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Maggie's Harvest - Maggie Beer

Hardcover Published: October 2007
ISBN: 9781920989545
Number Of Pages: 736

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Maggie's Harvest brings together over 350 of Maggie Beer's signature recipes, detailed descriptions of her favourite ingredients and inspiring accounts of memorable meals with family and friends.

The recipes highlight Maggie's philosophy of using the freshest and best seasonal produce available in the Barossa Valley South Australia, and treating it simply, allowing the natural flavours to speak for themselves.

Describing herself as a 'country cook', Maggie cooks from the heart and is passionate about instilling in others this same confidence - to use recipes as a starting point, and be guided by instinct and personal taste.

This landmark book from one of Australia's best-loved cooks is essential for anyone with an appreciation of the pleasures of sourcing, cooking and sharing food.

About the Author

Maggie Beer is one of Australia's best-known food personalities. As well as writing books, she devotes her time to her export kitchen in the Barossa Valley, which produces a wide range of pantry items for domestic and international markets. These include her famous pâté, verjuice, quince paste and an ice-cream range. Maggie was co-host of the weekly program The Cook and the Chef on ABC TV from 2005 to 2009 and was recognised as Senior Australian of the year in 2010 for inspiring Australians to use and enjoy local produce.


My passion for food has given me so much in life a sense of purpose, a delicious anticipation of each new day, and rewards of a much deeper kind than financial. It's inspired a joy in the simplest things, like the aroma that assails me as I watch our olives being crushed and dip a piece of wood-fired bread into that golden-green stream of fresh oil, or growing my own tomatoes using a minimum of water, for a truly intense flavour. Sharing the harvest with my family and friends and being part of a community is incredibly rewarding ? I wouldn't swap my life for anything.

I can hardly remember living in the city now, as my time in the Barossa has really defined me. When I think of the 'accidents' of life that led me to where I am today, I can only reflect on how lucky I've been. My childhood was tough: I was a loner who found it hard to fit in at school, and my parents, who ran their own business, were completely engulfed by their work. I was just fourteen years old when their business failed and we lost everything, causing a massive upheaval in all our lives. So whilst it wasn't a happy childhood for many reasons, it did give me great strength. Seeing my parents rebuild their lives again taught me, at a young age, that anything was possible. From them, I inherited my mother's optimism (I was always teased for wearing rose-coloured glasses), and my father's instinct for food and great love of music.

I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I spent my early twenties searching. I travelled the world, spending the biggest chunk of my time away on the west coast of Scotland ? and there, for the first time in my life, I felt part of a greater expanse . . . it was my first real connection with the land. On returning to Australia, I met my husband Colin ? a boy from Mallala, as he likes to describe himself. We married in Sydney in 1970, and spent the first few years of our married life there, before deciding to leave city life behind to pursue Colin's long-held ambition to farm pheasants. The Barossa Valley, being only 30 minutes' drive away from Colin's family at Mallala, virtually chose us, as we'd meander through this oasis each time we visited them. It's hard to say which of us was the most excited about leaving Sydney. We moved to Tanunda in April 1973, just in time for our first Vintage Festival, and within months we had bought the land the Farmshop stands on today.

Pheasants proved difficult to farm, and little information was available to help us, so Colin applied for and won a Churchill Fellowship to study game-bird breeding practices overseas. As part of our travels, we visited a turkey farm in Scotland that used every part of the bird imaginable, even the feathers, and sold the products direct to the public from the farm. This became our benchmark ? although we took it one step further. Whilst we were already breeding pheasants and selling them, we weren't getting any repeat business, purely because our customers didn't know how to cook them. And so, in January 1979, the Farmshop was born, from which we sold our pheasants (along with quail and guinea fowl) prepared and cooked in different ways. As I'd never formally learnt to cook, I simply used my instincts and cooked from the heart, always adhering to the Barossa ethos of wasting nothing. I roasted pheasant, made pt from the livers, pickled quails eggs, and stuffed quail and wrapped it in vine leaves ? and we sold it all direct to the public, who would sit out on the decking and eat lunch picnic-style.

Before the end of that first year, we had turned this humble Farmshop into a restaurant. I'm not sure where the confidence to do this came from, but I didn't hesitate ? and thus began my process of discovering what I wanted to do in life. When I talk to people now about the Pheasant Farm Restaurant, I realise that many still have a soft spot for the place and what it stood for. Our basic premise was to cook simple dishes using the bounty of our seasonal harvest from the Barossa, focusing on flavour, not fashion. We really went out on a limb, as the menu was predominantly game, which divided the dining public. In all the years we ran the restaurant, Colin never made me accountable to a bottom line, and although this might seem nave, I saw it differently. For me, the priority was making the most of that direct link between producer and restaurateur, with our vineyards and pheasants supporting the restaurant. It was a constant learning process, but it was also immensely rewarding ? there is nothing quite as seductive as doing what you love, and having others love it too.

