Autumn

Autumn

By
Rohan Anderson
Contains
20 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743790540
Photographer
Rohan Anderson & Kate Berry

Don’t pat the dog

There are many things I like to grumble about in this modern world. The fact that most of us have zero contact with other living beasts (other than cats and dogs) is one of my gripes. Being around animals is something that’s been taken away from us over a few generations. It’s one of those by-products of living in a modern world so sophisticated that we consumers are no longer required to meet the food we eat, especially when it’s alive. In days past, people had animals in the backyard or knew someone living on the land. That’s not really the case for everyone now.

It’s not like it’s a human right or anything, and it’s not like we all have to get cuddly with a lamb or snuggly with a duck, but having contact with animals or at least an understanding of how they live is kind of important. Living with animals that end up on the plate has been part of human culture since the get-go – well, a few thousand years, give or take.

Why exactly is it important for us to have contact with animals? Consider this hypothetical. I give you a handful of cute ducklings, all fluffy and beautiful. They smell sweet. They make little ducky noises. You’re convinced they’re just the cutest things on the globe. You immediately fall in love. You spend hours just watching them. Cuddling them. You raise them, you care for them. Time goes by. They get plump. You battle internally whether or not to eat them. OMG, how can I kill Gary? Fred? Fluffy? And yes, Daffy? But man, you just love a duck risotto. But you can’t! You couldn’t!

You’re now faced with a meat paradox. With duck meat on the brain, you head to the supermarket, buy duck meat and cook that damn risotto while looking out the back window at your happy little ducks. The point is that the contact you had with a ‘meat’ bird has changed your perspective: you can’t kill and eat a pet. But going to the supermarket to buy meat, there’s no connection. No emotion. It’s robotic. It’s thoughtless. Hard pill to swallow, eh? I know, it sucks, right! I’ve been there. I cursed myself for all the years I’d been doing it. And that’s why I’m a grumpy man. Because this reality sucks.

I often wonder, if we were all to reintroduce contact with the various species of farmed animals we consume, how it would impact on our food choices. I wonder how many of us would decide we don’t want to eat something that was a living animal because we gave it a pat when it was breathing and its heart was pumping. I wonder, if we all had a better understanding of the reality of the killing process involved, whether we’d choose to buy less meat. It’s definitely something worth thinking about when we bite into that low-fat chicken sub.

Over the years I’ve put myself in situations that have been confronting. I’ve taught myself how to kill an animal, how to butcher it, and how to cook it. It’s far removed from my previous way of getting meat to the table, which simply involved making a selection from an open supermarket fridge. Instead of just considering hypotheticals, I went that extra step and made myself experience the harsh reality. What has it done? Has the process served any purpose? I definitely now value the meat I eat much more than I previously did. And with that in mind I tend to eat less of it. I’m also now slightly ruined, culinarily speaking. I now prefer the flavours of home-raised animals or wild meat to most farmed species. There’s just so much more excitement in the flavour, and when you’ve worked hard for that meal you’ve plucked, gutted, skinned or scaled, there’s a whole other level of appreciation that has nothing to do with flavour.

The first nut

When I was a wee laddie, my parents took me to visit some family friends who lived a block away from my grandparents. In their backyard was a thriving walnut tree. So many nuts had fallen to the ground that they couldn’t eat them all themselves, so they offered us the chance to eat some. I remember the feeling of holding a whole nut in my hand and thinking, ‘Gee, this is just like the nuts at the supermarket.’ Weird, huh? Of course they’re the same ones, you douchebag younger version of me! It was a realisation that food that comes from a tree is the same food as at the shops.

Years later, when I was married, my wife and I stayed the night in a little Victorian town called Dargo. Where we camped grew a huge old walnut tree – sure would have been more than a hundred years old. It was Easter time and the nuts were dropping to the ground, ready to harvest. I was gobsmacked. How could all these free walnuts just be lying on the ground?

I couldn’t believe this great bounty was sitting there, not being used by anyone.

After that road trip, I returned to my lame-arse office job, remained caught up in trying to beat the guy beside me for the next promotion and forgot all about those walnuts. A decade later, a friend came to work and told me about his weekend. His family had been foraging for walnuts. What the? What’s foraging? He explained that it was a good way to spend time with the kids, collect some natural food, yada, yada. But something intrigued me about those walnuts. I loved the experience all those years ago of picking them off the ground near my grandparents’ place. Maybe I should take the kids out the following weekend for this activity they call foraging. It was around the same time I was starting to think a good deal more about food, its origins and how it was produced, so collecting something that simply fell from a tree worked well with my developing food philosophy.

