Cygnet is another world, hard to believe that it actually exists and hard to imagine that a place and its people can be quite so different and special. I drove into Cygnet, TAS late one night in early June. It was raining, it was freezing cold, but my mum had wallaby tagine on the stove and the fire was roaring. After six weeks winding up my business in Adelaide and another 5 weeks travelling down from Adelaide, I had finally arrived at my destination. This was where I was going to de-stress and re-discover my passion for life – Southern Tasmania for what was going to be the coldest winter in 60 years.
The first thing I noticed was the change of pace. No one was in a rush. It was winter, it was cold, not much happened, so everyone slowed down. The sun came up at 8am, but it wasn’t worth getting up until 10am due to the frost. The sun went down at 5pm, dinner was eaten by 6pm and then it was a book by the fire and a long sleep. The second thing I noticed is that most people have time. The cost of living is lower here. Not just because land costs less but the style of life is different. Houses are small, very efficient, and very comfortable. They are easy to maintain, easy to clean and organise and cheap to run. Peoples properties are generally larger, so they grow their own fruit and vegetables, raise there own animals for eggs, milk and meat, and then trade amongst themselves. This then translates to people working less, but also working at what they are passionate about. So put simply people in Cygnet are very happy and seem to live very richly with very little.
I slotted into this life style very quickly. I started rowing on the community built skiff twice a week. I joined in at the community gardens. I got out and visited a few of the local farmers. There is Mandy and Diddiere, who have chickens, duck, geese, pigs, dogs and cows all living together in harmony on 80 acres of beautiful pasture. There is Alex who grows some of the best vegetables I have eaten on one of best maintained properties I have seen. There is Alexandra who makes anything you can imagine with her own apples. There is Matthew who has the most adorable and well bred herd of Wessex Saddleback pigs imaginable. I hunted wallabies with Blake, I learnt how to kill and dress chickens and ducks with Chloe and Helen. I got involved with the farm yard slaughter of a cow and harvested the liver, heart, thyroid gland, cheeks, tail and hanger steak. I dug up salsify, jeruselum artichokes, and oca yams. I picked frilly mustard, cabbage flowers and chicory. I started cooking, using produce straight off the land, cooking the way I love.
Before long I needed more people to cook for so we, my mum, Kate, and I, launched a Plat Du Jour evening in her kitchen. No menu, just come and eat what I cook. 12 people came to the first dinner. I served Chicken Consomme made with my mums chicken and Mushroom Tarte Tatin with local Bec’s oyster and shitake mushrooms. We threw another and it filled very quickly. I killed ducks and roosters at a friends place and made pies, and served organic beef skirt steak, cooked two ways, from Gerards local organic farm and served that with duck fat potatoes. After that I cooked for a private fuction held by the Cygnet Association and served Bruny Island Oysters with watercress and seawater jelly, and Freycinet scallops with cauliflower puree, slow roast leeks and crispy pancetta. I got my hands on some Tasmanian black truffle and added it to a Jeruselum Artichoke puree that I served with a 12 hour slow roasted berkshire pork shoulder. People seemed to be really enjoying my food and my passion so last weekend we threw two in a row and served some food that I was truly proud of. I think I was most proud of the main course. I killed and dressed 5 large male ducks at Mandy and Diddieres farm. The meat was incredibly dark in colour and the skin was a beautiful creamy colour with a layer of bright yellow fat underneath. I salted, then confited the maryland and wings, I brined the breast meat for 4 days, pan fried and served this thinly sliced a top of the confited meat. I made a stock with the bones which I then used to make a parsley porridge of oats, spelt and rye, which went next to the duck. Then sitting up neatly on top of the porridge were 3 perfectly caramelised carrots, all of different colours.