STEVE CUMPER TAKES A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE AS HE GOES FORAGING FOR EDIBLE GREENS.
Steve Cumper takes a walk on the wild side as he goes foraging for spring greens to make a rustic pie.
THE GROUND THAWS, THE SHOOTS SPROUT, the shadows get shorter and the aromas of the industry of Mother Nature permeate, heralding spring across our country. Here in Tassie, we greet the arrival of spring as a bear would, emerging from our hibernation, shaking offff sleep’s last embrace, ravenous for food and craving sunlight. The seasons here are so profoundly difffferent that I really look forward to the changes, but they occur slightly later than on the mainland. In spring, the weather is highly changeable and, in anticipation of its apparent contrariness, it’s common practice to put on several layers of clothing before leaving the house in the morning. Perhaps it’s the unpredictable weather that has made Tasmanians the resourceful lot they’re known to be, especially when it comes to the procurement of food. The island state has a long tradition of ‘making do’ with food, so it should come as little surprise to readers that we were at the vanguard of the ‘foraging’ phenomenon, long before the hipster chefs went bush. (On that note, have you ever wondered why, with so much ‘foraged’ and ‘gleaned’ food that has essentially been obtained for free on the menu, it is so expensive to eat at their restaurants?) At about the same time each year, we witness a growing number of people liberating stalks, leaves, buds and flflowers from grassy lay-bys, hedgerows and tracts of roadside bush. Everyone seems nonchalant about the hazards of picking along roads where councils, ever eager to keep nature at bay, mercilessly spray any rogue vegetation. Chickweed, watercress, saltbush, fennel, samphire, fat hen and kunzea are all gathered here, and there’s even a ‘producer’ who collects and sells them at the local market. Gathering wild food was part of life for Australia’s fifirst people, but it’s a subject we’re only just beginning to understand. Over the last three decades, ‘bush foods’ have found a wider audience, although only a few — such as pepperberries, fifinger limes and perhaps wattleseed — have made it into the mainstream. Like many new Australians, my knowledge of foraging was informed by the postwar immigrants from Europe, who helped shape the food culture we enjoy today. A Greek family I worked for in Adelaide would spend their weekends in the hills, collecting edible weeds — known as horta — that were used to make a wild greens pie or a salad. They also sought out prickly wild artichokes, which required arduous cleaning and left their hands bleeding. The sight of their lacerations made me think about the lengths to which people would have gone to in the past, risking injury to survive and keep hunger at bay. Thankfully, in this prosperous country, we’re lucky that food is at hand, bought or foraged, and we’re able to enjoy a very similar pie without risking life and limb to prepare it. Take a moment to ponder this as you take your fifirst taste of my wild greens pie and relish every mouthful as if it was your fifirst meal in an age. Steve Cumper is a chef and funnyman who lives in Tasmania and dreams of one day owning a flfleet of holiday vans called Wicked Cumpers. 1kg1 wild greens, such as fennel fronds, nasturtium leaves, nettles, chickweed, fat hen, wood sorrel (oxalis), dandelion* ⅓ cup olive oil 2 brown onions, peeled, diced 4 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed 4 eggs, lightly whisked 300g feta, crumbled 1 cup fifinely grated parmesan 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs ½ teaspoon ground cloves 2 lemons, rind fifinely grated, juiced 1 tablespoon dill seeds, toasted 10 sheets fifilo pastry olive oil cooking spray extra fifinely grated parmesan and truss tomatoes, to serve Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 5cm-deep, 30cm-round pie dish. Cook greens in a saucepan of boiling water for 2 minutes or until just wilted. Drain and refresh under cold water. Squeeze as much water as possible from greens. Chop and place in a large bowl. Heat oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Cook onion and garlic for 8 minutes or until soft. Transfer to bowl with greens. Add egg, feta, parmesan, breadcrumbs, cloves, lemon rind and juice, and half of dill seeds. Use your hands to mix until combined. Season. Place 1 fifilo sheet on a work surface with long side facing you. Spray with oil. Place another fifilo sheet crossways on top. Continue layering, with remaining fifilo and oil, overlapping fifilo sheets in a clockwise direction to create a disc. Line pie dish with fifilo, allowing it to overhang. Spoon greens mixture into pastry case. Fold excess fifilo over fifilling. Top with remaining dill seeds. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until set. Top with extra parmesan. Serve with tomatoes. Ensure greens haven’t been sprayed. Substitute silverbeet or English spinach.