DEADLY NIGHTSHADES a very brief history of EARTH APPLES, LOVE APPLES, KANGAROO APPLES, MAD APPLES And WOLF

PEACHES

What keeps a cook cooking? For me, it has always been a fascination with the produce. In front of us we find a kaleidoscope of colour and flavour, a very small selection of the diversity that is the Nightshades. In my opinion no other group of plants has changed the way cooking has evolved as significantly as these. From suspicion to seduction, from mad apple to love apple, the story of the development and spread of these wonderful food plants is a trip into the red zone, but beware one false move and it’s the shades of night forever. Whenever the question of fusion cooking has been discussed I have usually sided with the reactionary ‘old fogey’ tribe that maintains that it is risky to mix too many ingredients from different cultures. This is probably because I grew up with only one type of cooking—Hungarian, with its heart expressed by that vibrant spice Paprika. Of course it was a bit of a shock as I started to read about food and its origins to realise that Paprika had arrived in Hungary from Turkey via Spain from the Americas in the sixteenth century but did not feature prominently in Magyar kitchens and restaurant menus till the nineteenth century! How about Asia without the chilli? Italy without a tomato? Spain without a pimento? When the Spanish conquerors started to return to Europe in the late fifteenth century with the looted treasures of the Americas, they also brought back many edible nightshades, and with them, a wealth of new

foods that were to have a much more profound effect on the Old World than mere gold. If you think that telling a Hungarian that capsicums come from South America is a challenge, how many Italians could care to admit that pasta with tomato sauce is an Etruscan-American or Sino-American hybrid? It is hard to imagine Irish, Russian or indeed any European cooking without the potato? But of course these seemingly seminal ingredients arrived in Europe only with the discovery of the New World. Potatoes, Solanum tuberosum, native to the Andes, were feared and deemed inedible by early religious fundamentalists as they were not mentioned in the Bible. Paradoxically, potatoes have been transformed in Europe from an antifamine food to one that caused one of the most devastating famines of all in Ireland. A sad lesson as to the dangers of monoculture that is still relevant today. The humble spud also changed the way that America was populated with the vast numbers of Irish fleeing the effects of the famine. Potatoes have sadly changed from being a healthy, naturally- nutritious and inexpensive food into one of the most expensive processed foods and universal carriers of fat in the form of fries. More please. The potato was one of the first foods to be genetically engineered and it may yet again seduce farmers by providing income from genetically modified crops that will produce a type of plastic. It could be said that that’s what some potato products taste like already.

Dried potato made its DEBut [sorry] high in the Andes several thousand years ago in the form of chuño, where the sudden drop in overnight temperature was used to freeze-dry potato that could be stored for years providing insurance against famine. Chuño was also used to feed the Spanish fleets on their return voyages. When all these new plants first appeared it would have seemed like the original “Attack of The Killer Tomatoes” as most nightshades or

solanaceae previously known or native to Europe were poisons surrounded by superstition, black magic and witchcraft. Wolf bane, Mandrake, Devil’s Apples, Sodom’s Apple, Henbane and of course Deadly Nightshade all belong to a group dangerous enough to frighten even the man who eats everything. Deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna [cruel and beautiful lady]: its name comes from an early Italian practice where women would place a drop of its juice into the eyes to dilate the pupils. A sign of beauty at the time. One of its active ingredients is atropine, still used to dilate the pupil for eye tests. Atropine was used as an antidote to a deadly nerve gas during WW2; it also formed the basis of the legendary truth serum that was used to extract confessions for many show trials hmmm. All American journalists in Bagdad have phials of atropine in their press kit. Please let’s not have a comeback here. Huckleberries Solanum nigrum are an edible [when ripe] form of what we often mistakenly call deadly nightshade, a weedy plant that finds its home in any nook or cranny. It has a variable form but quite a useful friend, when food is scarce for a poor man’s pie. The cooked leaves are also eaten in India and Indonesia. Did Mark Twain allude to the sweet blueberry or the black nightshade for that precocious rascal by naming him Huck Finn? Huckleberries or Wonder berries provided one of the best food scandals or hoaxes of the early 20th century, nearly ruining the reputation of that great plant breeder Luther Burbank. Promoted to be a new miracle berry it fizzled with much public embarrassment to become the Blunderberry Mandrake has a history linked to debauchery and has been said to cure anything except death, which it was also conveniently known to cause. It was used to fool the Romans during Crucifixions and some have said that because Jesus bled on the cross he was not dead but in a deep narcotic sleep leading to a heretic’s view of the resurrection. Juliet may have taken mandrake as her poison only to be resurrected later in a tomb. On awakening she fears the shriek of the mandrake.

