A Little Bit Frenchie At Twamley Farm
by Stephanie Williams
Cooking while hungry kids are breathing down your neck is harder, I imagine, than a Mystery Box Challenge on Masterchef. Critical judges, quick thinking, and a cold meal to eat once you finally reach the finish line (i.e. the kids are fed).
Before kids I loved to cook deliciously complicated meals, finding relaxation in the process of creating something beautiful from simple ingredients.
It’s time to reconnect with actual cooking. And what better place than in the homestead kitchen at Twamley Farm, an hour from Hobart, near Buckland. Twamley Farm is a 7,000 acre working farm, where the Turvey family have been living and working since 1874. Approaching the original sandstone homestead, from the kilometres long driveway shrouded in fog this cold morning, it feels like a step back in time. The cooking class is being hosted by Gert from Gert&Ted, in partnership with Angela and Elizabeth Turvey from Twamley Farm. I join a French Cooking Class, a cuisine that I’ve definitely eaten and enjoyed, but not really specifically cooked that much.
The class begins with a warm, buttery almond cake and a cuppa (or something stronger) around the garden fire pit to chat about the plan for the day. We split the menu up into a couple of dishes each and then head into the kitchen to be put to work. Angela shares that the kitchen was where her grandmother spent much of her time – the space feels warm and inviting, with views over pretty lavender bushes out to a huge tree – you can just imagine her keeping an eye on the kids as they play, with a warming stew bubbling away on the stove. I decide to tackle the Farmhouse Pheasant and the Creme Brulee. Because it needs to set, I get cracking (ha) on dessert. My fellow chefs all begin their dishes – chicken liver pate, French onion soup, boulangerie potatoes, tarte tatin – and we find a rhythm moving around each other in the kitchen and finding out where all our equipment and ingredients live. I must admit, I’ve made custard many times before and was quite cocky entering into the custard phase of the brulee. But as us students begin to chat, I start stirring mindlessly, almost to the point of no return…i.e. cooked lumps of egg in the custard. Gert shows me how I can quickly submerge the saucepan in cold water and keep stirring. Voila! We’ve saved the custard.
I was keen to cook the farmhouse pheasant dish, having never prepared pheasant before. The dish starts with cooking onions until translucent, and adding bacon, the pheasant then loads of quince jelly, cider and stock, and cooking all that down. Time will tell if I’ve done a good job. Gert is preparing other parts of the feast we’re going to enjoy for lunch – bread, roast vegetables – while answering questions from her students. Then I cut my finger. Having become so used to my bluntish knives, I underestimate the power of a sharp knife and take a slice of my finger. Gert helps me patch it up and Angela helps with a beautiful glass of Springvale sparkling wine. Both actions were immensely helpful, and I get on with my pleasant pheasant cooking.
It’s time for lunch. We’re ushered down some steps into a slightly subterranean sandstone-lined room. It’s beautifully styled with a black dining table, covered with reminders that we’re on a farm – sculptural bones and vases of long feathers. The fire is crackling away and we’re offered a glass of wine to accompany our French onion soup. I opt for a Darlington Riesling, a beautiful match. My farmhouse pheasant is placed on the table with slow cooked venison, roasted vegetables from the Twamley garden and the potatoes. The bird is gamey and a joy to eat, alongside a splash of Brinktop Wines’ Tempranillo. First dessert (because is it really a feast if there’s only one dessert course?!) is the apple tarte tatin – crispy where it should be, with sweet, soft golden delicious apples. To finish is my creme brulee. I’m feeling the pressure here, but the custard is not lumpy (a win!) and the crunchy sugared top is perfectly burnt. While my fellow students are staying on at Twamley Farm in the accommodation, it’s time for me to head home – full belly and full of French food ideas.
The writer was a guest of Gert&Ted and Twamley Farm.