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Food of the Southern Forests

Several years ago, when I was travelling through south-western Western Australia known for its wine and forests of tall straight eucalyptus trees, we came across someone who had established several holiday cottages  and with a love of beautiful food in her heart was creating meals and condiments using the local fresh produce.

Having been trained by Maggie Beer, her flair and enthusiasm was already apparent, and so it is no surprise that now she has distilled as much as possible of this into a book – a truly beautiful and generous volume that takes readers by the hand and leads them to the wonderful produce which surrounds her legendary Foragers Field Kitchen & Cooking School in Pemberton, which she has run for over three years.

She describes it this way: “It’s best described as hours and hours of spectacular scenic driving, the best which can be experienced year round off the sealed roads, guided by local knowledge. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful place. The majestic karri forests, with trees among the tallest in the world, scrape abundant skies and edge lush pastures, orchards and vineyards, while deep through the valleys serene waterways roll with a primal rhythm and descend toward an ancient and wild coastal rim.”

Sophie’s intimate knowledge of the land and the locals make her the ideal guide to this little-known area. This is not primarily farming country, though. Only 15 percent  of the land can be utilised  so the farm gates exist ‘between majestic wilderness, national parks, state forests and reserves’.

There’s a distinct migrant-led food heritage which has influenced the planting of crops and the recipes which are used on tables here. So, in her book, foraged wild mushrooms appear in a recipe with toasted grains and quark, and mulled blueberries come with elderflower fritters and labna.

Demonstrating, too, that indigenous ‘bush tucker’ and the new world sit happily together, you’ll find dishes such as  kale and ricotta wraps arriving with a wattle-seed za’atar, and sparkling and zesty native finger limes garnishing locally pond-raised marron and avocado.

There is a joyousness to the recipes which reflects Sophie Zalokar’s approach to life, her region, and most of all the food she loves to cook and prepare and teach to her students.

Even if you can’t make it across the world or even across the continent, using this wonderful book, you can finally ‘share a table’ with one of Australia’s best chefs, using some of the country's finest produce.

Food of the Southern Forests, by Sophie Zalokar, published by UWA Publishing, October 2014, hardback, rrp A$59.99, ISBN 978 17425 85512

 

- reviewed by Sally Hammond

 

 

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