My father’s mother was a consummate gardener. A terrible cook, mind, but blessed with more than a mere thumb of green. Occasionally I catch sight of her in my own reflection when passing the windows, grey hair pulled back, cheeks flushed from weeding. It’s a likeness I’d not imagined before I let my hair ‘go’. Nana grew things in her Sydney garden that other gardeners could only dream about. The ‘drought’, ever-present at the edges of my adult life, seemingly only affected farmers in hers. Her sprinkler system, like many in my 1970’s suburban childhood, would often run all day.
It’s easy to forget, standing at the supermarket dairy cabinet, that farmers make extraordinary daily sacrifices to bring food to our tables. To do so organically, in a country of dry grass and almost non-existent rainfall is very nearly a miracle. Seldom do I mention a product by name – thanks, Naomi Klein - but some things demand attention. Holy Goat organic cheeses, hand-crafted from paddock to plate by Carla Meurs and Ann-Marie Monda in country Victoria, are divine. One episode of Love’s Harvest, a series of half-hour documentaries exploring the pleasures and perils of farming organically, followed their fortunes. Watching them struggle through drought, grain shortages, births and deaths, all the while lovingly tending their herd of charming, cheeky goats, added, for me, extra sparkle to their already stellar range. Organic food has always been more costly – the unpredictable nature of the act itself determines that – but I like to give a little back to the farmer making a red-hot go of it, whenever, financially, I can.
Lately, I’d sensed an air of exclusivity about Organics; the tiniest whiff of snobbery that seemed out of kilter with its grass roots, hands-in-the-dirt philosophy. Not the farmer, mind you, but the (usually chain) retailer. The fusty, earth-worshipping image, much like the vegetarian eating it encompassed, is slowly being replaced by slick styling and clever marketing. But I miss the fustiness; I like the earth-worshipping. Enter a trip, with a friend, to the Queen Vic Market. There, poking around stalls with spankingly fresh organic produce, I sensed the spirit of community that I had imagined gone. A fragment of fustiness, delivered with a sense of style and warmth. Faith, resolutely, restored.
Nana didn’t get to eat at my table, and I was too young to learn any real, concrete gardening skills during her lifetime. Her cooking was a rushed affair because for her, the garden itself held the key to happiness. A simple, honest salad such as this makes an ideal lunch for one. If that lettuce just happens to come fresh from your garden, well, all the better.
Organic leaves dressed with goat’s cheese – for one
The quality of your cheese lies at the heart of success or failure here – choose accordingly. The fromage frais is apparently low in fat. Imagine that? I couldn’t help myself and added some sour cream…
1 hard-boiled (hard-cooked) free-range egg
1 small, organic Cos (Romaine) lettuce
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon of sugar or honey
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
Small piece of garlic, peeled
1/3 cup (80ml) of Holy Goat fromage frais (or soft goat’s curd)
1 very heaped tablespoon of sour cream
Carefully separate the egg white from the yolk. Finely chop both separately. Wash the lettuce leaves well and dry meticulously. Tear as artfully (or not) as you like.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, sugar and vinegar. Crush the scrap of garlic to a paste with a little salt using the flat of your knife. Whisk this paste into the bowl next, followed by the finely chopped egg yolk, the fromage frais and the cream. Thin with a little water, bearing in mind you’re aiming for a pourable/dollop-able consistency.
Arrange the leaves on a plate, in a bowl, whatever you like, pour over the dressing and top with the finely chopped egg white and a good grinding of pepper.
In the northern hemisphere warmer weather is taking a firm foothold but that doesn't stop southern cooks from salad-making.
Entries close on the 20th of May.