In the latest Harry Potter film, there is a nice episode where the students are re-potting mandrakes. Because the shriek of a mandrake as it is being pulled up causes madness and death, the old herbals show how to use a dog to pull it up. In the film, all the students wear earmuffs.

Tobacco [that other infamous nightshade] has become the real Montezuma’s or, to be more geographically accurate, the Mohican’s, revenge. Tomatoes, Lycopersicon esculentum [the name translates to edible wolf peach], have had a very hard time getting to the dinner tables of Europe. Even the exquisite aroma of the green leaves was abhorrent to the early European sensibility. Although native to South America around Ecuador and Chile, it was in Mexico that the tomato was first widely developed for food. The common name tomato also comes from the confusion between it and the name for the Mexican husk tomato tomatl or tomatillo Physalis ixocarpa. The tomatillo is itself often confused for green tomatoes in recipes. Tomatillos and another physalis, the Cape gooseberry, have wonderful exotic scented flavours that are slowly appearing in contemporary dishes: they hold great promise in this climate. From Mexico the tomato arrived in Spain where it initially attracted little attention. The earliest botanical reference for tomato comes from the herbal of Matthiolus in 1544 and historian Vernon Quinn[1942] records its early passage from Seville to Morocco and then from Tangier to Italy. Which might explain its first Italian name of Pomo dei mori or Moor’s apple? Matthiolus named it pomi d’oro or golden apple, perhaps because the early forms were orange and yellow? Pomi d’oro becomes pomodoro and then pomme d’amour on its arrival into France. Sex is a sure seller even back then. Tomato seeds have even been to space and back in a seed promotion that rivals Don Burke’s efforts. The seeds were sent up on the Columbia spacecraft to see if zero gravity had any effect on germination. It didn’t. But feeding tomato seed to tortoises has added to the theory that Galapagos Island’s early forms of Wolf Peach were distributed by the slow digestive qualities of the tortoise. The most common mistake gardeners make in growing flavourful tomatoes is to over-water them. Just as with grapes a little struggle adds a lot of flavour. Eggplants or melanzana [translating as mad apples] are the only significant edible nightshades that did not originate in the Americas. They have been in use in Europe for a very long time. Eggplants are native to India, some research credits Africa as a source, but central Asia also have

naturalised or even native varieties. The form is so variable that it is hard to pinpoint is true origins. The shorter white ones look just like eggs. The crossover to Europe has been said to have come from Goa with the Portuguese who incidentally are said to have introduced chillies, olive oil and olives to the East. Fair swap I reckon. A good example of this exchange is found in the kasoundi relish where 3 worlds meet with eggplant, chilli and olives. Until chillies were brought back from the Americas it was Pepper that provided the spice that ‘hurts so good.’ Most of us like it hot, and of all the new nightshades the chilli received the most enthusiastic welcome, especially in Asia. Columbus went out with pepper on his shopping list and came back with the chilli that made it possible to provide a hot spice with a great variety of flavour. Pepper was hard and expensive to grow, but chillies requiring less exacting climatic conditions brought the world a cheaper thrill. The excitement of chillies is in the way that the active ingredient capsaicin at first burns, then as our natural endorphins kick in they give us the equivalent of an athlete’s high. This excitement translates to a heightened sensation of taste. The flavours of various chillies are also quite distinctive when you get past the pain barrier. These subtle differences are what add to the nuances in cooking of Mexico, Thailand and indeed any cuisine that has a strong tradition of using chillies. The combination of chocolate and chilli goes back to the very ancient times and finds its peak in the Moles of Mexico. It is possible to date dishes by charting the spread of this rather tasty form of ‘global warming.’ Pepper crab and Chilli crab provide a clear example. In Australia we have more than 130 varieties of native Solanaceae and more than 60 varieties that have been naturalised. There was widespread use of native solanaceae by Australian Aborigines for food as well as for hunting and ceremonial use. The most widely known is Pituri, a confusing name as it refers to many different native

