Monday, February 14, 2011
When Home is... a Rickety Cottage and Garden in the Barossa Valley
How do you get a Barossa girl, who at the age of 17 declared ‘I will never move back to the Barossa’, do just that? For Cherie Hausler, it was thanks to a rickety 160 year old cottage ‘looking for the love it deserved.’
‘It’s funny how a place makes its way into your heart and quietly keeps growing there as you go about the business of life experience,’ says Cherie about the decision to move back.
After many years of living overseas and in other Australian cities, Cherie, who met her husband at highschool, felt the long list of memories they had in the Barossa drew them back.
As did the cottage despite its sorry state; ‘just short of sheep running through it’.
‘There was no garden to speak of (see sheep), and layers of patch up jobs in the form of alternating mission brown, antique white and heritage green paint, nearly clouded the beautiful bluestone cottage it originally set out in life to be. Nearly.’
‘There were signs of grander days gone by; the original German bakers oven poking through the overgrown wormwood, a gnarly old apricot tree still managing to bear fruit, and inside the lovely thick walls with deep-set sash windows, and a peak of hundred year old floorboards calling out from under the 70's carpet.’
But it still felt like home, the moment the couple walked in; ‘It immediately had such a nurturing feel to us. Once we felt that, it may not have mattered what the place looked like at all, we knew we had to live here.’
Having lived in the house for the last six years, the couple have made many changes; ‘We have resurrected as much as we could, always paying respect to the age of the property and the history that has gone before us. The cottage is about 160 years old, so we had no intention to modernise it. One of the first things we did was have the layers of paint sandblasted off the stonework and were so excited to see the giant bluestones emerge from the dust!’
‘We have done some basic things like patched walls and filled in missing architraves, and re-plumbed the kitchen. But things like the new cupboards have all been made by local craftsmen who understand the floor and walls may not sit at 90 degrees to each other, and have the skills and sensibility to create a seamless update or replacement.’
‘Floor coverings and ceilings have been replaced (or removed in the case of the floorboards that were hiding in our bedroom) and the whole house has been repainted inside but we are very conscious of not doing 'too much' - it's a farmhouse and we don't want it to lose that humility, it's part of the “come as you are” feeling that makes the house so welcoming.’
As a freelance writer and food stylist, it’s not surprising that the kitchen is Cherie’s favourite room in the house; ‘We have a space that allows people to be involved, or watch from a the dining table, as food is brought in from the garden to the mixmatched tables that make up our kitchen "island".’
‘Having a woodfired oven that heats the room in winter and also turns out some pretty impressive pizzas helps too.’
But it’s also the view from the kitchen window that is perhaps her most favourite; ‘I still get excited to look up from washing beetroot in the sink to see cows looking back at me through the kitchen window. The fact our neighbours are all four-legged definitely hasn't worn thin yet!’
Gardening has always been an interest – ‘we've managed to find some soil to grow something no matter where we've lived and how small the space available’ – but it’s only now they have the space that Cherie has been able to ‘live out the ideal of a big veggie patch and orchard, that I constantly romanticised as a city dweller’.
‘Gardening is such a brilliant way to soften the edges of day-to-day life. Maybe it's too cliche, but that connection to the earth really effects every part of you, whether you choose to notice it or not, it will always make things feel better when your hands are in the soil. Sitting down to a meal made up entirely of what we've grown in our garden always makes me pause a little before eating. There's grace in gardening, for sure.’
This love of gardening has led to a new business venture: Scullery Made Tea. Cherie hand blends her teas using locally grown seasonal fruits and herbs which are dried and combined with whole leaf tea. While always a tea lover, she says, ‘The idea that I could grow a 'patch' of lemon verbena as opposed to a pot of it definitely drove the tea making venture.’
Collecting quite a following, her teas are now sold in cafes and gourmet stores throughout Australia.
Living here has definitely sharpened Cherie’s focus on food as well as tea; ‘Having the chance to grow food and eat by the seasons is something I am constantly inspired by, so it naturally pops up in most of my work one way or another just because I'd rather talk about that than most other things!’
It’s perhaps not surprising that the meal which most says ‘home’ to Cherie is one that is grown in her garden; ‘I know we've all done pesto to death but it really is comfort food taken to a whole new level when you can pick your own herbs. And I'm not talking just basil, although I adore our basil in summer. I love going out to the garden and letting it decide on dinner for me, so throwing in nasturtium leaves, stinging nettles, marjoram, oregano or even calendula can make up pesto in our house.’
‘One of my absolute favourites is stinging nettle pesto, especially as nettles appear the same time as our geese start laying their beautifully rich eggs, so homemade gnocchi is usually part of the deal. This is the world's easiest gnocchi too, regardless of goose eggs or not!’
Stinging Nettle Pesto & Goose Egg Ricotta Gnocchi
‘This pesto recipe is completely and utterly inspired by Louisa Shafia’s in Lucid Food, but I couldn’t believe I didn’t have any garlic in the house, or quite ready in the garden, when I went to make this, so I substituted the garlic with fresh chives and it was so nice I think I might make all my pesto without garlic for a while. It still had that lovely garlicky warmth but without the ‘burn’ that raw garlic can sometimes leave your tummy with. And I used verjuice instead of lemon juice. And threw in some capers. You get the idea.’
‘The ricotta gnocchi is something I’ve been making for so long, because too many of my other gnocchi efforts turned into potato soup, that I make this by feel now so if the quantities aren’t exact, just add a little bit extra of one thing or another.'
'It’s pretty much bullet proof, so there’s quite an amount of leeway to play around before you’d get close to mucking it up.’
For the pesto...
1 bunch unsprayed, organic stinging nettles (or equivalent in basil)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 bunch garlic chives
1/2 cup pinenuts
1/4 cup verjuice
1 tbsp organic capers
extra virgin olive oil
For the gnocchi...
1 free range goose egg, or 2 free range chicken eggs
300g ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups unbleached organic plain flour
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
parmesan to serve
To make the pesto the only effort will be the initial dealings with the nettles, after that everything goes in the food processor and you’re done.
Make sure you have rubber gloves on or at least use tongs to handle the nettles prior to blanching. They’re quite mean at this stage.
Remove the leaves from the stalks and place into a saucepan of boiling water for only a minute.
Remove and let drain and cool completely.
Once the nettles have been boiled they can no longer sting you so feel free to pick them up in your bare hands and squeeze as much water out of them as possible before putting them into the food processor with the other pesto ingredients and pureeing with enough extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency paste. Season to taste.
For the ricotta gnocchi, mix the flours and salt in a large bowl, and making a well in the centre, add the ricotta and beaten egg(s). Use a wooden spoon to pull the ingredients together and form into a rough ball. Take a handful of the dough, leaving the rest covered in the bowl so it doesn’t dry out, and on a floured bench work it into a long ‘sausage’, about 1 1/2cm in diameter. Use a sharp knife and cut the sausage into gnocchi, slicing through about every 1 1/2 cm. Gently squeeze the gnocchi away from the sausage with your thumb and first finger, as you cut it, to give it a bit of shape. Let the gnocchi sit on a floured board until you have cut all the pieces, making sure to keep them separate so they don’t try to stick to each other.
When all the gnocchi are cut, drop them into a large saucepan of boiling water and cook until they pop their heads up to the surface. This will tell you they’re ready. Drain and serve immediately with pesto, some parmesan and an extra drizzle of olive oil.
To read more of Cherie’s recipes and life in her Barossa Valley cottage, read her blog, here.
To find out more about Scullery Made Tea, visit the website, here.
All photos © Cherie Hausler