The kids and I had a ball that day filling bags with fallen walnuts. Well, actually, I was the kid excited about the walnuts; the actual kids’ attention span lasted about ten minutes before they noticed nearby distractions and left me to my own devices. I didn’t care – it was like I was let into the bank vault to take as much as I liked, and with no consequences. These nuts would have simply rotted back into the ground or been eaten by the clever possums, so I wasn’t doing anyone any great harm by collecting them.

Each year since then, I’ve taken the girls to the same tree. We forage for ten minutes or so, then they go off and get distracted, returning sporadically to help. When the baskets are full, we lie down in the grass, happy with our haul, and discuss future meals involving walnuts.

Nuts are an important part of our annual food supplies, and I like to get a cache of a few other species for the larder. Right now, in early autumn, the almonds are almost ready to harvest. They’re the first nut. The second is hazelnuts, then walnuts and finally chestnuts, but they’re all a little way off. The best thing about all of them is they store well. So when I’m working hard to fill up the food stores for winter, nuts get a big tick.

Bee

The first frosts have arrived. My climbing and bush beans are starting to look a little the worse for wear, but they still have a way to go to finish filling out the bean pods. It’s not been the best bean season. I think the combination of two extreme heatwaves and a lack of pollinating bees might have something to do with it. I can’t change the weather, but I can buy some bees.

Which I’ve now finally done after all these years of putting it off. I don’t really hate bees, I just don’t get all the fuss about them. People have been asking why I don’t have a beehive, and in some situations they’ve plainly criticised me for not having them. I just haven’t needed them in the past. At our other houses there have always been bees that just came to my garden of their own accord. But this place, being in the middle of monoculture agriculture, is somehow different. It’s been exciting to see a rare bee in the garden, but I want to change that. I want them to be a common sight. This current bean crop is my first in this garden, and it’s been the first time I’ve ever noticed such poor pollination. It’s pushed me to make the phone call to my bee-loving mate and order a hive.

He’s an amateur expert, I suppose, and man, he really does love his bees. In fact, he generally loves the crap out of nature. His Instagram feed always has great bird and bee photos, and not much else. I think that’s an indication of what’s important to him in his life. I wonder how his family feels about being trumped by birds and bees. I might talk to him about that. A new hive frame was constructed for me and some bees put inside it. I imagine there’s more precise apiarist terminology for that process, but you get the general idea.

I picked up the hive in my truck and drove home gingerly. With a beehive sitting in my rear-view mirror, I took all the well-made roads home. Thanking my lucky stars there were no disasters on the way, I pulled into the drive and headed out the back, just near the veg garden. I lifted the heavy hive off the truck and sat it, as I was told to, facing north with a slight incline so rainwater could run off. I unclamped the frame and waited a good while for the bees to settle before I gently pulled off the tape covering their entrance.

From a safe distance of a few metres, I watched as the first bee popped its head out to investigate its new home. This first bee was shortly followed by another, then another, until there was a busy coming and going of bees. They’re such busy little dudes, with a complex team system that’s very admirable. All those bees working together for a common cause, looking out for each other, helping feed and nurture the young. It’s a beautiful thing to observe, such community-driven goals. Nature is a phenomenal beast at times. We could learn a lot from bees. Stop being so interesting and get to work pollinating my patch!

I don’t know if I’ll get much honey. I have to wait until next summer anyway, as they need all the honey they have to survive the winter. I do like honey. I have it in my coffee and tea every day. And more and more, I’m using it as a natural sweetener in cooking. I hope I get the results I’m after, both better pollination and honey for the kitchen. It’s uncharted territory for me, and like most things I guess it’s just going to take some time to get used to. If it all fails, I guess I’ll just have to get another hive and start again. Let’s see how we go.

Big star sky

In the witching hour, I wake. Most nights. It’s a bit annoying, but it’s part of my nightly routine. When I was a stressed-out dude living in the city, I could never get back to sleep. These days I’m a little more fortunate. I think my lifestyle choices are paying off. But I digress.

Often around 3 am I hear the pitter-patter of Henry’s paws down the hallway, which signals that he needs a trip outside. I swing out of bed and take him out. Some nights there’s a howling wind coming up the valley, and the big old oak and cedar trees bend to and fro with the mighty gusts. Sometimes it’s still, scary still. I say scary, because more often than not it’s windy here, so a still night feels out of place. When it’s calm here I feel like something’s about to happen, even when it’s not. My first reflex when I get outside is to look up. The Milky Way can be clear and bright, stars and planets shine brightly, and the moon – wow, when it’s in full swing it’s ethereal. When these nights come, I drift out barefoot onto the grass for a better vantage. You have to take these opportunities as a gift. I’m sure we’re meant to treasure this view. It’s what can remind us of our reality, our place in the universe.