Running a restaurant of this nature was pretty demanding, and as we lived right there on the farm, in the rooms adjoining the restaurant, it seemed our work was never done. My weekly escape was to go horse-riding with friends through the countryside, always taking a different path. On one of these rides I discovered a beautiful cottage, only a few kilometres away from the farm, and I fell in love with it immediately. It was surely meant to be, as a few years later, we bought the place at auction (the most traumatic 20 minutes of my life ? when you really want something, the suspense can be sheer agony!).

It was, and remains, the perfect family home. The cottage, which dates from the 1860s, and its two outbuildings stand on 20 acres of land, with two dams, deep, well-drained loam soil and access to mains water (as opposed to the farm, which has clay soil and salty bore water, so limiting for a garden). A beautiful old pear tree, large as an oak and as tall as the cottage itself ? and probably of similar age ? still stands by the original well, planted to make the well water sweet, as tradition would have it. The well itself is made of red brick and is some 10 metres deep, with a ledge still in view where the milk was kept cool. Now safely contained, this is a favourite spot for our young grandchildren, who love the property so much that they often ask, in their brutally honest way, how long we'll live here, as they would love to move in. There is such a sense that this place will remain for many generations to come.

But the move was initially resisted by our two daughters, Saskia and Eliette (or Elli, as she now is), who relished the freedom and open ruggedness of the farm. A fair bit of bribery went on to make up for this, most notably the installation of a swimming pool even before we had a proper kitchen. As a result, for years I cooked in a makeshift kitchen on the back veranda, where the old louvres rattled and whistled as the chilly air blew in on winter evenings, and it was sometimes so cold that I took to cooking the family dinner in my Driza-bone!

It was here that my orchard began, soon after we moved from the farm. My dream of having my own orchard was inspired by a perfectly ripe white peach I had picked straight off a tree near our farm when we first arrived in the Valley. These are the first soft fruit of summer, and the most beautiful in their unadorned state. It takes a long time to understand a new property and so the orchard had several false starts in various locations, until it settled permanently where it is now, sentinel to the cottage. It was such a labour of love. Each tree had to have a place of importance. I chose to plant fruit that was at its best when picked warm and ripe: white peaches (of course), nectarines and apricots, in particular. I also chose fruit that was difficult to find in shops: crabapples, medlars, greengage plums, persimmons and pomegranates. I even took cuttings from friends' trees, not knowing the variety but just loving the taste of the fruit. These trees, and many others planted since, continue to provide me with a veritable bounty of fruit each season, and keep me and my treasured staff busy pickling and preserving all year round.

Ironically, the very success of the restaurant led to its closure. In 1991, the Pheasant Farm Restaurant won the Remy Martin Cognac/Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year award, and this was the turning point. Up until then we had been just a simple country restaurant with a particularly loyal and interested clientele who kept us full almost every weekend ? though, as is often the case with rural businesses, we were fairly quiet during the week. From the moment the award was announced, we suddenly had a waiting list for every meal and helicopters landing in the ram paddock, with people insisting we fit them in as they had travelled so far. I can't deny they were exciting times. But often I'm my own worst enemy ? and, during 14 years at the restaurant, I found myself entirely unable to delegate, so I was tied to the stoves in my control-freakish way, with Colin farming the birds, tending the vines and waiting on tables, and our daughters somehow fitting their lives into this world we had created.

As is so often the case, it was Colin who took a step back. He saw that this was too much for me, and issued an ultimatum (only half-joking, I suspect): the restaurant or him. I knew instantly that I wanted to close the restaurant ? no discussion was needed, and I left no time for reflection. It actually shocked me that I could take such a life-changing step so readily yet, in truth, I felt a great sense of relief. We set a closing date four months hence, and soon people from all over the country were clamouring to come again, or visit for the first time. And, with the pressure suddenly lifted, I was free to be as daring as I liked in my cooking, knowing I had the support of an amazing team of people around me and nothing to lose. Each day was a real adventure ? talk about going out on a high!

We closed the restaurant on 28 November 1993. I was completely burnt out but, after taking some time to recover, I soon felt 10 years younger. I've so often been asked if I miss the restaurant, and I have to say ? unequivocally ? no. But there is something about the adrenaline rush you get from working with an energetic team, cooking the bounty of the harvest and serving good food to people who really enjoy it. Nothing else quite compares.

However, one door had to close for others to open, and open they did. I could never have contemplated just how full and exciting life would continue to be. Our pt business had started in the early days of the restaurant, when our dear family friend Hilda Laurencis and I would make batch after batch in small food processors after lunch service was over for the day. We started selling pt commercially in the early 1980s, and by the time the restaurant closed, Pheasant Farm Pt was doing well enough to support us, even though we were really only supplying those who had heard about the product through word-of-mouth. The pt business has now expanded considerably, and in 1996 we opened a purpose-built, state-of-the-art export kitchen. Much to everyone's amusement, I absolutely insist on calling it a kitchen, not a factory, as even though we now make pt by the tonne, we still produce it in small batches, with no preservatives added. I am determined to uphold the same standards of quality and flavour set in those early days at the restaurant. If any of our products cannot be made to those same standards, then we simply don't make them. Whilst this has proved immensely challenging, flavour is something I just won't compromise on.

