There's something warm and special about a home cooked meal in winter. Especially one that's been prepared by Tasmania's very own Nan, (the local legend) Sally Wise.
SBS Food star, Poh Ling Yeow was absolutely ecstatic to meet the guru of slow cooking and the master of preserving. The Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans knew that the pair would hit it off.
Their time at the Sally Wise Cooking School not only left them (very) well fed, but also left them with a wealth of knowledge into the magical world of preservation and fermentation.
The road winds and winds and winds. As you pass pretty farms and picturesque pockets of bush, the city feels more than just a breezy 30 minutes away. Despite that, the state capital, Hobart, is in reality just over the hill. I wonder if I’ve missed the gate. And suddenly, you’re here, at the home and cookery school of Sally Wise, a woman known widely around these parts as Tasmania’s Nan.
Sally needs no introduction to many Australians – her cookbooks have sold in the hundreds of thousands. She’s Ms Slow Cooker to many. Ms Preserving Queen to others. For decades Sally has been cooking, and teaching and sharing her love of produce with all comers. She’s known as Tasmania’s Nan because she’s the kind of woman that would embrace and feed the whole state if she could; part cook, part teacher, part nurturer, part legend. Today, I want to introduce her to Poh.
But Poh already knows of Tasmania’s Cooking Goddess, by reputation at least. They very quickly embrace and bond over ovens. They share surreptitious tastes of Sally’s preserves. Poh even takes Tassie’s Nan and shows her the quickest, simplest way to make puff pastry, which shows you never stop learning when it comes to cooking.
Today, Sally is the proud bearer of root vegetables. Knobbly, giant, gleaming root vegetables. She’s got a strange, knobbly tuber, called a mangel-wurzel (gotta love that name!), a relative of the turnip, which a grower has left in the ground for twelve months just for her. It looks like a cartoon vegetable, as big as a toddler, and as round as a balloon. She promises to cook it later.
The garden has that lovely feel you get when the trees drop their leaves, and you can feel nature taking a large, restful breath. After feeding the sheep, which all seem to arrive at Sally’s in their dotage and are spoiled better than her husband Robert (and that’s saying something!), Sally takes us to her kitchen. This space warmed with that loveliest of cooking apparatuses, the wood cooker, is where Sally teaches. Today, though, we get to spend time with her, just Poh and I, as she slow cooks some beef, puree the mangel-wurzel, and all the while offer tastes of her cordials, ferments and pickles.
Winter is probably the perfect time to visit Sally Wise. Sure, you may not get a fresh raspberry, but it won’t be missed. The art is in the preserving, so there’s little point in coming in summer because what she does is store the surfeit from warmer months to grace the table all year. What’s more Sally is a feeder. While she makes lunch, she shovels us full of scones and jam and cream. The raspberries of a fleeting summer appear in our drinks. Our bracing walk through the garden has given us an appetite that Sally is obliged to slake.
We finish with gooseberries. This small, tangy fruit, often overlooked these days in the rush to get red berries in December, was once a staple all over the hills of southern Tasmania, a vital ingredient in the heady days of the jam industry. Sharp, fragrant, and impossibly delicious, the fruit from Sally’s gooseberry bushes have been frozen in early summer. Today, in the best winter fashion, they are cooked in a pie, and served with ice-cream that is only minutes out of the churn.
It’s hard to imagine, after being fed so well, by such a mother hen, ever eating again. Every mouthful tastes of here. Of this incredible place at the end of road at the end of the earth.
As we waddle back to our car, we determine to walk off the meal, and blow out the cobwebs in the cool afternoon air, before deciding where in Hobart to head out for dinner. Try doing that in the height of summer.
Today, the air is definitively Tassie crisp but the sun is bathing us with tender rays of warmth as Sally shows us a barrow full of beautiful misfit vegetables grown by a neighbour – a few daikon, rhubarb, kohlrabi and hogging up most of the barrow cavity are giant, wonderfully lumpy mangel-wurzels the size of babies, an heirloom variety of sweet beet. What a fun word to say – like something imagined by Roald Dahl. Strewn through the picturesque Derwent Valley property are previously orphaned animals that now live the good life – an old toothless ewe that Sally spoon feeds porridge every morning and cats definitely well fed, slinking slowly or slumbering in the sun.
When you enter Sally Wise’s Cooking school, everything immediately feels familiar, as if you were returning to the home of an old friend. You barely have a chance to take in the comforting aromas of roast beef and feel the warmth from scones baking in ancient ovens before Rob, Sally’s husband, thrusts a rhubarb brew in your hand.
Right away, we are tasting things, all sourced from the garden - intense pepperberries drying on the windowsill, elderflower cordial, quince syrup, then cracking open jars from the rows of magical preserves and intriguing ferments. Immediately you know you are in the presence of people whose life force depends on sharing the food they make. And what’s different about this school is there’s no wrong or right, it’s just about the joy of doing and the conviviality that comes from a community bound together by the respect for what the earth provides.
Mid lunch, something explodes in the corner, jetting a lid almost high enough to touch the ceiling. We giggle about the joint really being like a mad laboratory and Sally confesses many of the experiments run on faith.
All day I’ve banged on about the revelation of pickled peas and it’s worked - Sally sends me home with a jar. I start to imagine what would go with them because just popping them like a snack suits me fine. I can’t seem to get away from the thought of a posh pie floater – a beautiful beef bourguignon pie, sitting on a pickled pea mash, the acidity cutting through the rich gelatinous meat and short pastry. Perhaps a juicy scallop, caramelised lovingly, served on a puree of pickle peas and a garland of pea tendrils on the side. Even blitzed with garlic, parmesan and mint – a pea pesto if you like, and then smeared on grilled ciabatta with a slice of charred fennel, finished with a generous dousing of olive oil and roughly chopped parsley.
I already feel sentimental saying our goodbyes. It feels like Sally and I have never not known each other and I’ve been dreaming up a feast I would prepare for Sally and Rob if they ever came to Adelaide, but they confess they never leave their slice of heaven (because who would feed the old ewe and the cats and the dog and the chickens?), and I don’t blame them, it’s my kind of paradise too.
Don't miss the next installment of Matthew's and Poh's Local versus Mainlander four-part video series from June to July 2019.
Come thrive on winter in Tasmania. Click here to find out more.