tobaccos: one of these Pituri, Duboisia hopwoodii, contains a very potent form of nicotine. It is rarely smoked but is used as a type of patch and is highly addictive; it is sometimes used to stun prey while hunting as is another native tobacco, Duboisia myoporoides. Less potent forms of naturalised nicotiana are preferred for stimulation. I have seen eggplants grafted to Australian native tobaccos to produce vigorous and also perennial forms. Talk about fusion... Those of us that subscribe to the Gondwanaland theory can put Australia right into the middle of the spread of this family of plants. Many native nightshades resemble the early forms of tomato, eggplant and peppers and may yield some exciting new vegetables in the future. With the popularity of bush tucker native solanaceae like bush tomatoes have started to appear on our menus. Bush tomatoes are the original sun dried tomato as they are only edible after drying. We may find it hard to grow a really good tomato because the right variety has yet to be bred for Australia, and it may come naturally from a native stock. Two other native nightshades the Kangaroo apple Solanum laciniatum and the closely related S. aviculare are only edible when perfectly ripe and should not be tried by the amateur. These native plants, from which we receive the least benefit, are among the world’s major sources of steroids used in the manufacture of oral contraceptives. Like the macadamia nut they are mainly grown overseas. We do not have a local industry that utilises their properties that include pharmaceuticals used in the treatment of menopausal disorders and infertility. The pomme d’ amour may yet become true blue as the kangaroo apple also contains alkaloids that are used to treat impotence. But what does this historical trivia mean in the context of modern Australian cooking? I believe that because we are in the middle of it, we cannot see that Australians are developing a really new way of looking at food. This new movement is not just coming from the frontline big time restaurants. There is a very fine sense of balance emerging. Coriander and parmesan cheese type combinations are giving way to fine simple dishes. But while we have access to some quite good ingredients, I believe we have to face some hard facts.

Most of the produce in our mainstream markets is of a very mediocre standard if judged by its taste. While Australian produce may not be radioactive as in some parts of Europe, the flavours just do not come up to scratch. Unless you are plugged into the top of the food sourcing chain you may never know what a tomato tastes like. Figs, melons peaches indeed almost any fruit are accepted under- ripe and tasteless. We would never accept a warm beer in a pub but why do we put up with flavourless food? All of our first quality produce is exported. Ripe food should not be a luxury item but try to get a banana that tastes like a banana, a simple cheese that has been matured properly. These foods are only for the wealthy, the home producer or the gardener. In Europe we find a different dilemma. The markets are full of some great flavours, ripe cheeses and well grown and graded vegetables but inside the restaurant, that is often, right behind the market, time has stood still. The same old dishes without regard to season are monotonously offered. In Europe home cooking still rules. Surreal jelly fluffs and prawn brain juice coming out of dada restaurant/laboratories are sexy enough for young cooks to include the foam gas bottle and pipette into the kitchen kit, but where are the role models for the next generation of growers without whom cooks are stranded? Self righteous Sermon? maybe so, but if we can encourage young people to question the origins and pathways that give us flavour, this exciting free movement that is Australian cuisine can develop; if not, the ideas and cooks will go to where the flavour grows. Once you have tasted home grown and in season, there is no turning back. Anyone for a wolf peach sanger?

End George Biron Many thanks to my assistants, the extremely talented and delightful hot Tomatoes Diane Garrett, Deborah Saunders who can be found at www.culinarywizrd.com.au and Mary Koch who is a little harder to peel.

