STORY by MAGGIE SCARDIFIELD
PHOTOGRAPHY by CAMERON HIRD
DESIGN by REBECCA RIEGGER
RECIPES AND FOOD STYLING by HANNAH BATSTONE
Inspiring, progressive, and thoughtful – all words which spring to mind when I think of Hannah Archibald, and yet we’ve never met in real life.
Hannah and I met over Instagram. We were both in Japan at the same time and after a few fateful double-taps, connected over a shared respect for hot ramen and Okinawan sea grapes. Take a quick glimpse on @theseasonal_ and it’s not hard to work out that Hannah has a fondness for wild foods: snapshots of pomegranate jewels, native finger-limes (“the caviar of the vegetable world”) or an enviable harvest of Davidson plums, for example, all making regular appearances and rarely require a filter. Offline, her world is much the same.
Hannah’s food concepts are so much more than just straight cooking. Over a homemade Rosella and Lemon Myrtle tea in her garden just outside of Brisbane in Gumdale, Dish-Pig caught up with Hannah to talk about her love for native Australian wild foods, her commitment to nutrition, and exactly what she has planned for her next allotment. If you’re not already following @theseasonal_ on instagram, let this beautiful, light-filled insight into her home-life serve as a lesson to do so, and then some.
HANNAH, THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH DISH-PIG. MAYBE WE COULD GET STARTED WITH YOU TELLING US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND. HOW DID YOU COME TO BE WORKING WITH FOOD?
I have always loved food, probably a habitual influence from my father. As a child I remember sitting on his lap and finishing any leftovers with him, that’s of course if there was any! My mum is a fantastic cook and the smell of garlic and butter lured me into the kitchen at an early age. I always loved helping her prepare dinner and have definitely learnt a lot about flavours and cooking from her.
AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR INTEREST IN NUTRITION?
My grandfather has been practicing preventative medicine for as long as I can remember and he has had a huge influence on my approach to food and cooking. He started out as a GP and moved into preventative medicine quite early in his career. He definitely has opened my mind to the importance of preparing food in a way that can amplify its nutritional qualities. I used to go and visit him and we would study nutrients in the food supply and come up with recipes that are both highly nutritious but easily accessible and not expensive. He absolutely believes in giving the body the right nutrients to heal itself and the best way to do this is through nutrient dense foods. I have learnt so much from him. He totally believes the saying ‘better to pay the cook than the doctor’.
COULD YOU GIVE US ANY SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF SOME OF HIS TREATMENTS?
Yes, I remember in the late 1980’s he came home from one of his research trips in America armed with Vitamix’s to give to his patients so they could prepare there own nourishing smoothies, soups and milks. One of the most important things is to be able to prepare food easily in the home kitchen. More often than not, food that has been prepared out of the kitchen is filled with less nourishing ingredients.
SCIENCE IS CONTINUALLY PROGRESSING IN THE FIELDS OF HEALTH AND NUTRITION; ANTIOXIDANTS IN THE FOOD SUPPLY, ORGANIC v NON-ORGANIC FOOD, THE LIST GOES ON. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIFIC SOURCE YOU RELY UPON?
There is a wealth of information available now on health and nutrition, the food industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. I have quite a substantial collection of cookbooks and a growing number of gardening books on hand. Harold McGee’s books are always informative and I love Isabell Shiphard’s comprehensive books on herbs and sprouts.
That said, sometimes we have to search and question what information is being offered to us. We have to ask whether or not some food companies really do want to nourish us, is that their goal? When I read science journals I tend to look at who has funded the research before anything else. I find myself becoming more and more interested in ethno-botany and the way people have used plants over time. I guess this is where my interest in Australian native foods stems from.
AND IS THAT THE KIND OF FOOD YOU MOST ENJOY PREPARING?
I first became interested in native ingredients while doing some research 10 years ago at University. I studied nutrition for a short while and for one of my assignments I focused on the Kakadu plum – which was found in the early 1980’s to have the highest level of Vitamin C than any other known fruit at the time. This opened my eyes to all the native produce with high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s amazing when you become aware of plants and familiarise yourself with them, that you can then start to recognise them in nature. I had walked a certain street in my neighbourhood for years, not noticing there was an Illawarra Plum tree right there.