It gets me thinking, under those night skies. Are we the only animal that looks up and says wow? I’m not sure, but I do know we’re the only animal on the planet with the ability to understand our true place. We have a sense of existence, a sense of consciousness. It gives us the ability to know right from wrong, or at least gives us the illusion that we know right from wrong. In any case, we can stare at the stars and ask questions. That alone is a precious gift.

So if that’s the case, then why don’t we (that is, most Westerners) ask questions about how we’re treating this beautiful world? I mean, if we can look at the stars and at the same time have our feet firmly planted on the earth’s surface, which we acknowledge is part of a larger system we’re gazing at, you’d think that this understanding, this powerful observation, would make us care more about the earth we’re living on. Am I thinking this way because it’s 3 am and my mind’s a bit wonky?

I often lament at the thought of future humans looking back at us. I’m sure we won’t be known as a spiritually enlightened bunch of people. I think, unfortunately, we’ll be remembered simply as consumers. More than ever we’re dazzled by wealth and the bits and pieces we can purchase and collect. A few cultures, however, are thankfully carrying the torch. Some of the poorest people in the world, with maybe a bowl of rice for their daily meal, are some of the happiest. They have very little yet feel so very content, while we Westerners have so much, yet are burdened with such discontent. We’re popping antidepressants like popcorn at the movies. We’re living lives that take a heavy physical and mental toll on our bodies, and to cope with that we’re medicated with tablets to keep us together. I know this because I was that person. I had dangerously high blood pressure from a combination of stress, smoking, drinking, eating salt-rich processed foods and living a sedentary existence. When my GP discovered this, he prescribed me medication immediately, as he did for my anxiety and depression. That’s his job. He’s a good GP. And it’s not his fault that I’d dug myself into a shitty way of living. All he could do was make some suggestions for me to improve my lifestyle, and prescribe me some drugs to keep me alive and improve my state of mind. You may find this an over-share, but as embarrassing as I may find it to reveal this past of mine, it also comforts me now to look back at that version of myself, because it’s my greatest personal discovery.

For so many years I felt like the lifestyle options in my middle-class existence were shit. I never really liked my jobs, never really liked the stress and disjointed community. I never liked the drive for a shallow wealth. I consider it a blessing that my poor health made me realise that the lifestyle I was living had the very real potential to shorten my life. So I made changes. I didn’t know if they were the right changes but I knew something had to change. I wanted to stay alive. Selfishly. I wanted my kids to have a happier dad, one who’d be around longer than just his mid-forties. I’m not saying that my approach is perfect for everyone, but it’s sure made my life and my little family’s life a million times better.

At the witching hour, standing outside in my backyard, I can look at those stars now, with my dog pissing next to me, and feel unashamed to be happy and alive. I’m happy to be poorer in wealth but richer in living a more natural and healthy lifestyle. I’m no guru or shaman, but I’ve experienced a life worth living. The stars told me so.

Deer

Imagine shooting something so large that it could fill your freezer in one go! I’m still not in a position to raise large farm animals for meat consumption at this stage, so my next best option is to hunt something large. My options are fairly limited – by law, that is. In reality, though, my options are great. Native kangaroo is plentiful and literally in my backyard. There are more kangaroos in the state of Victoria now than there were before European settlement! The landscape has been hugely altered for agricultural purposes, and the large spread of grass-filled paddocks is heaven for the kangaroo population. Seems logical to be able to hunt them, right? It’s no secret out here that farmers, often frustrated with the number of kangaroos eating their crops, ‘cull’ them, often in fairly brutal hillbilly nights with boozy shooters mowing down the ‘pests’. That may sound like a generalisation, but it’s more common than you might think. Often the meat is left to rot in the bush somewhere, which is an obvious waste. It’s also illegal. In fact, in Victoria it’s illegal to hunt kangaroo unless you’ve been issued a ‘destruction order’ by the government, which they don’t hand out too easily. So politics and hillbillies aside, I have to accept that I can’t shoot the most sustainable source of red meat around, so I have to look for other alternatives.

The next best option is deer. Deer were introduced to Australia for game-hunting but in many parts they seem to have become a bit out of control, with populations getting big enough to warrant culls in some districts. There’s a number of different species – sambar, red, fallow and hog deer. Fallow are the species in my turf. They’re not as common as the roo – they’re actually a bit of hard work to find. You can spend three days on a trail and get nothing, and I don’t have that kind of time to waste. Coming home empty-handed is always a reality, but it’s the lowdown cheap jibes from Kate that are the hardest to deal with.

