From farm to Franklin

Illustration by Adriana Picker

Illustration by Adriana Picker

In a triumph of paddock-to-plate in practice, Paulette Whitney takes her kids to dinner to show them the fruits of their labour.

It was a drizzly, drippy day. A thick fog hung over the farm, and every leaf was fringed with raindrops just waiting to saturate our clothes. We pulled on fisherman's overalls as a defence against the damp, and, lamenting the holes in our gumboots, we headed out to harvest for restaurants. It was a school holiday, which meant extra help - the kind of help that can be a hindrance - but the perfect distraction from the slog that is a wet winter's harvest.

And this harvest was different. This time we were taking our girls and following our vegetables to Franklin for dinner.

Our youngest daughter rugged up and chattered away as I tossed her cabbages. She followed me about, running produce to harvest trays, only needing me to pull her out of a few shin-deep gumboot bogs along the way.

We packed the orders, cramming them into our Tardis-like station wagon, and sent them off to Hobart with Matt, the chef-turned-farmer, while we had hot baths to wash off the mud and prepare ourselves for a night on the town.

I've always been loath to take my children to restaurants. I feel for people trying to make a buck while my kids drink one glass of lemonade, taking up seats that could be used by hard-drinking, big-eating adults, but, having been reassured by my friend Franklin chef Jess Muir that they were welcome, we headed in. I was looking forward to showing my girls the fruits of our labour; they miss soccer games, holidays and parties because of farm commitments and I wanted them to taste the results of our work with chefs.

The girls had gone to great efforts to scrub themselves up. They sat politely, ordered lemonade and read their menus, getting into a debate about the merits - or otherwise - of eating octopus with suckers still attached, while Matt and I chose dishes that included our produce.

Our late-winter crops have been in the ground since February, giving them a fuller flavour and tougher texture than those grown in warmer months.

Our carrots are a perfect example, and the Franklin chefs use these eccentricities to their advantage, burying the carrots in pine needles and slipping them into the Scotch oven as it cools for the night. When they emerge, 12 hours later, they have a thin, leathery skin, and a tender - but still firm - flesh. They taste of smoke and earth, also somehow gaining a tang along the way. Served with a rich beef sauce, they were intense and satisfying. Missing the point of veganism slightly, my eldest dubbed them "vegan meat".

We ate spelt grain cooked with silverbeet with our puntarelle grilled and layered on top, raw kingfish with a dusting of native pepper leaf from our garden, and a lamb rump with shredded, barely cooked kale from our morning's harvest underneath, flavoured with the juices of the resting meat. This was all delicious, but there was a clear winner from our garden: a transcendental San Michele cabbage leaf, grilled so the thin margin was crisp, and the mid-rib was sweet and juicy. I suspect some meat-flavouring magic was at play here, too, and it was served atop a beautifully piggy-tasting pork jowl.

We finished with a kunzea cream served with preserved apricot. I tried to slow the girls down - to have them notice the granita and enjoy the beautiful set of the kunzea cream, and the fragrant infusion of what, that morning, had been a native shrub in our garden, but the dessert vanished before I'd uttered a word.

Now, on the day after the night before, I'm home by the fire, planning the coming season's crops, and I can find no greater inspiration than the memory of last night's feast. The loyalty and adaptability of the chefs we work with gives us licence to experiment, and we'll always be grateful for the work they do, keeping us inspired through these damp, drippy days.


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