed areas such as rubbish piles, barbeque areas, apple pulp from cider factories and the barren and shrapnel fill landscapes from the First and Second World wars in France.
Whilst a method of cultivation was discovered in the 1980s, culinary demand for wild morels continues to grow. In the northern hemisphere, where morels appear reliably in relative abundance, collecting permits have been issued to sustainably manage the commercial and non-commercial harvesting of wild populations in what has now become a multi-million dollar industry.
In stark contrast, reported numbers of morel mushrooms in Australia appear to be much lower, with fruiting being sporadic and unpredictable.
True Morels evolved in the northern hemisphere around 130 million years ago. Some fed on decaying organic matter and others survived by partnering with forest trees such as oaks and pines that grew on the relatively new soils deposited from glacial sediments 10,000 years ago – quite different to most of Australia’s soils which are ancient and leached of nutrients.
Known as pyrophilic (fire-loving) fungi, some morels evolved to fruit after fires. Historic accounts of humans exploiting this trait include native American tribes who collected post fire mushrooms. An interesting report from 1753 notes how some country women in Europe would start fires to prompt the fruiting, but that this practice did not last long as evidently, the fires got out of hand!
Whilst the Australian landscape has evolved with fire, don’t expect the post fire abundance of the American midwest, where their late summer forest fires currently provide some of the most prolific fruiting of morels on the planet.
Wild food foragers may be disappointed to know that Australian reports of abundant post-fire morels seem limited to only a few reports, including the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires at Kingslake, Victoria. So any you may find post-fire in the Huon would probably be best left alone to spread their spores for future generations and for others to appreciate their unique beauty.
Until recently it was thought that any True Morels found in Australia were hitchhikers from overseas because their spore-spreading prowess wouldn’t allow them to travel long distances, such as
between the northern and southern hemispheres. However in 2014, scientists reported a new species from Victoria, Morchella australiana as endemic to Australia (found nowhere else).
Whether the morels you see in Tasmania are yet another new species, remains to be discovered. Until further research can be done, Morchella elata or just Morchella sp. is the name given to what we find in Tasmania. For further information on Tasmanian fungi, visit Tasfungi on Facebook.
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