I’d had deer-hunting on the cards for a while but never got around to it. First, there were the official licences, then finding a rifle that I could afford and justify. But there are only so many rabbits a man can eat, so this year I finally took the plunge. First up I applied for the licence – that was easy enough. The good news, too, was that the population of fallow deer is so high that it’s now open season all year round. Next, I had to sort out a new rifle. My .22 Magnum just won’t cut it for these big animals, and by law the minimum calibre for hunting fallow is .243 while for red deer and sambar it’s a minimum of .270. So I figured, just in case I do get onto a larger species of deer, I might as well be prepared. Practical approach, right? So I settled on a .308. It makes my other rifle look like a toy gun, but it’s the right tool for the task at hand. Heavy as all buggery, too!

The government provides guidelines for ‘ethical’ hunting, and this involves things like giving the animal a sporting chance and not spotlighting deer at night. I’m glad there are guidelines, because everyone’s different. I’m not hunting for trophies, I’m trying to source a lot of meat from an animal that’s, let’s face it, introduced and feral. The only reason it’s never described as feral in Australia is that it’s considered ‘game’, and I’m definitely sure I’m not into that kind of thing. I’m probably going to cause a storm here by saying I hunt for meat. If I get a mega-sized deer that’s all well and good, but really I’m trying my best to fill the freezer.

As for any new pursuit, I like to ask around and get different opinions and advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Not the cowboys who give us hunters a bad name, but the real-deal blokes. I got the impression, after speaking to a few of these blokes, that there’s still a bit of the trophy-hunter in most of them – which I don’t really understand, but it’s not my call. I got all the tips, like pack some good rope, don’t wear red, walk at a snail’s pace. I also got told that stag meat is pretty poor eating, so just take the head and cut out the back strap and leave the rest. I heard this tip from a few blokes, which kind of disappointed me. Not that the meat was poor eating, but the obvious fact that male deer were being hunted for trophy purposes only. Was this meat so bad that it had no culinary benefits? There was only one way to find out.

I had everything ready to go, my licence and my boom stick. I had yet to set aside a time to get away for a few days to hunt, but it seems fate had other plans for me. The whole deer thing came up in a casual roadside conversation with a friend, who told me they had deer in almost plague proportions where she lived. That settled it for me. Pest animals are high on my list of things to hunt, so the following weekend we headed out there.

Kate and I, accompanied by Henry my English pointer, loaded ourselves into the truck for the trip out bush. The country was drier than I expected – it’d been a harsh summer. The afternoon we arrived, we went out to the bush and spotted deer tracks and scats straight away. In fact, it wasn’t long before we spotted a few inquisitive does staring back at us through the grey–blue foliage. There was hope I might get a deer for the freezer after all, even as a total novice.

We set up a small camp in a dry creek bed, and soon had a fire crackling away and wine in our bellies. That night we slept on the tray of my truck, looking into the abyss of stars. I had no idea what was in store for tomorrow. Would I shoot a deer? Would it die quickly? How would I skin it? ‘Shit, I’ve never processed anything this big before! Will I stuff it up? Is that a spider crawling in my swag?’ Eventually I stopped asking myself questions and drifted off to sleepy town.

Morning came with a fresh crispness that helps you spring out of your swag. There’s nothing quite as raw as sleeping outside – it makes me feel a bit more real, in touch with the nature stuff. A brew of hot coffee washed down the eggs and chorizo, then off we went. It was still early dawn and the sun was asleep, hanging low in the east. We followed a trail for a few hours, looking for fresh scats and tracks. The deer tracks were amazing. We could see that a few had walked together over wet soil, their tracks as clear as the minute they were made. As it was the time of the rut, I kept my eyes open for rub trees – the males rub their antlers on their favourite tree to remove the velvet.

With all the signs pointing to deer, but no actual deer sightings, we started getting a little downhearted. It was then that I picked up not only the growl of a male but the clank of bashing antlers. Two males fighting! We crept closer as quietly as we could, but the two deer were so preoccupied with their man fight that they wouldn’t have heard us anyway. We got to a point where we could just make out the bucks, working to and fro in the bush, growling and clanging with each blow. I felt like David Attenborough on location. What a thing to witness! There were moments when the deer would move further away from us and we’d wriggle behind them trying to get a better vantage point, but we just couldn’t get close enough for a safe and clear shot. I could see the deer through my scope but they didn’t stay still enough for me to shoot, so I made the call to return to the main track and leave the deer to themselves.

