By: Vivienne Pearson
Peter Hardwick (pictured right) is the wild food forager (and ‘Ingredient Inventor’) at Harvest in Newrybar, where he works with executive chef Bret Cameron and others to create a very special food experience at Harvest’s Wednesday night ‘Wild Harvest’ dinners. Photo – Jeff Dawson.
If you saw a roadside verge covered in plants that looked a bit like spinach, would you be brave enough to pick some and cook it? If you had tea tree growing in your backyard, would you find a way to eat the leaves?
One person who answers yes and yes to these questions is Peter Hardwick. He is a forager. This means he is someone who gathers existing plants – ones that have not been planted deliberately – for food. Some foraged food is from native plant: those that grow naturally in the region. Others are from feral plant: ones that were introduced from other places and have run wild.
Peter may forage wild food but he is anything but wild in his approach. He thinks in botanical names, sees himself as a forager/researcher, and has professional connections with biochemists at Southern Cross University, who undertake toxicity and nutrient testing. He has previously worked with top South Australian restaurant Orana, and is now part of the team at Harvest in Newrybar producing their innovative and exciting ‘Wild Harvest’ sessions on Wednesday nights.
Born in Casino, he has lived in many locations in the region. As a child, he picked honeysuckle flowers and feral wild sweet potatoes, and gathered pippis from the beach. This may be unusual in Australia, but not elsewhere. ‘Foraging is a much stronger part of cuisines in Italy and Greece,’ Peter notes.
Peter’s other possible job title is ‘Ingredient Inventor’. He doesn’t just take foraged foods as they present. Peter works with the plants, using references, experience, and trial-and-error to find a way to make them not only edible, but tasty.
The flavours can be strong and unique, with astringency and sourness more common than in foods that we are currently used to. ‘It is how fruits would have been in times past,’ says Peter.
Some of the foraged foods are surprisingly familiar. ‘Bubblegum tea tree’ smells and tastes like one of the most artificial substances on the planet: bubblegum! Lemon myrtle is better known than its cousin cinnamon myrtle, which has a surprisingly pure cinnamon taste.
Some of the foods he has ‘invented’ are a brine made from bunya nuts, a jelly made from coffee tree leaves, and, perhaps most astoundingly for those who curse ‘farmers friend’ prickles, a kimchi made from the shoots of this plant.
Peter was at the forefront of the move in the 1980-1990s to introduce native foods into Australian cuisine, including their commercial production. These days, he is less interested in commercialisation and more focused on community. ‘Not every native or wild food needs to be commercialised,’ he reflects.
Feral greens and tea tree leaves are one step back from the current trend of ‘paddock-to-plate’ eating. It may not be as catchy, but foraged food is ‘wild-to-plate’ eating.
Photo – Jeff Dawson