Feasting and walking around the ACT »

Explore another side of Australia’s capital region

By Robyn Lewis
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Eat Feast Cook Grow - by Gabrielle Chan

Eat Feast Cook Grow - by Gabrielle Chan

Best Bush,Town and Village walks in and around the ACT


Canberra and... walking? It’s not a word pairing that springs straight to my mind, whether the walks are of the bush-exploring sort or simply strolling around the town.

But hey, like many Australians, I must confess to rarely visiting our nation’s capital, and what I have seen has revolved around the icons: Parliament House, the National Gallery, the War Memorial, the observatory, plus a few nearby wineries (of course!) and Lake Burley Griffin.

It also seems to me that Canberra is a city designed for the car, although I do remember seeing the ACTION bus network that puts others to shame (see link below).

Nor are my first thoughts about Canberra of food – rightly or wrongly, my primary word associations would be politicians, academics and lobbyists, not cheese, markets or restaurants.

But Canberra is clearly now far, far more than the bureaucratic stereotype of old, both culturally and gastronomically. So when two books about Canberra arrived, one on food and the other on walking, I was intrigued.

The first is entitled FEAST, eat, cook, grow – a guide to planting, growing, cooking and enjoying Canberra’s regional produce, which is part garden guide, part culinary tour around Canberra and districts.

It’s edited by local ABC radio identity Gabrielle Chan, and sprang from Canberra Radio 666’s FEASTING program, with additions by various culinary-minded ABC hosts and their listeners.

If FEAST is any indication, Australia’s capital clearly deserves to be much better known for its food produce. And when you think about it, it’s obvious. Canberra was established in 1913, in the middle of what was then farmland, and its residents drink, eat and party like the rest of us.

With the highest average per capita income in the country plus a seeming wealth of quality produce on their doorstep ­– in keeping with the worldwide trend amongst the better-off – more residents are turning to locally grown fare.

Then there is the Canberra region’s wine, with its cool climate and experienced winemakers producing superlative rieslings and shiraz of world-class reputation.

Wine was first made in the area in the 1840s, but it wasn’t until over a century later that it became a viable industry.

Today, there are over forty vineyards in the region, classed as cool-climate because of its elevation and – as those who have experienced a Canberra winter can testify – the continental influence on its weather.

Put good wine and food together and as we’ve said on VisitVineyards.com before, Canberra is a culinary region waiting to be discovered.

But for some reason it continues to fall under the epicurean’s radar. If asked, I doubt that many – even wine-lovers – would name Canberra amongst their top ten wine and food regions in Australia. Is the lack of something else, like surf beaches, mountains, a harbour or ‘authentic’ local culture that keeps it from front of mind? Or is it just in need of some marketing?

For Canberra sure has plenty of art and festivals, and both are close bedfellows with wine and food. A tempting mix for those willing to spend a long weekend or more to exploring the capital’s food and art scene…..

Gabrielle Chan’s book FEAST, Eat, Cook, Grow is not a guidebook, however, so don’t pick it up if you want maps, itineraries or info on accommodation.

What it does reveal is that just like the rest of regional Australia, there’s a wealth of local produce waiting to be discovered, at local markets, makers, providores, cellar doors and more, with the names and addresses of those who contributed to the book at the back.

As their media release says: “the fruits of a great year of broadcasting have been distilled into a book.

FEAST is a guide to planting, growing, cooking and enjoying Canberra's regional produce.

(In) 2011, 666 ABC Canberra explored the food culture of the national capital region, from the old Duntroon Dairy to bush tucker in Tidbinbilla, (and) found a delectable tale around just about every corner in between.

Genevieve Jacobs explored paddock to plate through dairy, meat and even made jam live on air.… Gardening guru Graham 'Willow' Williams played a big part, and contributes his seasonal planting and harvest guides to the book.”

So for those moving to Canberra and wishing to grow your own fruit and vegetables, or to source local produce, this book will be very useful.

It’s about a third gardener’s guide (but very adaptable to other temperate regions of Australia and New Zealand), a third anecdotes and tips, and the remaining third part cook’s manual/recipe book.

I was surprised by the variety of produce covered– from Christmas cherries in nearby Young, to locally grown exotic varieties of fungi, trout and more.

The book is organised by the seasons, which is useful for the gardener and cook, but the interspersing of the tales and anecdotes – while charming and undoubtedly interesting, especially for locals – and the lack of division of recipes into starters, mains etc, for me made finding things in FEAST an ongoing trial. If you find a recipe that you want to try, be sure to have some sticky tabs.

But you can stumble upon tips like how to build your own wood-fire oven, the secret to a good loaf of bread, and a dietician’s advice to a good breakfast.