We returned to camp for a civilised break and then headed down another track. We found the same signs of deer, tracks and scats. We continued on this track, hoping to spot something and making the most of the track being almost free of leaf litter and branches that would give away our location to a deer a mile away. Walking along the track side by side, I got a whack on the arm from Kate. I looked at her as she looked ahead, eyes fixed. She’d spotted a buck standing in the middle of the track, staring back at us. He spooked and headed off to the side to the dense bush, and we followed. My eyes scanned the bush looking for him, hoping for him to be still. And sure enough, out in the distance he stood. He must have been more curious than scared by us. He stood there long enough for me to raise my rifle, chamber a round and take aim. In an instant and a blast the deer dropped to the ground. My entire body was shaky. Kate stayed put as I walked towards the buck. Just like a fish, rabbit or duck it wriggled out its last bit of life before going limp.

I don’t think it’s an odd thing for a hunter to feel remorse. In fact, if you don’t feel it there may be something wrong with you. I stood above the animal, watching blood pour from the wound I’d inflicted. I’d taken this life and it seemed so much more drastic than the small animals I’m used to hunting. This thing was massive. It was a beautiful creature of nature, wild and a bit grand. I felt so bad for having killed it.

Later that afternoon I shot a second deer, this time a doe. It was a productive day with regard to acquiring our meat. I gutted, skinned and butchered both animals, using the same basic principles I’d been using for rabbits and hares (just on a much larger scale). We bagged and labelled every cut of meat. We also labelled it doe or stag, as I wanted to experiment with this notion that stag meat was near useless in the kitchen.

It turns out there is a slight flavour difference, but if you immediately bleed the stag by stabbing its chest and piercing its heart, the meat will taste normal. You can also soak the meat in water with a pinch of salt to remove the gaminess.

That night we sat around the campfire with our friends who’d invited us to the hunt. Our conversation centred around food and the day’s events. I couldn’t help but spend most of the night thinking about who I’d become, what I’d done. Years ago, I’d happily eaten beef, lamb, pork and chicken without a moment’s thought as to how that meat was raised, what was done to it or how it got to my plate. But now things are different. Now I know the scenes in a meat factory, where the animals hang on conveyor belts getting zapped one after the other. Animals on conveyor belts? It’s just insane! What have we become? Cheap meat means corners are cut. Once I realised this, I chose to be more aware and active regarding the meat I eat. So much so that today I had blood up my arms and the unmissable smell of deer on my shirt. The person I’ve become is well dedicated to a cause. I’m so damn set in my beliefs that I’m now an active killer. The old passive me used to outsource the dirty work to some other human in a factory. Although I struggled to comprehend the size of the animal I’d killed that day, I was in some odd way comforted that I’d just walked the talk.

Ownership of self

This morning, before starting any work, I sit in the veg garden, tea in hand. Just still. Everything still. Slowly my mind clears, I admire the superb fairy wren darting in and out of the bushes, through tall trees and around fine-looking rows of vegetables. I can hear the buzzing of busy insects fussing about with daily chores. The gentle breeze caresses my neck and rustles the oak leaves above the garden. It’s a peaceful and natural place both physically and mentally.

It’s in this space that I can think, my mind clear and free from distraction. My thoughts head to current research about a fella called Edward Bernays. He was the American godfather of propaganda or, as he coined the term, ‘public relations’. Edward was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and used some of his uncle’s philosophies to manipulate the masses.

The guy was a genius. Learned in the science of psychoanalysis, he believed the population could be kept under control if they were kept happy, content and distracted, that it would keep the mob-animal mentality at bay. So people were under the impression that their lives were happy and content because they were convinced (via the media) that certain stuff would make their lives better. It was the start of the twentieth century, and the beginning of the mad accumulation of stuff and consumerism.

Guys like Edward Bernays used psychoanalytical ideals to ‘trick’ people into wanting things they didn’t need. Edward thought of people not necessarily as individuals, but as a mass to be persuaded. He saw that many people could be manipulated without them even knowing it was happening: ‘If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?’

Yes, that’s a quote. Edward actually thought that way. Presidents, governments and big business employed him to turn twentieth-century America into the biggest consumerist society of all time. That way of managing the masses has spread throughout the Western world. It’s no longer an American thing, it’s Australian, English, South African, Singaporean. It’s a worldwide problem. And it’s a very effective way of keeping people in check. We, the people, are so busily distracted that most of us can no longer think past much more than what we desire or want, based on what’s presented in front of us. This keeps us content. It might be big houses, flash cars, better job promotions, more money, new-season fashion, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s distracting our minds from the reality of what life is about. It distracts us from realising the impact we as individuals have on each other, and the impact this lifestyle of ours has on the natural world. That reality doesn’t make money, does it?

It’s so easy to be distracted by these things. I know because I was so distracted by them that I was in fact blind to the real reason for living. I worked so hard for more money, a job promotion, a better car, more appliances and new fashion. Not one of these things made me any happier. In fact, most of them just dragged me further into debt. In the back of my mind, I wanted people to think of me as successful because I had these things. I hoped people would think better of me because I ate at a particular fancy restaurant or drank a certain brand of beer or smoked a certain brand of cigarettes. Totally blind was I. Often I wonder what my obituary would have read if I’d died back then. ‘Rohan got some good job promotions because he worked hard, he drove a nice car, he owned a lot of stuff, and, oh yeah, he spent $400 on his jeans … so … what a great guy.’

