Jun 052024

Thanks to the people who have contributed to this week’s newsletter: Deb Austin, Debbie Makin, Helen Simpson and Virginia Solomon.

Every newsletter needs a good picture

Still-life with cherries, strawberries and gooseberries was painted in 1630 by French still life painter Louise Moillon, who was 20 years of age at the time. Most of her paintings are still lifes of fruit.

See more food-related art on our website.

Melbourne Bushfood is no more

Melbourne Bushfood has officially closed down. Watch this video, where its founder Hayden Marks explains why.

Obviously, the series of articles about bushfoods in this newsletter will also be coming to an end as they were based on material from the Melbourne Bushfood website, which is also no more.

I do, however, have a few bushfood articles that have not yet been published and I will include these in the next newsletter.

Butter vs margarine vs shortening vs lard and tallow

Butter is made from the fat and protein components of churned cream which is, in turn, the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of un-homogenised milk. As such, butter is mostly (at least 80%) fat, and most of this is saturated fats.

Margarine is an emulsion of fat and water, with most of the fat usually being unsaturated. Most margarine nowadays is made from vegetable oil (although it was originally made from animal fats) and is vegan. Some margarines, however, contains some dairy and others contain other animal products. For this reason, some vegan margarines are called something else, such as ‘vegan spreadable’ or ‘dairy free buttery spread’.

Shortening is technically any fat that is a solid at room temperature. Nowadays, it is usually made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. It is 100% fat and has no water content. The most popular shortening in Australia is Copha, which is 99% coconut oil.

Lard and tallow are effectively animal versions of shortening, made from pig and cattle/sheep respectively. They used to be popular but have now been largely replaced by vegetable shortening.

The main reason for using butter, margarine or shortening in baking is to make the baked goods more tender (think brioche versus baguette). This is due to the fats, which prevent the gluten forming long strands (which is why ‘shortening’ is so called).

Butter has a distinct taste, whereas margarine may or may not have a taste depending on its composition, and shortening is virtually flavourless.

Butter has a lower melting point than shortening and it therefore causes baked goods to spread more and have less height. More generally, the use of butter, margarine or shortening can result in somewhat different textures and mouth feels.

These varying characteristics mean that the end product can be a bit different depending on whether butter, margarine or shortening is used. For example, if you want your biscuits to be thin and chewy, you might use butter whereas if you want them thick and soft, you might use shortening.

Butter is typically more expensive than margarine which, in turn, is typically more expensive than shortening.

Butter is mostly saturated fats, which can be a health concern. Some margarines contain artificial ingredients, which can be a concern for those who prefer to use natural ingredients.

Substitution should be done on the basis of equal amounts of fat. So, for example use 80g of shortening (which is 100% fat) instead of 100g of butter (which is usually around 80% fat) or vice versa. With shortening, potentially add a bit of water to make up for its lack of water. With margarine, read the label to find out the fat percentage.

Finally, margarine and shortening are usually vegan whilst butter obviously never is.

Read more of my baking articles on our website.

A great chocolate giveaway

As you will read later, the first ever Australian Chocolate Festival by bean-to-bar makers will take place on Sunday, 7th July, 10am-4pm at Abbotsford Convent. You will be able to meet some farmers that grow cacao and some of the makers who transform cacao into chocolate. You can watch a demonstration of how beans are made into chocolate and eats lots of chocolate. There will be around 30 exhibitors who will offer tastings and sales of their products.

The $25 ticket gets you both general admission and admission to a chocolate tasting workshop at a time of your choice. Courtesy of the event’s organisers, we have 10 such tickets to give away. If you would like some of these tickets, email me by end Wednesday to enter our random draw. In your email, state whether you would like 1 or 2 tickets.

Chocolate maker versus chocolatier

Whilst reading about the Australian Chocolate Festival, I came across their article on the difference between a ‘chocolate maker’ and a ‘chocolatier’.

A chocolate maker receives raw cacao beans and roasts, grinds and fine tunes these beans into what we know as chocolate.

