Quite a few cookbooks come across my desk these days and I just love them all. To my mind cookbooks and books about food are a little like chocolate – there’s no such thing as too much. Of course, my favourites are the simpler, more fresh/local food based books – and anything that references chocolate in any way at all – rather than anything too fancy or too demanding. I’m still very lazy, and keeping things simple works well for a lazy girl. The latest book I’ve seen which ticks all of these local/fresh boxes for me and appeals very much on a personal level is “Berry Hill – stories and recipes from Beeerenberg Farm” by Grant Paech (Wakefield Press).
I guess my personal investment in this book comes from the fact that Wakefield Press is a local Adelaide publishing house of whom, I believe, all South Australians should be very proud, Beerenberg Farm is geographically very local to me (a five minute drive) and my family is a significant consumer of their products. Sections of my fridge or pantry shelves are suggestive of a supermarket shelf with an embarrassingly wide selection of the familiar heritage green and gold labels. A testament to the fact that I don’t preserve as much as I ought perhaps, but I prefer to think of it more as an indication of the quality and diversity of the Beerenberg range.
Beerenberg Farm is a major South Australian family-owned and run business that grows strawberries on land acquired six generations ago. They have become our ambassador to the world whose sweet little jars of jam are a welcome reminder of home and can be found on tray tables in the air and on breakfast tables in the swishest hotels in Asia. “Berry Hill” is the story of the simple beginnings of an Adelaide Hills dairy farm and how it morphed into a major tourist attraction and a commercial success producing a range of 60 hand-crafted jams, marmalades and condiments which are now exported all over the world.
Written in the first person, Grant Paech tells his story in a genuinely warm, intimate style and accompanies the narrative with a lush selection of photo’s – many from the private family album. He shares with us a little of the history of his family, his life growing up in the Hahndorf area of the Adelaide Hills, his courtship of his beloved wife Carol (who lovingly “guides me with advice so that one day I will become the perfect husband”) before moving on to the evolution of the family farm from a dairying property to South Australia’s largest publicly-accessed strawberry patch. With lightness and humour, Grant recounts the beginnings of the jam business, all the way from the first batches cooked by himself in the family kitchen – as a prior ill-judged remark about Carol’s jam-making skills left him reluctant to broach the subject again – to the negotiations with senior international buyers which resulted in the little pots presence on my breakfast table in Hong Kong earlier this year.
The story rings with Grant’s entrepreneurial spirit as he successfully squared off to the inevitable challenges that arose with each stage of his planned developments, but never fails to acknowledge the contribution of his staff, some of whom have been with Beerenberg for over 30 years. These days Grant is beginning to take things a little more quietly as his three children, Anthony, Robert and Sally take over the reins of a family business that was inducted into the Family Business (SA) Hall of Fame and the South Australian Food Industry Hall of Fame in 2010 and was named 2011 Telstra South Australian Business of the Year.
Interspersed with this remarkable success story are useful hints on the choosing, storage and usage of fresh strawberries – 70 tonnes of which were produced on the farm last season and 5 tonnes of which were picked by the public – and the second part of the book contains a large and luscious collection of recipes supplied by local Adelaide Hill chefs using both fresh strawberries, plus various Beerenberg products. This is one of my favourites as I always have a jar of Beerenberg Caramelised Onions stashed on the shelf and, with bought pastry, it can be whipped up in no time at all.
Beerenberg Caramelised Onion, Goats Cheese & Cherry Tomato Tart
- Shortcrust pastry home made or shop bought
- 5 eggs
- 400 mls pouring cream
- 300 gms goats cheese
- 180 gms cherry tomatoes
- 250 gms Beerenberg Caramelised Onions
- 5 sprigs of thyme rinsed, leaves stripped
- Preheat oven to 170C.
- Grease and line 20 cm tart tin with the rolled out short pastry. Line pastry with baking paper & fill base with pastry weights or dried beans.
- Blind bake pastry for 10-15 minutes until golden.
- Remove paper & weights, lightly brush pastry with one beaten egg, return base to oven for 2 minutes, just to set egg.
- Crumble goats cheese into tart shell, spread caramelised onion over cheese.
- Whisk remaining eggs and cream together with salt, pepper & thyme, then pour gently into tart case.
- Cut cherry tomatoes in half & dot them on top of tart.
- Bake around 35-40 minutes, until tart is set and golden.
This is a story of an iconic Australian family business and a tribute to the spirit which accompanied the early German Lutheran immigrants to the Adelaide Hills – a spirit which lives on proudly in their now very Australian descendants.