Ovens & Murray Advertiser

Threads of gold

LOCAL food culturalis­t and storytelle­r Peter Kenyon explores North East food culture and how it supports strong, sustainabl­e, confident rural communitie­s.

- By PETER KENYON

SAFFRON is an ancient spice, originatin­g in Persia and the Near East. It consists of the dried stamens of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). Each flower bud delivers the tiniest whisper of fresh stamens.

Beechworth’s own Gamila McRury grows saffron on a north-facing, quarter-acre block that catches crisp winter frosts and, in summer, full days of beating sunshine.

“Saffron crocus love extremes. They love drama in order to thrive,” she says. “Our climate is pretty perfect, especially when we have warm, sunny, autumn days and crisp overnights.”

The spectacula­rly-coloured flower buds are about the size of a small thumb, harvested in the morning before they’ve fully opened.

When the harvest is pumping, as it is this week, there may be a second pick in the afternoon with the block’s half million or so corms continuall­y sending buds up for about four to six weeks.

Piled on the plucking table, each flower is then teased open by hand and the tiny orange stamens are removed and dried to form the familiar, thread-like, deep orange spice. Fortunatel­y you need very little to benefit from its beauty and flavour.

For a spice that requires so much work for such a miniscule weight of finished product, it’s no surprise it’s famed for being more valuable than gold.

Unfortunat­ely, the high value also leads to a risk of adulterati­on, where cheaper ingredient­s and even orange colouring have been used to pad out some imported product.

The further food is traded and the more hands between harvest and plate, the greater the risk or adulterati­on or substituti­on: a great reason to support local.

Inspired by lamb, lemons, saffron and olives, this season’s quintessen­tial local dish could well be a lamb tagine.

Get Gamila at Beechworth’s saffron at the Beechworth Farmers’ Market on the first Saturday of the month or from Goldfields Greengroce­r throughout the week.

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 ?? ?? PRECIOUS LITTLE PETAL: It takes about 150 flowers to yield a single gram of dried saffron spice
PRECIOUS LITTLE PETAL: It takes about 150 flowers to yield a single gram of dried saffron spice

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