WILD HARVESTED AND NATIVE AUSTRALIAN FOOD IS FEATURED MORE AND MORE ON RESTAURANT MENUS THESE DAYS, BUT IT STILL SEEMS FAIRLY INACCESSIBLE TO MANY PEOPLE…
You’re right, it is not that easily accessible to many people at the moment, however the industry is gaining momentum and with increased popularity it will become more accessible. I remember speaking to a lemon myrtle grower a few years ago and he was struggling. The demand just wasn’t there for his product. Now though, we are seeing it being used a lot in both the food and cosmetic industries.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT WILD FOOD THAT EXCITES YOU SO MUCH?
Picking any fresh food and putting it into a meal is a real treat I think. Wild food is very nutritious. When you think about the plant, having to defend itself and survive extreme weather conditions, the secondary metabolites it creates to protect itself generally turn out to be very potent antioxidants.
EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE, BUT WHAT EXACTLY ARE SECONDARY METABOLITES?
These are molecules created by plants to protect themselves. Stress causes the plants to produce these molecules, so when a plant is exposed to extreme weather conditions like drought or frost, for example, instead of putting their energy into growing taller, they put it into protecting themselves. This is where the secondary metabolites are formed.
AND THESE ARE REALLY RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS?
Very rich! Herbs are a good example – oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and berries of course. These are just an example of the way you can use foods to fortify a meal and make it more nourishing. In the right quantity of course.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE INGREDIENT?
One of my favourites that is easily accessible is purslane – it’s a wonderful, easy growing plant that happens to contain a huge amount of omega 3 fatty acids, so it may not be considered a wild food for long! Although it has been eaten since the ancient Egyptian days, and was consumed regularly by Indigenous Australians, unfortunately it is still shaking off a bit of a reputation as a weed here. Even though its flavour and texture takes a little getting used to, I think it has huge potential as a vegetable crop in Australia. It doesn’t require much water to grow, and could be a sustainable source of Omega 3 as our seafood sources continue to diminish. I like adding it to salads and it works well with tabouli too.
YOU STARTED OFF WORKING IN HEALTH FOOD SHOPS. CAN YOU GIVE ME A BRIEF RUNDOWN FROM THERE, UNTIL WHERE YOU’RE AT NOW?
Yes, I started working at a health food shop, where I would prepare salads and juices for the city lunch trade. Looking back, this is where I learnt a lot about catering to different tastes and preparing food for people with food intolerances. From there, I did some travelling and then when I got home I decided to study. While I was studying I worked in my family’s stone masonry business and also started making edible hanging arrangements…mainly using wheat grass. I made them spherical, so they looked like giant grass balls. They were decorative and functional as you could cut and harvest the wheatgrass for juicing.
AND YOU WERE THE PRIVATE CHEF FOR LORNA JANE…
Yes, I was Lorna’s private cook for nearly two years. Here I could apply my knowledge in a really practical and creative way. Actually the Rosella and Lemon myrtle tea (see recipe) is a favourite of hers. I planted a few Rosella bushes in their garden along with many other vegetables. Harvesting plants and then using them straight away in a meal, is one of my favourite things. When someone’s paying you to prepare nourishing food for them, making sure the produce is the best it can be is vital.
YOU HAVE PUT TOGETHER SOME AMAZING RECIPES FOR DISH-PIG USING HOMEGROWN PRODUCE. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROPERTY IN BRISBANE?
The property where we live now is enjoying a second life. My husband and I took it on as a project; I wanted to move away from the city to have a bigger garden and be able to grow more plants. The property had been untouched for many years and required lots of work. When we first had a look at it, I had to jump on my husbands back as the grass was 6ft high and I was scared of snakes! After 6 months work we had cleared a lot of the weeds, and now are enjoying all the fruit trees that were hiding under all the growth.
HOW FAR IS GUMDALE FROM BRISBANE?
It’s only about 20 minutes from the city. It is the closest acreage to any capital city in Australia. The garden is just under an acre, though I have found having smaller gardens can be just as productive as there is less maintenance involved. You really don’t need a lot of space to have a productive little supply of greens and herbs!
