What an amazing day at Hampton Festival!
Every year I look forward to the Hampton Festival with so much excitement, and this year was no different. In fact, for the festival’s 20th year, I think this one was the best yet.
I’m lucky enough to play a role in the festival helping to organise and run the Growers on the Green stage. Each year, I’m more excited, more exhausted, and more impressed with the incredible day and amazing produce talent we have in this region, and I just have to talk about it some more.
This year, we kicked off Growers on the Green in style with stalwarts, Halo Farm. Jo and Chip shared their endless knowledge of finger limes and the constant growth this unassuming fruit is having both in Australia and across the world. With sampling regulations lifted, we even got to taste them this year! Guests devoured both varieties the Saints had brought along, debating if the zingy tang of the green D’Emerald was preferred to the more mild champagne pop of the pretty Byron Sunrise red. In the end, we decided they were both delicious and were definitely, as Chip says, like vegan caviar, but better. Try these in your next gin…Pechey’s of course.
Next up was a special treat. Cutta Murphy and his Granddaughter, Laura, cooked with traditional indigenous food from the local region. While Laura was mixing and kneading bunya-nut Johnny cakes, we sampled Cutta’s lemon myrtle damper with olive oil and native dukkah, before being treated to the smoky, nutty deliciousness of Cutta and Laura’s Johnny cakes.
Now, if you missed these treats from Cutta, or just can’t stop thinking about them, you can get your hands on the recipe in Word Fest Toowoomba’s latest book by ordering on the website. You can also visit Mosaic Hues and browse other local artisan’s creations while you grab a copy.
Back to Growers, and more tasty treats! Our morning continued with the multi-talented Bruce Ryman from Highfields Motel and Restaurant and now Lily’s Artisan. He shared with us all about Lily’s Artisan’s new space in Crows Nest while casually hand-rolling fresh fettuccine. Bruce also cheekily shared with the crowd the somewhat sordid origins of pasta puttanesca. They didn’t seem to mind too much though, as we hungrily devoured his knowledge and his pasta. Yum!
Speaking of great knowledge, next up Kat spoke with Bee Raw Honey’s Craig, who brought both bee hives and knowledge! Not only did he explain that crystalised honey is normal in winter (if it’s not going hard, it should probably go in the bin), but he explained why we should all be eating and using local honey. Craig explained that our customs are so strict because we are lucky enough to have the healthiest bees in the world…bees who help pollinate so many of the fruits and vegetables we love and take for granted. He urged us to remember to be mindful of what we spray on our backyard gardens and don’t take for granted the produce we buy from our producers.
And then it was time for some more local goodness, complete with tasting, as Chris from Highfields Gourmet Meats stepped up to teach us all about how to make a tasty meal in less than twenty minutes. In fact, he’d managed to roll and slice his Wagyu beef and spinach pinwheels in less than ten! And all while talking to Kat about his favourite cuts of meat, and why both grass and grain fed meat are equally as good. Debate settled! But seriously even the smell of those pinwheels had me drooling, and obviously everyone else felt the same way, because people stuck around afterwards while Chris cooked a second batch for us to devour, which, of course, we did!
Speaking of devouring, people have been absolutely skolling everything Matt from Valknut Meadery produces. Did you spot my little play on words? Skol, which we Aussie’s use for “downing fast” is also a Scandinavian toast meaning “good health” or “cheers”, which fits perfectly with a viking beverage such as mead! But, for real. After taking home multiple medals at the Australian Mead awards in the first year of production, Matt has continued success, selling out constantly at festivals and markets. He won’t rest on his laurels though, constantly creating new flavour combos, like his Canadian Pancake Mead which is currently in the works. Oh, and unless you’re adept at reading Old Norse, you’ll struggle to steal his success—he writes all his recipes in this essentially dead language…and then in code on top of that. Smart and business savvy!
Now if you’re less about historical drinks and more about modern cuisine, Bruno from Willow Vale Cooking School would have made your day. Learning from a chef who once worked at some of Europe’s best restaurants was an absolute delight and got our brains thinking about next year (but you’ll have to wait for more on that). Bruno’s Asian-inspired barramundi even included potatoes from his own garden, so you couldn’t get much more local, but he also shared some amazing tips for cooking a gourmet meal in just twenty minutes. My favourite tip: crushing ginger with the back of your hand or a heavy knife, just like you would with garlic! So simple, and yet so many of us had clearly never thought of it, given the oohs and aahs of the crowd.
While we weren’t able to taste Bruno’s delish fish, the next crew up brought tasters, flavour, and spunk! Jeff from DF Smoke Haus (who celebrated their second birthday this week!) teamed up with the fabulously-named Smokey McBBQ’s, Dennis, to create not one but two different flavours of tacos in just fifteen minutes. They even had time to banter with the crowd when someone poo-pooed both lamb and coriander. I don’t like to judge, so I still let her have a taco, but we all know coriander and lamb are A-mazing, right?! Oh, and can I just say, 25 tacos (both lamb and pork) in fifteen minutes is pretty darn spectacular. Make sure you check our Jeff’s samples at the Farmers Markets each Saturday. Oh and Sonny now has a ticket to one of Smokey McBBQs cooking classes.
Equally spectacular, but slightly less chaotic, the gorgeous Lisel from Belle Bouquets was our next presenter. Dressed like a flower, she shared with us how to use fresh flowers to dress up our cakes. Did you know you can ‘press’ flowers in the microwave?! All you need to do is pop them on some paper towel and then cover them with another sheet of towel and a plate, then give them 30 second bursts until the moisture is gone. And voila—you have dried and pressed flowers! Amazing right!? And so pretty! Her finished cake looked like something out of a fairytale. I was almost glad we couldn’t try it, because it was far too beautiful to devour.
Our penultimate presentation of the day may have been young, but Mariam from Afghan Traditional Sweets did her parents proud with her calm confidence. At only fourteen, she shared with us all about her Mum, Sita’s, incredible sweets, and how she had started the business to be able to care for her children. Mariam shared with us the basics for making Shire-pira—a nougat-like candy— before handing out samples, and reminding us that if we all take time to talk to and meet new people, outside of our own communities, we can learn so much and make new friends. By the way, you can get the recipe for Shire-pira in Wordfest Toowoomba’s latest cookbook too (in case you needed another region to buy it).
Last, but certainly not least, our fave local gin merchant, Ben, from Pechey Distilling Co. Shared their latest release. The latest in their Art X Gin series is so good I could wear it as perfume…and probably bathe in it. Packed with crisp apple, rose, chai, and wattleseed, the 2023 Art X seems to sing as it dances in your mouth. The mother-daughter artists, Diana Battle and Anna Battle managed to capture this same perfect symphony in their bottle artworks—creating them in their separate studios, but somehow producing such similar works that they were destined to be a pair. Ben provided tastings with a dash of good tonic water and there was nothing by happy “mmmms” echoing as we celebrated the end of another incredible Growers on the Green.
I have to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to all our presenters. Events can be made or broken by those speaking, and we are always so lucky to have prompt, interesting, and delightful speakers who share their incredible knowledge and happily answer questions afterwards. I also have to give a shoutout to our two regulars, who were back again this year, Chen and Jo. They always have great questions and also teach me something during our chats. Thank you as well to our incredible audience! This year the seats were always filled and so many of you asked where you could get more info about presenters, or buy their products. For us, this means our stage was a success and makes us hungry for another great year of Growers on the Green in 2024. On that…what would you like to see next year??? Send us an email or message. We are already cooking up a beaut schedule.