The Agrarian Kitchen
THE AGRARIAN KITCHEN
By Rodney Dunn Penguin Australia RRP $ 59.99
RODNEY Dunn can finally add his own work to his collection of more than 700 cookbooks. Rodney, his wife Severine and their four- month- old son Tristan moved from Sydney to a run- down 1887 farm house at Lachlan, in the Derwent Valley, in the winter of 2007.
They spent their evenings “huddled around the open fire, our toes being blasted by Antarctic winds that whistled through the floorboards”, eating into their savings and writing a submission for a tourism grant to help set up a cooking school.
When the grant came through there was a nine- month sprint to renovate, install a wood- fired brick oven in a commercial kitchen and get the garden started. And that, though they have been very busy, was probably the last time they rushed.
The content of classes at the school and the preparation of the book have moseyed along with the seasons.
During the last year of his chef apprenticeship at Tetsuya’s in Sydney, Rodney met fellow apprentice Luke Burgess, now chef and co- owner of Garagistes and also a professional photographer.
Luke has done all the photography for his friend’s book.
Rodney said neither he nor Luke had “big chunks of time” to work on the book, so the content was assembled slowly.
All the recipes were made with ingredients grown at the Agrarian Kitchen or from very close by.
Over five years, pigs, milking goats, guinea fowl, ducks, geese, bees and chooks were introduced to the small 2.2ha farm.
And in the garden they’ve grown 15 varieties of garlic, more than 20 different potatoes and about 200 varieties of tomato.
But in the book, Rodney takes into account few have the bounty at their back door that he has.
He loves using weeds in his cooking, calling it “the ultimate gardener’s revenge”.
The first place to look for nettles is around the chook shed or sheep pen, he says, but baby spinach will do and you could substitute celery leaves for lovage when char- grilling quail.
Hops grow in the Derwent Valley, but you can also buy them at a homebrew shop for the hop custard to go with honey- poached apple and jam pudding.
For each season there is a photo essay, a beach cook- up on a fishing trip, the fecund garden that makes preserving “a necessary pleasure”, foraging for mushrooms and cooking in the embers of a big bonfire.
Rodney says all the recipes are practical and useable, and if they are long it is because they are exceptional.
The recipes range from lobster cooked in seawater, to surprising deep- fried cherry pies, and also include a refreshing riff on coleslaw and traditions such as making ricotta or rendering lard.
There’s also apple and plum crumble, or sausages and mash – but in this version the sausages and mash are laced with truffles.