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Food and beverage stories

Of witchetty grubs and giant pumpkins

Edition 182_Shane Newitt

By Graeme Phillips

The witchetty grubs were squishy, a mouthful of crickets crunched like savoury popcorn and the ants – well the man said they were chocolate coated. But just where you start to chocolate coat ants I’m not sure.

We and hundreds of others were at Tasmania’s inaugural Wild Food Festival in a magical setting beside the Styx River in the tall-timber country an hour up the Derwent Valley from Hobart.

And, after a summer of almost continuous food, wine, art and musical festivals, it was a delightful change of pace to leave the city behind for a festival where the main entertainment was a singer with her guitar, a frolicking platypus and trout fanning their tails in the Styx’s nearby eddies.

The festival was designed to celebrate Tasmania’s wild-caught and harvested foods.

After the exotica of witchetty grubs, crickets and ants, it was comforting to sample our way through first-rate venison and rabbit pies, smoked trout, smoked duck tacos, barbecued wallaby or a venison burger.

You could wash it all down with a chilled wild beer or wattle seed cappuccino.

Lunch could be rounded off with forest-flavoured ice cream and wattle seed muffins, before you headed home with rural condiments, native honeys or a few potted native plants.

The pick of the day, however, was the barbecued, boneless fillets of eel topped with a “secret" Japanese-inspired glaze by Wayne Finlayson and his son.

The family has been fishing Tasmania’s rivers and farm dams for almost 40 years and hold eight of the State’s 10 eel-fishing licenses.

They say they fish a particular water for a couple of days, then leave it for four years before returning.

Most of their catch goes off to Asia and, with farmers around the State increasingly drought-proofing their properties with new dams, they say they have a sustainable and environmentally friendly business for generations to come.

The weekend after the Wild Food Festival it was a toss-up between the Greek food, wine, singing and dancing of the 22nd annual Estia Festival in North Hobart, or again leaving the city behind to join thousands enjoying all the fun of the fair at the 116th Bream Creek Show at Copping, on the road to Port Arthur.

Bream Creek is the sort of old-fashioned country show that is fast disappearing. It seeks to preserve such local traditions as the election of a showgirl and a showboy.

There are competitions in needle work, cake and cookie making and oyster shucking.

Prizes are awarded for flowers and vegetables; there’s a vintage machinery display; horse events and wood-chopping championships.

But the big event each year is to see who has grown Tasmania’s biggest pumpkin.

The 2017 prize went to Sorell vegetable grower, Shane Newitt, with a 424.5kg beauty that set a show record.

Nobody cared a hoot that it was somewhat short of the Australian record of 734kg and still a long way from the 1,190kg world record from Belgium.

Image courtesy of The Mercury

4 April 2017, Edition 182

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