Editor's letter

Susan Bruce, of Poachers Pantry, will hold a Canberra regional dinner on October 6.
Susan Bruce, of Poachers Pantry, will hold a Canberra regional dinner on October 6. Photo: Supplied

Have you come across Herman the German? I’m not really sure who is behind the website or the movement, and Googling the subject brings surprisingly little enlightenment. Could be a cult, or a wacky fringe group, for all I know, but could also be entirely innocent, just a sweet kind of throwback to the sharing ’70s. But as a deep sceptic about chain letters, which have that evil edge of compulsion and peer pressure, that insidious undercurrent of superstition, I accept my Herman with trepidation.

Herman the German is a ‘‘friendship cake’’, made with a sourdough-style starter, which is kind of cool. You get the starter and instructions from a friend, and your job is to stir and feed it for 10 days, then use a quarter of the starter to make your cake. You give the rest away to three friends, who start again stirring and feeding it to make a cake.

The starter is remarkably forgiving. It’s fed with milk, flour and sugar, and I’m guessing the sugar is what keeps it beautifully alive and bubbling, even with neglect, on the kitchen bench. The cake is endearingly hippie, made with raisins, apples and cinnamon. It uses oil instead of salt and a light-tasting olive oil seems to work fine. It ends up a heavy, moist, likeable and healthy tasting cake that lasts much longer than other cakes, presumably for the same reason sourdough bread lasts so well.

Brindabella Hills' winemaker Roger Harris who will open a cafe.
Brindabella Hills' winemaker Roger Harris who will open a cafe. 

Always the place where childhood-circulated chain letters stopped, I swerved into the land of trust, embraced the spirit of the Herman cake and passed on my three spare starters.


Cloudy and pouring
Scoff you might at New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but the genesis of this ubiquitous white was a great thing, and at its best sav blanc is really good. Cloudy Bay, now owned by Moet Hennessy, is one of New Zealand’s best-known wineries and helped build the reputation of the Marlborough region, with its first commercial vintage in 1985. Cloudy Bay’s sauvignon blanc, including its premium Te Koko, 2010 vintage, will be open for tasting at Ainslie Cellars next week. Also on for tasting is the new 2013 sauvignon, the 2011 chardonnay, the 2011 pinot noir, and Cloudy Bay’s Pelorus sparkling. Hosted by Moet Hennessy’s Dean O’Reilly. Tuesday, October 1, 5.30pm-7.30pm.

Planting ideas
David and Lainie Shorthouse’s Lyneham garden, including a vegetable garden, an orchard and chooks, is open for Open Gardens Australia. The couple has built the garden over 30 years, with a focus on food, biodiversity, climate control for the house, and pleasant surroundings. They grow vegetables and herbs with an eye to successive cropping, and perennial food plants and fruit trees, and such is their success that they’re self-sufficient for six months of the year. Plants for sale, with proceeds going to the Quaker aid agency, Quaker Service Australia. 266 Dryandra Street, Lyneham, October 12 and 13, 10am-4.30pm, $7 (under 18s free), opengarden.org.au.

Linger at the vineyard
As Canberra’s wineries become increasingly geared to cellar-door visitors, they’re opening cafes, so you can dally longer in the vines on that Sunday drive. Now, Brindabella Hills with its winemaker Roger Harris is opening a cafe, open on weekends and public holidays for visitors to the vineyard near Hall. The food is from Robyn Cooper and her team at Two Girls Catering, which runs the Homestead Cafe. The simple lunch menu includes an onion and goat’s cheese tart ($16), chicken pie and mash ($28), duck confit ($30), prawn risotto ( $28) and pumpkin quiche ($18). Live jazz on the second Sunday of each month. From October 12, 10am-5pm, brindabellahills.com.au.

Chinese whispers
His interest sparked by readers’ recollections of early Chinese restaurants in Canberra, the Canberra and District Historical Society’s Nick Swain is keen to investigate further for an article for the society. He believes the Gloucester might have been the first restaurant and dance venue to offer Chinese food, with an advertisement on June 29, 1956. In April 1957, the unlikely named Casablanca claimed to be “Canberra’s only Chinese restaurant”. As recalled by reader Wal Jurkiewicz, Happy’s Chinese opened at 7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, in August 1957, billing itself as ‘‘Canberra’s first Chinese-owned restaurant’’. In November 1957, Ri Lee’s opened at 5 Bunda Street, in the city. Swain hasn’t found newspaper evidence yet of a Manuka Chinese recalled by readers. Mary Boardman remembers it as Ri Lee’s, a play on owner Riley’s name, open in the late 1950s, and Peter Rimington remembers a Lee’s Inn, already open when he arrived in Canberra in 1960. But Swain has only managed to track down a Lee’s Inn opened in Endeavour House, Manuka, from the mid 1960s. In May 1958, Lucky Chinese opened in Kingston, and the Pagoda opened in Manuka in November 1961. He’s keen for readers to fill  the gaps: food.wine@canberratimes.com.au.

Cloudy Bay's premium Te Koko sauvignon blanc will be available for a tasting at Ainslie Cellars next week.
Cloudy Bay's premium Te Koko sauvignon blanc will be available for a tasting at Ainslie Cellars next week. 

Regional bounty
Poachers Pantry holds a Canberra regional dinner on Sunday, October 6, as part of Good Food Month, a Fairfax festival. The restaurant and smokehouse - owned by Susan Bruce and is in the country near Hall - will feature its smoked meats and eight wines from local wineries, including Clonakilla, Eden Road, Mount Majura and its own Wily Trout wines, with winemakers on hand to talk about their wines. $130, poacherspantry.com.au.

Gluten-free glee
Well, this has to be excellent news for those of you on a gluten-free diet. Careme, quite possibly the only good commercial pastry maker (with a price tag to match), has launched a gluten-free pastry. Pastry is best made at home, but if you buy Careme, made in the Barossa, you’re essentially buying homemade, at least in terms of the ingredients – generally simply butter and flour, no oils or other scaries that you find in most commercial pastries (speaking of which, I bought filo for the first time in a very long time last week, and could not find a brand without oil, is that the only option in filo?). Careme’s gluten-free pastry is made with potato starch, tapioca starch, white rice flour, chickpea flour, quinoa flour, amaranth flour, millet flour, brown rice flour and buckwheat flour, which reads like someone has done a helluva lot of experimentation.