Blessing in disguise
Michelle Crawford takes a leap into the Tasmanian countryside and benefits from the challenges.
A WILD LEAP INTO THE TASMANIAN COUNTRYSIDE TAUGHT A COUPLE TO BENEFIT FROM CHALLENGES.
A pepper tree (left) and black wattles tower above the house. FACING PAGE This old celery-top pine table, softly lit by the south-facing window and bearing vintage kitchenware, is a favourite location for food stylist Michelle Crawford’s photographic shoots.
It takes enormous faith for a young family to walk out on their life “with no job, no house and no idea”. But this 1910 farmhouse in Tasmania’s Huonvalley has responded to Michelle and Leo Crawford’s touch in bucketloads as fresh and abundant as the fruit now ripening in their orchard. “We thought we’d just see what happened,” explains food stylist Michelle, whose book A Table In The Orchard: My Delicious Life, has just been published. “But I was pretty specific about wanting an old weatherboard farmhouse that hadn’t been ‘wreckovated’.” And then, in 2006, after spending nearly two years renting while they searched, she and Leo, a former live music booker, ended up with a house they didn’t fall in love with. Nevertheless, Michelle now believes that was a blessing in disguise. “We were so exhausted, we simply decided the house was okay — at least it didn’t have aluminium windows! But it was very dark, with lots of timber and peach-coloured floral trim, and no garden. where we’d hoped for gnarly old apricot trees, there was just one dying lemon tree.the rest was drought-tolerant natives and there was no vegetable garden at all.” Nor yet an apple tree, despite being in the heart of one of Tasmania’s famous apple-growing areas. You get the sense Michelle is adept at seeing the flip side, for she soon realised this meant they could plant whatever they wanted. Having found heritage trees at a nursery in nearby Woodbridge, they now have an orchard replete with 20 varieties of apples, plus crabapples, quinces, plums, sloes, damsons, medlars, sour cherries, mulberries and lemons. >
House rules, aka The Aardvark Manifesto from a UK store, hang in the kitchen, which has a wood-fuelled Rayburn oven and a Smeg cooker. FACING PAGE, CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT A copy of Michelle’s new book; Michelle with her children Elsa and Hugo, and Patch, the Jack Russell-staffordshire cross; in the dining room, a portrait of an early Tasmanian settler beside a felt cross pennant made by friend Fiona Whiteway.
A shelf holds vintage letterpress blocks and a red price sign from a petrol station, above old carrying boxes for first aid and electrical equipment — a baby photograph of Hugo is at the end. FACING PAGE Michelle’s quince and walnut cake is a winter favourite.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place caster sugar and 5 cups water in a flameproof casserole pan. Stir over a medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Add vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks and quince, adding more water, if necessary, to ensure fruit is covered.
Cover with a lid and bake for 3 hours or until quince is tender. Cool. Drain quince and cut into 1.5cm pieces. (You will need 500g diced quince.) Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a deep 22cm springform pan and line with baking paper. Using a balloon whisk, whisk eggs, milk, golden caster sugar, oil and vanilla extract in a large bowl for 2 minutes or until light and creamy. Combine flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves in a separate bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir until combined. Stir in chopped quince and walnuts. Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth surface. Bake for 1¼ hours or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. Place pan on a wire rack and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, to make salty sugared walnuts, combine walnuts and icing sugar in a non-stick frying pan. Stir over a low heat until icing sugar melts and walnuts are coated. Spoon walnuts, in a single layer, onto a tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with salt. Cool. To make frosting, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add icing sugar, ¼ cup at a time, beating well after each addition until well combined. Remove cake from pan. Spread frosting over top of cake and decorate with salty sugared walnuts.
