The notion of an authentic Barossa regional cuisine comes down to three things: a passion for fresh ingredients grown nearby in our fertile soils; respect for the inherited learning from our European descendants balanced with a willingness to experiment; and, most importantly a generous compulsion to share.
“I have always thought of the Barossa as Mediterranean as much as anything else, not because of the produce, but more because of the very distinct and different seasons, and the way that they determine the patterns of our lives.
The quality of our life here is so deep and rich, and so centered around the soil, the seasons and the community. It’s what makes us all tick – taking pride in the effort of the day, and then being able to share it around a table with a bottle of something delicious!”
Maggie Beer, Cook
The Apex Bakery is an unassuming storefront on a busy corner in Tanunda. Its redgum-fired oven was built in the 1920s and has only been extinguished once – when it needed to be re-bricked in the war years.
The Fechner family – current custodians of this establishment built originally by Albert Hoffmann – has a huge plum tree in their garden and they take the excess fruit in February and freeze it for their streuselkuchen.
This yeast cake is made in great slabs, with or without fruit, depending on the maker’s preference. Fresh apricots can top it in early summer, followed as the season progresses by red grapes and then plums…until they reach the back of the freezer. The frozen purple fruit thaws on the streusel before it all goes into the oven, the juices enthusiastically bleeding into the cake. Hot from the oven, it is nothing short of addictive.
During the 1960s, Martin Meinel used to bake bienenstich at The Apex Bakery. Another yeast cake, it has a honey and almond crust, and is filled with cream or custard. Martin was so protective of his recipe, that it was thought to have passed on to the next life with him.
And that might have been the case, but for a young and gimlet-eyed David Fechner, who having witnessed Martin’s efforts over and over again from the next room, reckoned he could have a good guess at the ingredients and the measures.
Today, bienenstich is found at Apex…and every Barossa bakery.
The Barossa’s strong and established food identity, speaks most profoundly of its Silesian heritage.
Artisan smallgoods ranging from mettwurst, lieberwurst and ‘fritz’ to smoked hams and bacon from butchers such as Linke’s of Nuriootpa and Schulz’s of Angaston.
Specialist bakers like the Fechner and Linke families, work long night shifts making sourdoughs and pretzels and pastries and pies – but don’t expect them to open on Sundays, their day of rest.
And back behind the vineyard rows and gum trees is an army of brilliant home-cooks dedicated to the production of delicious noodles and dill pickles, jams and preserves, sponge cakes and cockles that go on an outing once a year to the local agricultural show where they score a proud ribbon or rosette.
The Barossa’s most famous cook (certainly not a chef), Maggie Beer, believes it is that foundation of an identifiable regional cuisine, that has provided the impetus for a new food movement since the 1980s.
She acknowledges a Mediterranean influence in her cooking – olive oil and verjuice, pates and terrines and fresh crabs from Gulf St Vincent – that steers her use of local ingredients such as quinces and apricots and game.
She also celebrates the arrival of new food influences such as Vietnamese chef fermentAsian’s Tuoi Do and Fino’s David Swain and Sharon Romeo.
It’s Maggie that believes that Barossa regional cuisine – a concept that she has helped make famous – is more a sense of involvement and a spirit of generosity than actual ingredients, and something that has served to keep the multigenerational community together through shared exchange and endeavor.
She loves it all, but if she had to choose her favourite flavours they would be pumpkin and quince, hogget (one-year old lamb) and pheasant, pulled-pork with clove and cinnamon-spiced red cabbage – these to her best exemplify the region’s style and accent.
Warm, gold and russet in tone, just like the folded autumnal landscape itself.