Isn’t it amazing that we have this ability not to see past the crap? Why is our society driven by the ideals of consuming and public status and perception of wealth? Why can’t we base our ideals and goals, personal achievement and success around things and each acts that have more spiritual and community value? Like helping each other out, teaching each other, sharing with other, living with less. What about the ideals of loving all humans and respecting that which supports us, that thing we used to know and respect: Mother Nature?

Are we chained to the mob mentality, just as Edward believed? Do we need to be controlled by the ‘smart’ people at the top, or can we think for ourselves? More people are asking these questions of corporations and government. How long do we let our society be driven by consumerism when we know it’s destructive to the environment? Or do we just turn a blind eye and put trust in the puppeteers holding the strings?

Out here in this garden there are no puppeteers. Just reality. You could wipe all human civilisation into oblivion and here would still be those birds, those plants, those insects all working together. That’s the reality. That’s what we should respect, that’s what we should value. Because without that reality, we won’t survive. We need to break free from the cycle of our blindness for the crap. We all need to spend more time in the bush, out in fields and paddocks, on rivers and lakes. We need to feel that reality of nature, to smell it, touch it, hear it. We need to stick those natural experiences firmly in our minds and use them as a guiding force. It will help us make better choices regarding our consumerism. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Do I really need that plush teddy bear hugging a heart-shaped box of chocolates that says “I love you”?’ Probably not.

It’s not only our future that’s threatened. It’s the next batch of kids and their kids. Do you ever wonder if the planet will take it if we, the masses of the Western world, continue consuming as we are, hyped up on shopping steroids? All that sucking-dry of natural resources, all that pollution and climate-meddling? There’s only so much of each finite natural resource for us to ‘plunder’. Only so much the soil can take of intensive agriculture. Only so much pollution the atmosphere can take. I’m not saying never drive a car again, but maybe we should just drive it less. Savvy?

What’s at stake is the continuation of humans living the comfortable lives we live. Who knows, maybe people actually want to live in a post-apocalyptic society and go all Mad Max aka Road Warrior. The evidence is here in front of us. We’re surrounded by man-made unnatural things. I walk into a shopping mall, totally freaked out by shop after shop of things that won’t make anyone’s life better. These things we consume, they’re slowly killing our natural world, our eyes closed, our greedy hands open to take it all. Perhaps it’s time to wake up. Time to realign the goalposts. Time to reduce.

If we saw more of the natural world, if we had a better understanding of nature’s importance for our own health as a species, wouldn’t that knowledge carry us humans to a new level of consciousness? One where we make more deliberate and informed decisions about what we consume?

I know no one can tell anyone else the best way to live. It’s something we need to search for and discover individually. But we need a collective way of thinking regarding the need to withdraw from consumerism’s tractor beam. It’s a powerful force. There are so many resource-hungry things that we don’t think twice about consuming, we just buy frivolously.

I could give so many examples but here’s one that immediately comes to mind. I was once given an electric popcorn-maker as a Christmas present. Don’t think I’m ungrateful, but I didn’t want or need the damn thing (so yes, I was totally ungrateful). First, the themed novelty-printed paper is a damn waste. Humbug! Every time I unwrap a Christmas gift I can’t help but be a killjoy and think of all the other people in the world (who celebrate Christmas) ripping paper off some novelty throwaway gift. Imagine all that landfill paper. Imagine all the trees that had to be cut down for that moment of unwrapping.

Secondly, a popcorn-maker. Fuck. Really? A perfect example of a totally unnecessary electronic item, most of which will just end up in the trash along with the wrapping paper and the lame novelty card. All that plastic, metal and packaging, for what – the ‘convenience’ of making popcorn with just the touch of a button? Am I too busy to make popcorn using a perfectly good saucepan? How did the Native Americans survive so long without electric popcorn-makers?

That wonderful experience was about a decade ago, but it’s firmly planted in my memory of stupid human behaviour. Now, when I walk into a department store to buy socks and undies, I can’t help but look at all the unnecessary ‘stuff’ that fills the shelves. People buy this stuff; they fill their houses with this junk. It wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t harming the natural world, but it is. Electric cupcake-makers, licensed merchandise, electric hotdog-makers, festive-season trinkets, Valentine’s Day, Australia Day … all crap useless stuff that ends up as landfill but has used more natural resources. And let me tell you, I see it at the tip. As someone who spends a lot of time at tips looking over what people throw away, I see this mess of our society. We’re such a wasteful people, blindly consuming without a thought. If we don’t wake up, we’ll consume until the planet is so unhealthy we’ll have only one option: to consume each other’s resources and eventually, inevitably each other. Maybe then the planet will be able to breathe again.