The 80 recipes are basically contributions by ABC staff, listeners and local identities, from a Metrosexual Pizza (spinach and feta) and Cheat’s Rhubarb Pie (using diet ginger beer) to a number of more refined dishes using the local truffles and mushrooms, of which they are rightly proud.

Some have been provided by local chefs and restaurateurs, for example the Braised Rabbit and Green Olives in Agro-dolce by Pasquale Trimboli of Mezzalira restaurant, who also contributed the delicious-sounding Teleggio, Porcini and Leek Lasagne.

There’s a lot of comfort food – basically, these are dishes that you’ll want to cook at home, perhaps slanted toward winter, although if you ever happen to have a summer surplus of cherries, you’ll find how to make them into muffins or even a Cherry and Pork Terrine.

The Blackberry and Apple Jam is also good, but those who need illustrations of finished dishes like the White Chocolate Cake with Porter Sauce or Five-spice Beef Salad will be disappointed; there are none.

I would have hoped for a few more local wine matching recommendations, though – although vigneron Graham Shaw contributes his grandmother’s recipe for Braised Beef Bourguignon in Cabernet (which curiously he teams with shiraz, but then, he makes it!), and there’s another for baked Red Wine Potatoes – but perhaps if there’s a revised edition in future, this and a better index/structure would make FEAST more user-friendly and more easily applicable to the wider audience it deserves.

But back to the walking, and here we have Best Bush, Town and Village Walks in and around the ACT by Marion Stuart as our guide.

It’s a companion to her earlier Canberra’s Best Bush, Parks and Cities Walks, and part of an excellent series that now includes Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula, though the Illawarra, NSW Central Coast and Shoalhaven to Brisbane and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast (see related links below).

A lot of thought has clearly gone into the layout of this daypack-sized book, from the overall regional map at the beginning to the more details maps at the rear.

The 42 walks are divided by Canberra/ACT sub-region: South and North of Lake Burley Griffin; the Murrumbidgee Corridor and Beyond; Queanbeyan and Surrounds, and Over the Border – East, and North and North West.

I especially like the four pages of ‘Walks at a glance’ which lists the walks by each region, giving distance, degree of difficulty, time, whether there’s a café and shade or not, if suitable for dogs (most of the walks can be done by children), and the highlights, from views to gardens, aboriginal sites to caves, birdwatching and historic buildings, plus some of the markets covered in FEAST.

There is a helpful introductory section on how to prepare for your walk, what to watch out for in any season, and public transport options to/from your chosen walk’s start and end points. I also like the section on Canberra’s bushranger history – perhaps not quite as colourful as Rutherglen’s Ned Kelly, but scary enough!

The book also covers nearby towns and villages including (to the east) Captain’s Flat, the art and antique centre of Bungendore, and the historic town of Braidwood; to the north and NW there are walks around Goulburn, Gundaroo (home of the winter Fireside Festival), Gunning and its cafés, Dalton, Wee Jasper and Yass, which hosts farmers’ markets on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

For a newcomer to Canberra this book would also be invaluable, and even residents could learn a few secrets. Next time I go to Canberra I’ll be sure to talk this book with me, even if I only get time to walk to ‘The Pinnacle’ behind the suburb of Hawker.

Well illustrated with photos, Best Bush, Town and Village Walks in and around the ACT quickly shows that there is far more to Canberra than the lake, the icons and the inner city, and gives you plenty of alternatives to jogging round the Burley Griffin to burn of some of the good food and wine that you’ll find in and around the nation’s capital.

FEAST, eat, cook, grow – a guide to planting, growing, cooking and enjoying Canberra’s regional produce, edited by Gabrielle Chan is published by the ABC in conjunction with HarperCollins Publishing (Sydney, NSW, 2012; sc, 238 pp) who have also previously published From Paddock to Plate – Recipes from Australian Providores by Louise Fitzroy, and A Generous Helping – Treasured recipes from the people of Queensland by Madonna King and Alison Alexander.

FEAST retails in Australia for A$24.99 and can be purchased from the ABC shop online here » 

or via Booko.com.au here »

It is also available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon for US$14.85  here »

The accompanying website http://www.abc.net.au/canberra/feast has Graham ‘Willow’ Williams’  accompanying planting and harvest calendar, plus instructions on how to build a vegetable garden and a backyard pizza oven, an A to Z of herbs and spices, and a helpful map of Canberra’s community gardens.

Best Bush, Town and Village Walks in and around the ACT by Marion Stuart (Zissis) is published by Woodslane Press Pty Ltd (Warriewood, NSW, 2012; sc, 212 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$29.99

It can be purchased via Booko.com.au here »


  • Canberra (ACT)

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