Preserving with Those Barossa Girls, Marieka and Sheralee, where preserving the unique and historic food traditions of the region is every bit as important as preserving fruit.
The strange new world we find ourselves in, in these Covid times, has prompted many of us to become a lot more resourceful in the kitchen, looking to food traditions for inspiration. Anyone who doubts that statement simply has to observe the explosion of sourdough baking on the socials. 😂
Coincidentally, Sheralee Menz and Marieka Ashmore, two Barossa women who had bonded firmly over fruit at the the Barossa Farmers Market, found their fledgling food business resonating among home cooks and preservers much more strongly than they could have imagined.
In late 2018 they had formed a business partnership called Those Barossa Girls, promoting and sharing the traditional recipes and foods of their home region, the Barossa Valley. Because of its history as a German settlement, the food traditions of the Barossa are quite distinctive in many ways. The girls are keen to help preserve the local culinary history and make sure that specific dishes and recipes are not lost, as those who cook them pass on.
With the general focus on household food security as a result of nationwide lockdowns, they quickly found a keen and enthusiastic audience for their home bottling workshops. Preserving with Those Barossa Girls workshops teaches participants how to conserve seasonal fruit and vegetables using the Australian brand Fowlers method and equipment and traditional old Barossa recipes.
At the same time Those Barossa Girls turned their attention to another, related, project – and one with a degree of urgency.
Like close communities everywhere, the Barossa has a community cookbook – The Barossa Cookery Book. The oldest community cookbook still in continuous print and older than South Australia’s treasured Green and Gold Cookbook, it was first published in 1917, containing 400 recipes. It has been republished a couple of times since then, the last edition in 1932, and now boasts 600 recipes, all sourced from local Barossa home cooks.
Preserving with Those Barossa Girls was about to take on a whole new meaning as they quickly spotted a significant problem with the book and its contents. The rich historical value of this book lies in the food recorded within it, but the recipe formats have not changed much at all since it was first published over 100 years ago. With just a simple list of ingredients and the most basic of instructions for each recipe, it presupposes a level of kitchen knowledge and confidence that many young cooks today may not have.
Sheralee and Marieka realised that as fast as the original cooks of these dishes were passing on, so would the dishes. If no-one cooks them, these once living links with a vibrant and unique traditional culinary culture will die too. Preserving the cookbook became their goal and they are breathing new life into this precious historical food record.
They have selected about 70 recipes from the Barossa Cookery Book and are methodically hunting down any living links to the original authors that they can find, with a view to rewriting them in the current cookbook format and sharing the story of these recipes and the cooks who originally contributed them .
Far from replacing the original Barossa book, they hope that their volume will be seen as a companion to the original, giving modern cooks the skills and confidence to turn back to the historic recipes and consider making them part of their culinary repertoire in the 21st century.
Those Barossa Girls are deeply passionate about this exciting project, and spend many hours hunting down names of long lost, but not necessarily forgotten, locals and tracking any living relatives – and the generosity and joy they are encountering in their meetings has made this enormously fulfilling for both them and the descendants of the recipe donors.
While they are busy preserving this authentic culinary history, they are still just as keen to share food preserving on a more practical level, and have now taken their Fowlers preserving and bottling workshops online. Check out their website for dates and details of their next Zoom workshops, or check them out at the Barossa Vintage Festival.