It’s not like we can’t have stuff. It’s not that we need to live in tepees and throw spears, although any hipster reading this might like the idea of tepees, arrows and a feathered headdress. I know you may be thinking, ‘Where does this guy get off telling me I need to consume less? Does he eat dust and walk around nude?’ No, of course not. I’d scare the hell out of everyone. I’m just suggesting that we become mindful, maybe even sensible about what we consume. For example, I used to own thirty pairs of shoes, most of which just gathered dust. I’d look at a new pair in a shop and get sucked in by that consumer tractor beam and buy something I didn’t need. I’d buy a new style in fashion shoe because I wanted to look cool and ‘up to date’. Eventually I saw through this. I gave all those shoes to charity, some of which I’d never worn before other than trying them on in the shop. Crazy, right? Now I have a handful of shoes that all serve a practical purpose. A pair of waterproof Bean boots for winter hunting. A pair of steel-cap slip-on workboots for daily use. Some lace-up leather Red Wings for hiking and hunting, and a pair of summer flip-flops. I’m well covered in the footwear department. I’m never without a pair of shoes, and I haven’t made any frivolous purchases that require yet more resources to produce. So I hope I’ve explained my thoughts on reducing our consumerism bug. I know I do go on about it a lot, but don’t you think, if we all second-guessed our consumer choices and acquired less stuff, it would make a difference to our environmental woes?

A sad reality is that before Edward Bernays, stuff used to be sold to people based on how long it lasted, how useful it was, how well it was made. Nowadays, much of the advertising is about what the product will do for you, how it will make you feel better, how it will improve your status, but definitely not how practical a service it will provide. And let’s face it, cheap manufactured goods just don’t last like the stuff from the old days. I know that sounds obvious, but so many things I use are already old and well used, yet they just keep on keeping on.

I value everything now based on its practicality. Will it till my garden for decades to come? Will it shoot harder, longer, faster? Will it last a lifetime, or at least will it give me many years of service as opposed to a year of service? Years ago, I used to buy those Teflon-coated frying pans. The little buggers would only last a year or two and then the seal would be compromised and I’d throw it out and be forced to buy another. I got sick of that so I looked for a better, longer lasting alternative that did the same job. My mum gave me a cast-iron frying pan that her dad had given her as a gift. It’s heavy-duty and I guess it’s going to last longer than a lifetime. I may need to replace the handle at some stage, though. Often, when applying the practical-thinking approach to stuff, I’ll identify some real benefits. Like the cast-iron frying pan, for example. It cooks better than a thin Teflon pan as its thick metal base retains heat longer and distributes it more evenly. I’m sure Teflon’s not a natural health ingredient, either.

The challenge is, though, that we’re constantly bombarded with advertising that’s trying to convince us otherwise. Take, for example, an advertising spread in a food magazine. You’ll be sure to see some famous celebrity chef telling you they only use this brand of frying pan because of its technological advancements, blah, blah, blah. But if you walk into that chef’s famous restaurant, you’ll see the staff using reliable cast-iron or aluminium pans because the reality is that they’re harder wearing and a much cheaper alternative. Oh my. We’re being lied to? Never!

My cup of tea is cold now and I have chores to do. I’ve done enough thinking for today. Out of the vegetable garden I go with mind a-buzzing and a heavy heart.

Bottled summer, in autumn

I just got a message from a mate – some fruit is ready for picking in his orchard. The fruit season has started! It’s the season for preparing fruit for preserving and for wrinkled hands. Most of the fruit I want is in season from early spring to autumn. I don’t know of much fruit being in season in the middle of winter. I’m sure it exists somewhere, but I’m interested in the summer fruits. And just like the summer veggies that I grow in order to eat in winter, there’s a selection of summer and autumn fruits we collect for winter tucker. Before I bang on about fruit and how rad it is, I should make it clear that this is something I do more for Kate and the kids. I don’t really like fruit that much. In fact, I don’t even have much of a sweet tooth – I prefer vegetables. But the kids love fruit, and I feel like it’s my duty to provide them with the food they need (or want). Having said that, I’m pretty sure I once had some sort of epiphany with a warm peach pulled straight from a tree.

For years I’d only eat bananas and maybe the odd apple from the supermarket. I tried buying other fruits but it was a real shit fight to eat them. I never liked the taste, the smell or the texture. I really had to force myself to eat fruit. It sucked. The watermelons were too watery, apples were too floury and smelt funny, bananas could make me gag. I’d eat a few grapes (with cheese) and the odd plum. I sound like an anti-fruity. And you’re right! I really hated fruit.