A chocolatier receives chocolate and uses it to create chocolates, truffles, ganaches, bonbons, figurines, showpieces, confections, etc. The chocolate that they receive, often called couverture chocolate, is typically produced by large industrial chocolate makers with the cocoa bean origin not being disclosed.

Balwyn Community Garden

There is now a page on our website about Balwyn Community Garden.

This garden, which is at Balwyn Community Centre, is allotment-based. There are 35 plots of various sizes, ranging from 10 square metres to 30 square metres, and including some raised beds for easy access.

Gardeners lease the plots for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers and there is a co-operative, sharing vibe. Produce, seeds, cuttings and tips are exchanged and everyone helps at working bees to maintain the site.

There is a shed which contains various equipment (spades, etc), both communal and individually owned.

There is a booklet which provides some rules and guidelines for gardener behaviour, including a code of conduct, rights & responsibilities, plot maintenance (e.g. it must be well maintained) and pest control (e.g. no toxic chemicals).

To become a plot holder, you have to live within 3 kilometres of the garden. The plots currently cost $5 pa per square metre plus a membership fee of $16 pa. In addition, plot holders pay a once off joining fee of $150 to go towards the cost of communal equipment. All plots are currently allocated and there is a waiting list of around 2 years. Here is the application form.

There are now pages for 68 of our local community gardens, of which 16 are basically allotments.

Question of the week

Question from Sue: I live in Marysville Victoria. We’ve had a couple of thick frosts already. Should I do anything with my strawberry plants now or wait till spring?

Answer from Helen Simpson: Your strawberry plants will go into a dormancy period, which they need. So they can be left as is and their leaves will go brown. When Spring arrives, they will start growing new leaves. You can fertilise then and move them around if you wish. It’s also a good time then to re-plant any runners that have attached themselves to the soil. Read my article about how to grow strawberries.

Local people making a difference – Box Hill High School

Box Hill High School (BHHS) has a sustainability club made up of staff and students who meet once a week to discuss and plan initiatives around the school to improve sustainability in the BHHS community. Read their story.

The coordinator, Rebecca Kertes, recommends that schools join the Resource Smart Schools program run by Sustainability Victoria.

‘Crowd harvest’ – Winter citrus

Lemon trees and other citrus are often heavily laden in the middle of winter. Gardeners with excess are invited to give them during June to one of the not-for profit organisations listed in the next paragraph who will, in turn, provide them to those facing food insecurity. Read this Facebook post for more information.

DIVRS in Preston, Elisha Care in Lilydale, Now and Not Yet Cafe in Warrandyte or STREAT in Collingwood.

The Melbourne ‘Local Food Connections’ community radio show

Listen to next Sunday’s show (9th June, 10-10.30am) by tuning into either the 3CR station (855 AM) or its livestream.

Podcasts of all previous episodes are available on their website, the latest being Josh Williams from Tumpinyeri Growers (26th May).

Insect of the week from my garden – banded sugar ants

The left hand photo is of a colony of banded sugar ants (Camponotus consobrinus). As you can see, they don’t have wings.

The right hand photo is of a group of winged banded sugar ants getting ready to swarm. These are a mix of virgin queens and male drones. They are about to fly off to establish other colonies. Once they mate, the males will die and the females will shed their wings.

Banded sugar ants are a bit larger than your average ant (around 1cm long) but don’t often bite. They are mostly nocturnal and usually farm aphids (for their honeydew), taking the aphids out at night to feed.

My banded sugar ants have multiple nests which they often move between around both dawn and dusk.

Read about my previous insects of the week on our website.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

The most popular link in the last newsletter was Jaimie’s article about society garlic as an edible plant.

The most popular event link in the last newsletter was the upcoming CERES workshop about designing your own edible oasis on 15th June.

b33e661f-c100-4ebe-9ffa-847952e0da4e.jpgJoke (or pun) of the week

Why was Cinderella a lousy footy player? She had a pumpkin for a coach.

Read more food-related jokes on our website.


Regular activities over the coming week

Farmers’ and other food markets

North East Region Permaculture (NERP) will have a stall at Sunday’s Eltham Farmers’ Market where their theme will be composts and leaf moulds. They will be giving away some bags of Autumn leaves to enrich some local compost heaps.