Thanks also to Dr. Beth Gott, Dr. Tom May, Clive Blazey and Talei Kenyon from Herenswood, Mr. Keith Richards, Jill Norman, Cherry Ripe Tony Tan, Ian Barlow, Dr. Louis Glowinski, Bruce Fry, A. Bone and Sons Kennedy’s Creek for the 20 varieties of potatoes Paul Simon, Alan Saunders, The Chilli Press www.chillipress.com.au , Fiery Foods www.fieryfoods.com.au Disaster Bay Chillie,s, disasterbay@bigpond.com.au and all the gardeners who came good at the last moment. Bibliography A Modern Herbal by Mrs M Grieve 1931 Penguin Books Nightshades by Charles B Heiser. Jr. Freeman and Company Indiana 1969 Bush Food by Jennifer Isaacs Weldons 1987

Plants in the Service of Man by Edward Hymans J. M Dent ands Sons London 1971 The Origin of Fruits and Vegetables by Jonathan Roberts Harper Collins 2001 Vegetables by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix Pan Books 1993 Frida’s Fiestas by Guadalupe Riviere and Marie-Pierre Colle Pavilion Books 1994 The Potato by Larry Zuckerman Macmillan 1999 Aboriginal uses of Australian Solanaceae Nicolas Peterson A. N. U Canberra Flora of Australia Vol 29 Solanaceae Australian Government Publishing Service 1982

Goodbye Culinary Cringe by Cherry Ripe Allen and Unwin 1993 Ripe Enough by Cherry Ripe Allen and Unwin 1999

The Oxford Companion to Food edited by Alan Davidson Oxford University Press 1999 The Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang Penguin 1971 The Great Food Almanac by Irena Chalmers Collins 1994

Part 2

Demonstration and Tastings.
POTATOES

Where wheat starch meets potato starch and both are improved. But when the ratio of flour to potato is reversed and no kneading is done we get feather light Gnocchi

POTATO BREAD FROM PUGLIA The use of potato in bread is very common in Eastern Europe but this recipe comes from Puglia on the heel of the boot in southern Italy. We used to specialise in very crusty breads at Sunnybrae but often made this loaf as a contrast for its soft and chewy texture. The taste of the potato is quite hearty well suited to mopping up those tasty juices and the added bonus is that it keeps well for many days. Makes 2 loaves 2 teaspoons of dried yeast- Fermipan or Saf [Both available at Supermarkets] 500g Unbleached bakers’ flour 250g potato a white starchy variety is good. 140g water 10g salt Extra sea salt and olive oil for the top Steam or boil the potatoes and pass them through a moulli or a sieve cool. Gently incorporate the flour, yeast, salt and ¾ of the water Knead gently; it will be sticky but not too wet. Add some more the water if it is too dry. The potatoes will have different moisture contents so the exact amount is a matter of practice. If the dough is too wet the bread will be very airy and if too dry it will be a bit dense--- both are acceptable. Let the dough rise in a warm spot covered with a cloth. Heat the oven to 220C When the dough has doubled in size, knock it back and make into a round flat disk about 2 inches deep. Let it rise again in a warm spot uncovered. When it’s about 3 inches high use your finger to indent holes all over the top. This will allow the bread to rise evenly giving you a good focaccia shape. Brush liberally with olive oil you can let the wholes fill up if you like lots of oil. Sprinkle the top with sea salt and bake for about 45 mins Cool on a wire rack.

Notes. .. 4 lines
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LEMON GNOCCHI I always use Desirees [acute over first e please editor] or Toolangi delights for gnocchi. Light airy gnocchi is easy if you don’t over work the mixture this is exactly the opposite of the bread above. Serves 6 500g of cooked “riced” potato. I.e. passed through a food mill or sieve. This is essential to keep the mixture light. 250g of baker’s flour 100g grated Italian Parmesan 10g butter or olive oil 3 tablespoons of single cream [optional]. 10g salt 1 egg yolk Grated ring of 3 lemons Lightly mix the potato, flour and 2/3 of the grated lemon rind with the tips of your fingers. Don’t knead at all. Roll out into a tubular shape about 3cm round. The mixture will make 6 strips about 250cm long Cut into 3cm pieces. Lightly roll each into a ball and roll off the end of a fork to mark the surface. This will help any sauce to adhere. Warm the butter and cream in the pan that you will use to coat the gnocchi Poach the little gnocchi a large pot of salty water. They are ready 30 seconds or so after they come to the top. Don’t worry they will rise if you have not overworked the mixture. Add to the butter and garnish with the Parmesan, parsley and the rest of the lemon rind.

