Creative in the Countryside: The Farmhouse Kitchen

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Nicola: You live on a one hundred and fifty year old homestead in a beautiful part of Tasmania, Australia. Can you tell me how your family came to settle here, and why you love this area so much? 

Giuliana: My husband and I and our four children moved to Wattle Grove in 2000. We were looking for somewhere with land, so we could give our children a different kind of experience. As it turned out the property we bought had a working dairy on it, so my husband decide to start milking cows. In the early stages we were milking up to 120 cows. 

The community in and around Cygnet is very supportive.  There is always something happening. We love the environment, as well as the diversity of the people and activities. We also love the natural beauty and the magnificent views. The area has become a trendy, thriving and vibrant place to live.  There are many small boutique industries and lovely little shops.  There is also a marvellous market and cafes where people can come together to meet and be social. When we drive back to the Huon Valley it really feels like home. 

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Tell us about The Farmhouse Kitchen. How it came about, what you teach and what people can learn during a day spent with you? 

The Farmhouse Kitchen has been a long-term dream of mine.  While occupied with the dairy farm we had no time to renovate the run down old house.  Or even consider the possibility of something other than farming for the property.  We finally gave milking away and began restoring the house back to its old charm.  It was at this point it seemed there was a chance to move closer to my dream of teaching cooking.   

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During the restoration we created a beautiful kitchen.  The kitchen leant itself to the possibility of starting something new and exciting.  I've always had the support of my family, especially my youngest daughter Genevieve.  And together we have created a friendly environment to share our passion with others.  This passion is our knowledge of genuine, traditional Italian cooking.   

At the Farmhouse Kitchen we specialise in the cuisine of the region of Puglia in southern Italy.  This is where my family is from. The traditional food of Puglia, along with Sicily, is known for having some of the best food in Italy. It is the food-growing region and has a vast culinary history of healthy, simple and tasty dishes.  Some of which date back to pre-Roman times (the home of the Mediterranean Diet). We provide insight into the history of the dishes where possible.  And look at the cultural and historic reasons behind the techniques and ingredients.  

Our day is filled with cooking followed by a meal typical of an Italian family.  We teach dishes that can be reproduced at home.  These include many shapes of pasta and the varied sauces to go with them.  Bread, pizza focaccia, dips and salads.  Typical festive dishes, desserts, meat dishes and so much more. 

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Your family is from Italy, one of the most beautiful parts of the world. What does your heritage mean to you, and how do you continue to honour its traditions while living in Tasmania? 

My parents and three siblings arrived in Tasmania in 1959 and lived near the CBD of Hobart. Mamma and Papà still live in Hobart at 89 and 94 years of age. When I was born the entire street was home to Italians from all over Italy.  Each with their own traditions, skills and cuisine.  

Living in a tight knit community meant the women learned from each other and shared their skills.  As a result the techniques and diversity of dishes is enormous.  When people settle in another country they tend to hold onto the traditions and foods they are used to.  While their mother land progresses, those that leave remain in a sort of time warp.  As a result the best traditional food is often found in the homes of emigrants, rather than in the country of origin.   

This is true of Italians who left Italy during the depression years after the Second World War.  Back home in Italy the grandmothers are the only link left between old and new cuisine.  While the children of emigrants still prepare food in the same age-old method handed down to them from generation to generation. 

In our household my mother worked long hours as a dressmaker.  So we helped with preparing meals from a very young age.  All the recipes have been handed down verbally.  There is no written record of many of the amazing dishes from our region here in Tasmania.  I have taken it upon myself to start putting these recipes on paper so they aren't lost forever.   

Tasmania lends itself perfectly to the Mediterranean diet.  We can access excellent fresh produce, and grow most of what we need in our vegetable patches. This wasn't the case when my parents first arrived.  But with the resurgence of the importance of good food, there is almost nothing you cannot find here. 

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Can you tell me what an average day in the life of The Farmhouse Kitchen looks like? 

We have classes two days per week.  And recently we have introduced Mini Classes.  These are held twice a month for those that can't spend an entire day with us. 

Our classes start at 9 am with a coffee or tea and introductions. We usually prepare quite a lot of dishes, depending on the types of class, until around 1:30.  Half way through we have a morning tea break with cake and coffee.  At the end we enjoy what we have made with a glass of wine, followed by an Italian dessert. 

Everyone also goes home with a copy of the recipes they have made, so they can reproduce them time and again. 

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And lastly, what do you hope those that experience a day of culinary experience with you take away from it? 

I would love people to feel that they have experienced what it is like to be part of an Italian family for a day. To be able to stand around a kitchen, laugh, chat and enjoy creating something special.  Just as we use to do as kids with my mother.  It's so nice to see total strangers get together and create new friendships.  To chat and exchanging experiences, as well as taste real Italian food as it should be.  Often for the first time. I enjoy showing people the simplicity of preparation.  Teaching them how to turn simple ingredients into something new and healthy.  And have them experience the amazing taste. 

I also love the idea that people can go home and reproduce the same dishes themselves. I don’t do anything that can't be made in their own kitchens at home.  I have received great feedback that the meals they make at home turn out the same as in class. 

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Find Giuliana and The Farmhouse Kitchen at www.thefarmhousekitchen-tas.com and on Facebook.

CreativeNicola Judkins