Food swaps
Community gardens

Upcoming face-to-face events – not cooking

Gardens for food, fibre and wildlife; Saturday, 8th June, 11am-1pm; $15; Coburg.

Jo Russell will discuss how to create or integrate more Indigenous and other native plants into your garden with the purpose of increasing habitat for pollinators as well as food and fibre. Click here to read about the garden. Organised by Reynard Street Neighbourhood House.

Breakfast set workshop with Jessie Pittard (2 sessions); on Saturdays, 8th and 22nd June, both 2-4pm; $120 ($30 per hour); Research.

In the first session, learn how to make a plate, bowl, tumbler/mug and spoon using hand building techniques such as pinching, slab building and coiling. You will also learn decoration techniques to make your creations stand out. In the second session, you will choose your glaze to finish your breakfast set off and learn glazing and under glazing techniques.

Composting workshop; Sunday, 16th June, 10am-midday; $5; Watsonia.

Jo will show you how to build and use a garden compost, as well as monitor its health. Take along some kitchen or garden scraps (nothing weedy please) to build a nutritious compost while discussing all things decomposition. Also, take along some gardening gloves to use on the day. Finally, feel free to take along some samples or photos of your compost at home if you would like advice from Jo. Organised by Watsonia Neighbourhood House.

Bees wax wraps making workshop (12+ years); Wednesday, 3rd July, 2.30-4pm; $24 ($16 per hour); Forest Hill.

Learn how to make beeswax food wraps to keep your food fresh. Organised by Strathdon House.

Urban cocktail trail; Saturday, 6th July, 1-5pm; $75-95; Fitzroy.

This is a self-guided wine tasting experience, where you choose the order in which you visit the various venues. The ticket includes complementary tastings, a $10 food voucher and 4-6 cocktail vouchers. The participating venues: Bonny Bar, Good Liquor & Wine, Ichi Ni Nana, Lost Boys Bar, Near & Far Bar and The Evelyn Hotel.

The Australian Chocolate Festival by bean-to-bar makers; Sunday, 7th July, 10am-4pm; $20-25; Abbotsford.

Meet some farmers that grow cacao and some of the makers who transform cacao into chocolate. Watch a demonstration of how beans are made into chocolate and eats lots of chocolate. There will be around 30 exhibitors who will offer tastings and sales of their products. Most of the exhibitors will offer no-sugar-added, all-natural, organic, vegan, gluten-free and/or kosher products.

Get buzzy with Ben’s beeswax wrap workshop; Tuesday, 16th July, 6.30-8pm; free; Ringwood.

Learn how to make your own beeswax wraps and leave with your very own wrap to use. Also learn about bees and their by-products. Presenter: Ben from Ben’s Bees.

Permaculture Design Course (100 hours); starting Saturday, 3rd August, 9.30am-4.30pm; $2,350 ($24 per hour); CERES.

The course will comprise a combination of Wednesday evenings (6.30-9.30pm), weekend days (9.30am-4.30pm) and two weekend visits. It is a classroom-based, theoretical course with site visits, not a gardening course. Participants will develop: an appreciation of the fundamentals of permaculture and the historical context in which it was developed; an ability to incorporate ecological and energy literacy/understanding in the design process; an ability to read patterns in landscapes and understand how they influence design choices; an understanding of the design processes and the conceptual design tools used in permaculture, as background for later application topics; an ability to design food production and other agricultural systems in appropriate landscapes; an understanding of how communities function and how permaculture concepts can be used to build functional communities; an understanding of how trading functions and how permaculture concepts can be used to build more equitable economic systems; an understanding of how settlements can be designed to meet human needs on a sustainable basis; an understanding of how buildings can be designed to meet human needs on a sustainable basis; an appreciation of the technologies that are available to assist in building sustainable lifestyles – renewable energies and conservation of non-renewable resources; and a confidence in one’s ability to make a difference at the individual level. Trainers: Adam,. Beck Lowe, Joel Meadows, Kat Lavers and Taj Scicluna.

Tree/scion sales and grafting day; Saturday, 3rd August, 10am-midday; free; CERES.