Our business provides enormous scope for me to create limited amounts of products based on the best seasonal produce available, whether it's a ute full of peaches or a trailer-load of blood oranges, free from the commercial imperative that a larger-scale operation would bring. Each of our products stems from a desire to make the most of every bit of our own harvest, in its way honouring the bird, tree or vine by wasting nothing.

When I think of how we made our first batch of verjuice in 1984 from grapes we couldn't sell that year and how, albeit gradually, we led the worldwide renaissance of this amazing ingredient and made it indispensable in so many kitchens, I have to pinch myself. We'd been vignerons since 1973, so at each vintage I'd have plenty of opportunity to experiment with using grapes in many different ways (no matter how much they were wanted for wine!). This continual experimentation, along with my voracious reading on Mediterranean culinary traditions, also led to the creation of vino cotto, Desert Pearls non-alcoholic sparkling drink, and cabernet sauces and pastes.

So now we've come full circle. Today the Farmshop, the precursor to the much-loved restaurant, is up and running again on the same site, tucked away down a quiet country road. It's where everything began and, humble though it is, I never tire of the surprise and delight I see on people's faces as they come in. Even though we now sell our products all over the world, the Farmshop remains my direct link to the public. Every day, when I walk in the door, it's like coming home, and I know I'll never lose that feeling.

Moving to the Barossa Valley marked the start of a very personal food journey for me. All my life I'd been interested in food, yet being here has introduced me to the rhythm of the seasons. Having at my fingertips such a rich diversity of produce from this Mediterranean climate has led me to become a simple country cook, doing little more than relating to the ingredients I have at hand.

This book represents the culmination of that journey so far. The range of seasonal ingredients featured is by no means exhaustive, but instead includes those I am most passionate about. The recipes are a mixture of old favourites I've collected over the years ? many of which first appeared in Maggie's Farm (1993) and Maggie's Orchard (1997), updated here to take account of the momentous changes in the Australian food scene in the intervening years ? and new recipes inspired by my love of regional cooking in tune with the seasons.

Writing this book has shown me how far we have come since I began my food journey ? to think that in the early 1980s basil was considered exotic! Australia is a young nation struggling to shed the shackles of a history that, for the most part, eschewed indigenous foods and traditions. Though we have made amazing advances, particularly in the last 30 years, there is still much to be done. I want to foster a reconnection with the seasons, and to draw on the abundance of ideas for creating innovative and exciting food that is full of flavour. If every farmer and producer were seduced by flavour, had a thirst for knowledge regarding the potential of their product, and always remained mindful of sustainable agriculture (including providing a good life and a good death for the animals we eat), then just think what a great food life we could all live.

What continues to spur me on, and leads me to think I will never retire, is my love of sharing my passion for food in every way I know how. More than anything, I want to give people the confidence to have a go, to look for quality produce, to cook together, and to share the table with family and friends. I do believe, with every fibre of my being, that such simple and time-honoured rituals can change lives.

ISBN: 9781920989545
ISBN-10: 1920989544
Audience: General
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 736
Published: October 2007
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 25.9 x 20.1  x 6.7
Weight (kg): 2.56
Edition Number: 1

Earn 166 Qantas Points
on this Book

Maggie Beer

About the Author

In 1973, Maggie Beer and husband Colin settled in the Barossa Valley, with the intention of breeding game birds and growing grapes. The establishment of their farm led to the now legendary Pheasant Farm Restaurant. The restaurant became highly acclaimed and was, in 1991, awarded the Remy Martin Cognac/Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year award.

With the closure of the restaurant in 1993, Maggie was free to pursue new directions, and in 1996 the Export Kitchen in Tanunda was opened. These days, her career spans farming, food production, as well as television presenting and food writing. Maggie's appearance on the hit ABC programme The Cook & The Chef cemented her place as one of Australia's most well known food personalities, and her line of products is arguably the most highly esteemed and much loved range for Australian gourmets.

Of all the accolades given to Maggie, being chosen as Senior Australian of the Year in 2010, and then South Australian of the Year 2011, have been two enormous highlights of a truly busy life. In addition to these achievements, Maggie was thrilled to be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her service to tourism and hospitality on Australia Day in 2012.

Her appearances on television have been numerous, with the most notable being her involvement with Channel 10â??s Masterchef, setting new ratings records for the episodes she featured in. The Lifestyle Channel have also shone the spotlight on Maggie with a Christmas Special devoted to seasonal menus and celebration. On that theme, Maggie also returned to the ABC in 2012 to share her family Christmas in the Barossa.

A good food life for all, and all that encompasses, is what drives Maggie. As part of this philosophy, Maggie is proud to be the South Australian Ambassador for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, whose inspirational programme can truly change lives.

Visit Maggie Beer's Booktopia Author Page