Vintage kitchenware has come from New Norfolk antique shops The Drill Hall Emporium, (03) 6261 3651, drillhall.com.au, and Willow Court Antique Centre, (03) 6261 5050. Other local sources include The Recovery Shop at the Glenorchy Tip, 0400 898 673; and Village Antiques of Franklin, (03) 6266 3224. Friends’ businesses have supplied decorative touches, such as the felt cross made by Fiona Whiteway, who runs online store Hung Up On Agnes. etsy.com/au/shop/hunguponagnes The Red Shed & Restoration Barn in Huonville is where Michelle finds many second-hand and restored pieces. 47 Wilmot Road, Huonville. (03) 6264 1144. Michelle recommends using one local builder who can evolve with your budget. James Males from Huonville installed a new window, removed a wall and installed the Rayburn oven, which is connected to the home’s hot water system. 0439 418 425.
The property is less than half a hectare and Michelle delights in being surrounded by “other people’s paddocks, in a dead-end street on a winding dirt road”. It’s here that she and Leo, now a trainer with Telstra in Hobart, can give Elsa, 12, and nine-year-old Hugo a childhood quite different from that available in Sydney. Life revolves around the re-modelled kitchen. this is Michelle’s favourite room, whose look she describes as “modern country industrial” and inspired by the kitchen in Downton Abbey. Fitted cupboards, fake granite laminate and vinyl floors were all stripped out, and details pared back, enabling the structure of the house to be seen, including architraves, window frames and skirting boards. Michelle then filled the space with rustic workbenches, open shelving, stainless steel benches, and a Rayburn oven. Bowls of fresh produce are placed on old natural working surfaces.the celery-top pine kitchen table, from the Red Shed & Restoration Barn in Huonville, doubles as Michelle’s workspace. “It’s a working kitchen, it’s not posh,” Michelle says. “A good thing about not having a big budget was that we had a lot of time to think about what we wanted. If we’d had extra cash, it would be off the shelf, like any other kitchen. Instead, we got to live in the house and see how we wanted to function in the morning with two children, and what we wanted our kitchen to be.” A kitchen “pulled together over a four-year period” is now a location for photographic shoots. (Michelle works as a stylist for cookbooks, including those by Matthew Evans from the SBS series Gourmet Farmer, and she has expanded by turning an outside shed into a separate studio space.) Produce from the garden goes into many things Michelle cooks — at this time of year, perhaps a quince and walnut cake, “a favourite in late autumn and early winter, made from our quinces and local walnuts”. Money has been the biggest challenge, but Michelle reasons there have always been good lessons in not being able to do things as quickly as she would have liked. “I used to get frustrated that the garden didn’t look like a picture straight away. Now I realise it’s the doing that’s the thing — if you’re just doing it for the end result, you’re never going to get there. If we came in here with truckloads of money, and splashed it around and had everything done in six months, the house wouldn’t reflect our personality and everything wouldn’t have had a story. It builds a better connection with the house… I can see that in every kitchen tile Leo has laid.” There will be no table in the orchard today — it’s raining cats and dogs — but inside the house is light and homely, and there’s the welcome smell of quinces baking. It’s clear that moving to Tasmania has brought this family into a good space for learning and living. A Table In The Orchard: My Delicious Life by Michelle Crawford (Random House, $34.99) is available now. visit Michelle’s blog at hugoandelsa.com
QUINCE & WALNUT CAKE SERVES 12
1 cup caster sugar 1 vanilla bean, split lengthways 2 cinnamon sticks 1kg quinces, peeled, cored, quartered 3 eggs
1 / cup milk 3
1 cup golden caster sugar or raw caster sugar
11/ cups vegetable oil 3
21/ cups plain flour 3 SALTY SUGARED WALNUTS
1 / cup icing sugar mixture, sifted 3
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon pinch of ground cloves ¾ cup walnuts, chopped 1¼ cups walnuts
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes CREAM CHEESE FROSTING 250g packet cream cheese, at room temperature, chopped 60g butter, at room temperature, chopped 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1½ cups icing sugar mixture, sifted
A garden sieve and a map of Tasmania on the sitting room walls, with an old metal case filled with CDS. FACING PAGE, FROM LEFT A painting from Hong Kong behind tansies from the garden; in Hugo’s room a piece of an old cricket scoreboard, above bespoke cushions and a vintage blanket.
See more kids’ country bedrooms at homelife.com.au/ kids-country-bedrooms