Recipes for success
Rolling along the Murray on a food-themed voyage
SNAKE birds perched in the gum trees are angling their heads towards the river, diving in sporadically to snare their catch; the fish, in turn, glide up towards the fading light and feast on the insects that skate along the surface of the mighty Murray.
A flotilla of pelicans closes in, pink-billed ghosts emerging from the mist and circling Murray Princess, which has docked for the night at Blanchetown, 130km northeast of Adelaide.
Light from the boat floods the river, illuminating fish so plentiful the pelicans need only dip their beaks into the water to have them overflow with dinner.
From the wood-panelled bar on the Sturt Deck comes the tinkling of laughter; guests are sipping the cocktail of the day, ironically named the Procrastinating Pelican. It’s a rich blend of Kahlua, cherry brandy, dark creme de cacao, coconut milk and cream, made more devilish still by the knowledge that we’re about to tuck into a feast, our fourth in just one day.
But we’ve nothing to be ashamed of, says cruise director Andrew Kerr, for there is something magical that happens here: the river vapours curl upwards and infuse the decks and seep into the cabins and into suitcases and perform a strange shrinking trick on passengers’ clothes so when they return home they can no longer squeeze into them.
Besides, the central purpose of this excursion is food. We are on the inaugural Julie Goodwin cooking cruise, a five-day festival of all things delicious with the winner of Australia’s first MasterChef competition. So far today we’ve breakfasted and lunched on great mountains of food; in the afternoon we gathered in the Paddlewheel Lounge and watched as Goodwin, in a makeshift kitchen, made shot-glass swigs of gazpacho and platters of crumbed calamari and Thai chicken meatballs, recipes taken from her latest book, Gather.
We took notes and asked questions and watched attentively so that we might faithfully replicate these dishes at home, but really what we were hanging out for was the taste-test. Murray Princess’s kitchen staff, briefed earlier by Goodwin, had made sufficient quantities of the cocktail fare so we could all enjoy it while sipping on strawberry-laced champagne.
Afterwards, we disembarked and took a stroll up to Paisley Road in Blanchetown, past a graveyard and fields overtaken by clover to Burke Salter winery, where the one family has grown grapes for three generations. The old Mobil Service Station, built by Burke Salter and his wife, Yvonne, in the 1950s, is now the cellar door, the mechanics’ garage the tasting room.
As the wine flowed, Burke’s son Greg, who runs the winery with his wife, Jane, explained it isn’t only wine-drinkers who reap the fruits of this land — rabbits, cockatoos and kangaroos are partial to them, too.
‘‘Whenit’s going to be one of those stinking hot