Things have changed, though, and I can tell you the one reason why I’m now eating real fruit, pulled from a tree, branch or vine with my own two hands. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, there was that peach epiphany. A bunch of us were at a friend’s little orchard and he was offering me different varieties of plums and such, when we came across this beautiful peach tree. Now I’d never been much of a peach eater before – maybe processed peaches from a tin, but never straight off the tree. This peach was soft and furry. It was still warm from the sun’s heat. It smelt amazing, so good that I wanted to snuggle up with it. When I finally broke into the flesh, peach juice squirted everywhere! This warm juice dribbled through my beard then down my neck. The flavour was sweet and warm, unlike any fruit I’d eaten before. I groaned a little.

Where had this fruit been all my life?! Why had I been deprived of such an experience?! It was only a peach, for fuck’s sake, but man, was it a joyous occasion! I immediately picked another and devoured that too. Then asked if I could pick more to take home. After his reluctant ‘Yes, but don’t pick too many, these are my favourite’, I gathered a few in my basket to take home. I did have the intention of bottling a bunch of them for later, but they didn’t last long enough.

So here started a bit of a change in the way I viewed fruit. Instead of saying no to trying it, I’d say yes if the fruit was either on the branch or on the ground. I discovered a few things I’d been missing all these years. Freshness is an obvious one, but variety is what makes the whole fruit experience so much more interesting. Take pears, for example. At the supermarket there was one variety, maybe two on offer, but in a home orchard there could be ten or more to choose from, each one different in taste, and texture too. I never used to eat pears, but now I love them at the peak of the season. And instead of those hard mega-crisp unripe pears, I let them get all juicy and ripe over a few weeks, and roasting them brings out a whole new level of sweetness. Sometimes the girls and I will delicately peel a few very ripe pears and slice them, each taking a sliver one at a time – they’re juicy and sweet. Never had I experienced a pear like this before, but to some extent I’m now hooked, even though I still like to say I’m not a sweet tooth.

So the news that the fruit season has commenced has me excited. Last year we picked huge amounts of fruit, some from wild trees, some from country roadsides and some from friends’ backyards. The season tends to start with the berries, nectarines, apricots and plums, then peaches and pears, then finishes with many apples. There are so many varieties, and each will be ripe at a different time of the year, so if you plan your orchard well you can have fruit to eat from mid-spring to late autumn. Much as the fruit supply is great during these seasons, however, it’s in winter that the kids want the fruit the most. I guess it’s the age-old situation of wanting the thing you can’t have. There is, however, a way around this, and that is vacuum-sealed glass jars. For years the system of putting food in jars and boiling them to create a vacuum seal has kept people’s food stores balanced. There’s something amazing about the simplicity of this approach, because it requires no preservatives. Just fruit, water and a hint of sugar, and the latter is optional.

This season hasn’t been so favourable for fruit-growing. The summer has been exceptionally dry, and a few extreme heatwaves stressed the plants so much that they dropped a good number of their flowers. Fewer flowers means less fruit. We start off with a few buckets of berries, then we move on to the larger fruit. The plums get a bit of the spicy treatment and are stewed with cinnamon and star anise. The pears, apricots, nectarines and apples are all simply stoned or cored, peeled and popped in the jars. We use a very light sugar syrup, as this real fruit tends to have a bit of sugar in it and we don’t want to overdo that sweetness – and yes, sugar isn’t that good for you. Moderation is the key.

I keep an old canvas bag in the back of the truck just in case I spot a lost fruit tree in the bush, on the roadside or in a field where an old-time farm settlement once existed. Some years I’ve found more fruit than I know what to do with, but this season is not one of those years. I’m not complaining, though. We’ve squirrelled away some nice fruit for winter and had enough to enjoy some now, fresh off the tree.

The best fruit this season was the wild pears, which I’ve picked two seasons running now. I found a pear tree on a roadside in the middle of nowhere that had a few kilos of fruit hanging from it. The first year I picked the fruit and allowed it a few weeks to soften and ripen to the point that they were the juiciest pears I’ve ever eaten. This year I returned, eager to see if I’d be the first to pick this bounty. With luck on my side, I found the tree untouched, full of fruit. I wondered if this fruit has been waiting for years for someone to enjoy it. Maybe no one knows about it. Which is a bit sad, really, because it’s such a great experience to discover and use such a gift from nature. It’s like finding money on the ground, but way more useful. I later found out that a friend also knows about this tree, and so next autumn this will be a challenge for the both of us. Who will get there first?

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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