Purchase scion/budwood from a wide range of varieties of apples and other fruits. Request onsite grafting of apple scion onto suitable rootstock that they will provide. Purchase 2-year-old ready-to-plant fruit trees. The session will also include a grafting demonstration. Organised by the Heritage Fruits Society. No need to book – just turn up.

Backyard beekeeping basics; Saturday, 3rd August, 11am-1pm; $80 ($40 per hour); CERES.

You will learn about: the history and biology of a colony of European honey bees; protective clothing and occupational health and safety; hive components and assembly; bee biology and seasonal management; legislation; diseases and pests of bees; extracting honey; inspecting hive for disease; purchasing hives; and other products from the hive. Presenter: Ashton Edgley.

Tree/scion sales and grafting day; Sunday, 4th August, 9am-midday; free; Templestowe.

Purchase scion/budwood from a wide range of varieties of apples and other fruits. Request onsite grafting of apple scion onto suitable rootstock that they will provide. Purchase 2-year-old ready-to-plant fruit trees. The session will also include a grafting demonstration. Organised by the Heritage Fruits Society. No need to book – just turn up.

Introduction to horticulture and permaculture (15 sessions); starting Wednesday, 7th August, 10am-3pm; $1,050 ($14 per hour); CERES.

This course is designed as a taster for those who are unsure as to whether accredited training is for them, or whether horticulture and/or permaculture is the right pathway, or who are simply not able to commit to a full course at this stage. The three units offered (recognise plants; assist with soil or growing media sampling and testing; and plant and maintain permaculture crops) have been selected from the Certificate II in Horticulture and Certificate II in Permaculture. Presenter: Abigail Jabines.

Thrifty gardening; Wednesday, 7th August, 7-9pm; free; Doncaster.

Maria Ciavarella, from My Green Garden, will show you how to utilise things you already have to garden and save money, including re-purposing everyday items and recycling organic waste. The presentation will start at 7pm but there will be sandwiches and a food swap at 6.45pm.

In June
In July
Regular events

Upcoming face-to-face events – cooking

Sri Lankan ayurvedic cooking workshop; Friday, 21st June, 5.30-8pm; $99 ($40 per hour); Fairfield.

Explore some of the basics of a Sri Lankan and an Ayurvedic diet, discuss key kitchen ingredients, spices, herbs and cooking methods and then learn to make a few dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, participate in a traditional blessing ceremony and a healing ritual.

Raw food treats cooking workshop; Saturday, 29th June, 1-4pm; $175 ($58 per hour); Camberwell.

Jo-Anne Grist will demonstrate how to make: raw pistachio slice; raw chocolate brownie with pistachios; raw mini mango cheesecakes; lemon and coconut bliss balls; and fresh summer berry rocky road, You will take home a box of raw treats.

Mini master cooks (9-12 years) – make bao buns; Friday, 5th July, 12.45-2.15pm; $52 ($35 per hour); Forest Hill.

Calling all mini cooks aged 9-12, make bao buns. Steam them to perfection and fill them with tasty fillings. BYO apron and container to take the pasta and sauce home in. Organised by Strathdon House.

Dad and me – cook, eat, enjoy; Wednesday, 10th July, 5.30-7pm; free; Lilydale.

For children aged 3-8. Make your own pizza, salad and chocolate dessert. Challenge your senses, try new ingredients and decorate your own paper chef hat to keep.

Sourdough bread workshop; Saturday, 20th July, 10am-1pm; $55 ($18 per hour); Panton Hill.

Learn how to make sourdough bread. You will make a pizza base to enjoy together and some bread dough ready to bake the following day at home. You will also be given a starter so that you can continue to make bread at home. Take an apron, tea towel, sealable container (for the bread dough) and jar with a screw top lid (for the starter). Organised by Living & Learning Nillumbik.

Vegan chocolate making; Sunday, 4th August, 10.30am-midday; $80 ($53 per hour); Collingwood.

Start by unravelling the story of cocoa butter. Then delve into the intricacies of chocolate making, from melting and mixing the perfect blend of ingredients to mastering the art of setting. Presenter: Tina Gelberidis.

In June
In July
Regular classes

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