At the moment we are using an old trampoline frame as a movable chicken tractor. We move this around every month and I put all my scraps from cooking into this each day and as the chickens work through it, it fertilises the soil at the same time. Having the chickens dig up all the couch is also much easier on my back.
AND WHAT PRODUCE DO YOU HAVE GROWING IN THE GARDEN?
We are lucky that there were already a lot of established fruit and nut trees when we arrived; persimmon, guava, bunya pine, macadamias, mandarins, bush lemons, mulberry and grapefruit. No Rosella at the moment, I’ll be planting more of them in a couple of months. Tomatoes, sweet potato, ginger, turmeric, galangal…I also have quite a lot of geranium growing too. An old wise woman once told me that geranium acts as snake repellent so I have planted quite a lot of it, especially directly around the house!
WHEN WE ASKED YOU TO DO RECIPES FOR DISH-PIG, ONE OF YOUR FIRST IDEAS WAS TO USE THE REDCLAW IN YOUR DAM. YOU HAVE QUITE THE BOUNTY!
Yes I really wanted to cook you some red claw with lemon myrtle and bush lemon. The Red Claw is my husband’s department! When we moved here, he purchased 40 and put them in the dam, and a couple of months later he caught a huge one. They are native to Australia and taste delicious so we are lucky that they grow really well where we live. Unfortunately they were all hiding in the mud when Dish-pig visited.
AND WHAT DOES YOUR HUSBAND DO?
Luke is a cabinetmaker, and I do find myself getting him to do lots of carpentry around the house! I’m also fortunate that my Dad and brother are in the stone business, which makes for beautiful marble in the back garden and an easy kitchen makeover if need be!
THAT’S QUITE THE TEAM FOR A RENO! I AM SO IN LOVE WITH YOUR KITCHEN – THE SHELVES ARE INCREDIBLE!
Yes, I love the shelving too. Luke made it for me. I do have a penchant for things with a history; the timber used for the shelves is off an old boat of my uncle’s and the jars have been around for ages. It’s very functional as I can have all my staples on hand.
AND IS LUKE JUST AS INTO FOOD AND NUTRITION AS YOU ARE?
Luke does appreciate the importance of eating well and knowing where your food comes from. Provenance of food and supporting farmers using sustainable agricultural practices is very important to us. Luke cooks far more than me at home, as I do tend to do most of my cooking in other people’s kitchens, or sometimes on location. He understands how what you eat can really affect the way you function throughout the day, and so if you want to feel better and have more energy, you need to eat food that is nourishing.
WHAT ABOUT WORK/LIFE BALANCE. WHAT DOES A NORMAL WEEK LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?
I usually begin the week by devising my menus. By nature I am not the most organised person, so devising menus and having all my ingredients sourced and planned is crucial for the week to run smoothly. Sometimes I’ll have a function to cater and this can be a little stressful, especially if I don’t get much notice, but I find I work well under pressure.
In between my work as a private cook I do some food styling, which involves bundling a lot of equipment into the car and cooking on location. I am also working towards the launch of my new website that will focuses on functional products for the home and garden. It’s called The Seasonal; meaning the seasonal kitchen, the seasonal garden, the seasonal staples. On the weekend we might go to the beach or have a long lunch with family and friends and if I have time, I might prepare a little garden bed or two.
WHAT ARE YOU PLANTING IN THE NEW BEDS?
In Japan I was amazed by the Shiso (also called Perilla) that they use in their food, so I am planting more Shiso than ever before. The fresh leaves add a lovely oriental flavour to salads. I’ll also be throwing lots of purslane seeds around that I saved from this year’s plants, I find it grows well as a ground cover amongst the Aloe Vera and native Wandering Jew. Apart from that – tomatillo, radish, mizuna, red amaranth. Tomatillo is delicious for summer salsas and great for people with diabetes.
AND TO CONCLUDE: YOU DO SO MANY THINGS. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR OFFICIAL JOB TITLE?
Sometimes I think vegetable chopper is the most appropriate job description! That or dish washer, as I tend to spend a considerable amount of time doing both! All I do is create meals using the best ingredients nature has available and strive to use them in an inspiring way.
Instagram // @theseasonalcircle