Notes 4 lines
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TOMATOES
Tasting Varieties

6 lines . .
Pan Con Tomate

. 3 lines .

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Essence of White Tomato Soup with Basil
An old technique with a history from Persia to Budapest to Charlie Trotter and Beyond. Wonderful as a stock for a Risotto that looks white, but tastes red. For the soup In a non reactive heavy based pot place tomatoes with the skins scored as if you were peeling them. Slowly heat with the lid on tightly be careful not to let it catch (you can start with a little water to ensure it does not catch). After about 10 mins the tomatoes will be cooking in a clear liquid. Resist the temptation to stir and allow to cook for about 40 mins on low heat just simmering. Strain through a very fine sieve taking care not to press or crush the tomatoes, use their weight to allow them to drain. (This is a little like white wine is made) The resulting liquid will be a clear broth with an intense tomato flavour .Resist the temptation to reduce this it will alter the flavour and you will lose the freshness of its’ taste. Set aside Notes . 4 lines

Tomatillos

Tasting Fresh Tomatillos 2 lines . . Salsa Verde Quite different from Italian version this classic hot sauce brings out the wonderful flavour of the tomatillo. Tomatillos, Garlic, Serrano chillies, coriander, onions, lime juice. Method 2 Lines

Cape Gooseberries
A delicious condiment where Vanilla enters the savoury spectrum.

Cape gooseberry and Chilli sauce
Cape gooseberries, caramelised onions, vanilla, fresh jalapeno chillies, fresh ginger. Method 4 lines . . . EGGPLANTS SMOKED EGGPLANT Eggplant is a very important vegetable in Japanese cooking. This is a technique used for many of the delicious Middle Eastern dips like Babaganoushe, but this case we use it with white miso or yellow miso to prepare a very simple starter, you can also use it as part of a vegetable antipasto.

Serves 6 as a starter

3 medium sized eggplants plus 2 to charr 150ml olive oil plus a touch of sesame oil 50g white or yellow miso paste Poppy seeds Charr the 2 eggplants according to the demonstration Cut the eggplants into segments and fry until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper Mix the miso with the smoky eggplant pulp and spread onto the fried eggplant slices. Garnish with the poppy seeds.

TASTING KASOUNDI 4 lines. . . . . CHILLIES Black Mole of Oaxaca
Chillies Roasted in Oil or Fat and soaked Where chocolate enters the hot tub. Chillies used are Chihuacle, Mulato, Passilla Spice Mix Includes Cumin seeds, dried thyme, anise, dried marjoram, dried oregano, coriander seeds, cinnamon, and cloves Demonstration and tasting 4 lines

Ceviche of Fresh Seafood
To leave the palate excited and ready for the delights of rest of the festival. For 6 First courses

500g of seriously fresh fillets of fish or scallops ½ cup of lime juice Marinade. 1 shot of Tequila 1onion finely sliced, 4 Serrano chillies finely sliced, 2 jalapeno chillies finely sliced a little habanera finely sliced. ½ cup p chopped parsley, coriander leaf, 3 medium peeled tomatoes chopped A touch of sea salt, cane sugar, smoked paprika Garnish Rock samphire and Purslane or Cactus Pad or Iceberg Lettuce. Don’t use a soft lettuce. Marinate the fish in the lime juice for 15 Minutes. Drain. Crush a little of the chillies with the salt, sugar and paprika. Combine all the rest of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning of salt. Gentle mix the now “cooked fish with the rest of the ingredients. Dress leaves with some of the marinade and a touch of olive oil. Serve marinated fish on the leaves with a little extra lime sprinkled with smoked paprika. Really Deadly 10 lines End