Duck liver pate. Photo: David Reist
You've probably never needed to know anything about Morpeth. Unless, of course, you are into tea cosies, golliwogs and bric-a-brac. God knows, I hadn't given this place in the mining zone of the Hunter Valley much thought at all.
But one of the gifts that keeps on giving with representative sport is that you get to travel to exotic destinations such as Dandenong (the place, not the hills), east Perth, Albury-Wodonga, Bathurst, and even Maitland. Yes, it's an embarrassment of riches following our 14-year-old son to basketball competitions that are usually just a little too far away from interesting places to make them destinations themselves.
On the topic of sport, what's with the huge coverage given to our terrific effort against the Kiwis in game one of the Bledisloe Cup, when the other Australia versus New Zealand internationals at the same time were given, at best, zip? Patty Mills and Lauren Jackson were both playing, in a double header, and both teams won to boot. I'm sure people would gamble on it, if that's the problem.
Anyway, we get to stay in motels in these regional towns, and being a keen amateur travel writer, I'm always interested in what a place such as, say, Maitland, has besides the obvious, a working basketball court.
Well, it turns out not much, except a coal train that must be 30 miles long that seems to constantly circle the place. A web search gives you the first clue. Numero uno on the Google search engine when you enter ''interesting things to do in Maitland'' is go to Morpeth - it's between a jail and a swamp.
To Morpeth we charge. It turns out this town has been here a long while, being on a river and a transport hub until they worked out they could use the rail or road, so I'm expecting lots of olde wares. Morpeth is a pretty street full of sandstone buildings and everything you could want in a charming village. And as fate would have it - thank you, fate - the entire township is gearing up for the national teapot competition.
If you thought you knew anything about this genre of competitive functional art, I suggest you don't.
Every imaginable structure can be made into a teapot. Come on, fire some ideas that could not possibly be made into a teapot: an espresso machine, good choice, I like it, but yes they have many of them, even mini versions of pod machines. Elvis Presley in a bath with sunglasses and a seemingly a wind machine. Yep. Yoda, a Kewpie doll and an electric mixer, all present and accounted for, plus so many more we could spend an eternity.
But there is much more on offer in Morpeth. It would be remiss if we didn't talk about golliwogs. There must be some connection here because there is an embarrassing number of these black-faced dolls looking out from their cabinets. My kids look at them awkwardly. ''Yes,'' I confirm. ''We used to get into this sort of thing.'' And it gets worse. Somewhere here I know there must be a bust of a black man who tosses coins down his throat. We've come a long way in racial harmony, I reassure them.
If you come here to eat, which isn't a bad idea seeing as Maitland has slim pickings, there are plenty of options that involve bakeries, woodfired pizza and pancakes. Invariably, you find yourself in a cute little place with lace curtains, doilies and teapots - always the freaking teapots.
And on the lunch menu will be a ploughman's lunch. Not sure if ploughmen exist any more, I suspect not, having all died of hypertension due to the salt load found in the meat and cheese platter that bears their name.
But I have to admit, I really enjoy these plates of preserved food. You could call them an Anglo charcuterie platter: piles of shaved ham, pickled walnuts, mustard pickles, coarse bread, cheddar cheese, boiled eggs, pickled cucumbers and onions, maybe even chicken liver pate if it leans towards a Continental theme. It's all so good on a lazy weekend, dodging coal trains and looking at shops full of stuff that someone else's grandparents owned.
And there is nothing better than a well-made pate, with its rich, creamy, salty texture and taste. I'm not sure when a pate becomes a parfait, but having had both recently, I resolved to get me some liver and get into it. Serving it with mustard pickles is a given, along with good bread.
>> Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au.
Chicken liver pate
500g chicken livers
1 tbsp salt flakes
12 black peppercorns, crushed
8 juniperberries, crushed
zest of one orange
2 eschalots, chopped
2 tbsp duck fat
½ cup dry vermouth
½ cup madeira
½ cup muscat or tokay
¼ cup gin
10 sprigs thyme
4 egg yolks
250g unsalted butter
100ml thick cream
clarified butter or duck fat to seal
Clean the livers, cutting out any weird things such as veins or hard bits. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, juniperberries and orange zest. Mix and cure for an hour.
Saute the eschalots in the fat until translucent. Pour in all the alcohols. Add the thyme and cook down to a thick reduction of about 40 to 50 millilitres. Remove the thyme and leave to cool to room temperature.
Have the eggs and livers at room temperature.
Melt half the butter, then off the heat add the rest of the butter so it just melts. Let this cool until it's just tepid. The forcemeat might split if the butter is too hot.
In a blender, puree the raw liver and egg yolks and slowly pour in the butter. Add the eschalot and alcohol reduction. Push through a very fine sieve. Mix in the cream.
Preheat the oven to 120C. Pour the mix into a terrine mould and place in a baking dish. Pour boiling water into the baking dish up to just below the fill height of the terrine. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes until set. Remove and cool before chilling in the fridge.
Use the clarified butter or duck fat to cover the surface so it doesn't oxidise during storage.
Mustard pickle base
150g yellow mustard seeds
Place all in a small saucepan and reduce down slowly over a good hour, top up water as needed, not letting it dry out. The base should be pourable but not too liquid.
For zucchini pickles, sprinkle abut six thin-sliced zucchinis and two thin-sliced onions with about a teaspoon of salt, and drain for about 30 minutes. Rinse and dry then place in sterile preserving jar and fold through the pickle base.