An old stone homestead and an artist’s studio. Paddock wanders. Wombat holes. Glowing wattle bathed in warming winter sun. A still, Shoalhaven river. Gritty river sand and a fire on the beach. With a fire pit full of coals to cook, fireside chairs to sit, sparkling wine to drink and oysters to eat. Many, many oysters. This was how our Sunday afternoon was to be. A Sunday oyster roast.
Our roast found its perfect place on the property of Bundanon Trust. A beautiful location for creatives to be nourished and front row seats to an untouched sandy riverbed (our cheeky way around a ‘beach’ fire, where it's otherwise doomed illegal). Friends gathered, they came from north and west. A day in the country lures you in like that: dirt tracks and grassy farms, kookaburra calls and the cleanest of air. Friends started with a tour of the old stone homestead, the once home of the Boyd family fame. Then on to Arthur Boyd’s artist studio, to take a peek around. To get to the river, they walked. Across the farm, past the cows and dodging the wombat burrows - the ultimate mascot of this part of the bush. Finally, they arrived to the river. And sparkling wine arrived to them. It was a warm winter’s day, topping out at 19. We were thrilled about that.
Back in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, I had been introduced to the institutional, mandatory and very southern celebration that is an oyster roast. Apalachicola is, after all, the southern place to eat oysters. Many, many oysters. Watching the burlap steam after being dunked in water and laid over the top of the unshucked shells is nothing short of mesmerising. The oysters would cook under the steam, their shells would naturally crack open and their flesh would be enjoyed with a saltine cracker, a dollop of horseradish and a drop of hot sauce. Witnessing the roast felt like an appropriate cultural initiation. So fun to learn how. I would, I thought, bring this back home.
Days before, Tara and I had been to the Clark Oyster farm to harvest the oysters from the roast. These beauties were fresh, fresh, fresh. Sitting pretty in their hessian bag, we had options to cook them. Hours to eat them. Our many, many oysters. Hessian was dipped in the water and we began to steam them the southern way. Again, mesmerized.
Not only did we steam them but we also shucked them by the river’s edge, upstream from where they grew. They were washed in the icy river then dressed in a blood orange mignonette. We roasted them too, on their half shell. We let them bubble in the most intoxicating, garlicy stinging nettle butter. To wash them down, we drank a local brut cuvee, and later, cardamom spiked mulled wine. To go with, we ate from a big pot of Gumbo - a southern Creole stew, heated over the fire and served on a bed of rice cooked in river water. Chicken, prawns and okra took on the scent of the fires smoke. The bottom burned a little and the extra charred flavour worked.
No southern fire would be left without first roasting s’mores, so we did that too. Homemade vanilla bean marshmallows and slabs of cocoa rich chocolate were sandwiched between layers of homemade honey graham crackers.
We were full.
Our roast was also accompanied by a small pop up gallery. A selection of prints from my time spent photographing the Floridian Gulf coast - a place that taught me so much about gathering and tradition and about honoring seasonal food and location. The photos that I took were for a book, a beautiful book about the traditional lifestyle of ‘old’ Florida (I would love for you to follow along with the publication and upcoming release of the book, ‘The Saints of Old Florida’, here). It was only appropriate to share a piece of this place and celebrate the process of the book throughout our Sunday oyster roast (the photos looked so good in print!). From days out on the bay on the Raffield's boat, from learning how to make smoked mullet dip in the Farrell's kitchen, from oyster farm visits and raw bars and picnics with the girls eating crab claws and tomato and shrimp pie. A gentle and grateful nod to my time learning the way of the south, spending time with its generous people and eating and roasting their oysters.
There is something so very special to be said about enjoying an afternoon in the quiet, surrounded by the Australian bush at its very seasonal best, cooking outdoors, smelling of campfire smoke and crunching on the occasional piece of stray sand. I must admit, time flew by. I wish I could have stayed and stayed. Always the way when you are surrounded by likeminded friends and what seemed like a never ending supply of bubbles and oysters. Eventually, the fading light guided us home.
It left me thinking. I wanted to do it again. And again. Could I? Would I, really?
So, now I have some very EXCITING NEWS!
- Lean + meadow Sunday Roasts –
They are going to become a thing! A real, ongoing event, finding the very best Sunday spots all over Australia, to roast. Many, many more campfire cook ups. Plus always an extra element, a slow living or adventure element, to really relish the day. A rural day. Think the Snowy Mountains in the late spring, fly fishing for trout, roasting and smoking them on the rocky riverbed, sharing the freshest river to plate meal. Perhaps a summer rainforest wild foods roast, complete with foraging, in the northern NSW hinterland. Tasmania in early autumn, on an apple orchid, picking fruit and roasting it up with happy, free range, slow fire cooked pork. And I think, we should throw in another oyster roast in there too. Oh, I dream! But I do. I truly want to make this happen. Putting my words here feels like the very first step.
And, I want to hear from you! Is this something you would like to join me for? Would you come along for the day, invite slowness and adventure into your Sunday with a location specific, carefully curated seasonal roast? If that’s a yes, please say so! Do leave me a note in the comments! I’m just dying to hear your thoughts!
As for the next Sunday roast, keep an eye on mid October for an update! Until then, below are some recipes from our Sunday on the river, to keep you roasting.
Also, a very important note: Many thanks goes to Bundanon Trust for hosting us on their property for the day and to Mary for generously taking the tours. A massive thanks to Deborah and Grant Clark of Clark Oysters from just down the river at Greenwell Point, for their generous donation of the pacific oysters (and who are also expecting their first baby any day now!). Our wine, too, was also a special local gift: The Cuvée Brut was from the folks over at Two Figs Winery (the very best of views to sip cellar door wine from) and the Chambourcin for the mulled wine was from Coolangatta Estate (an extra thank you Mary).
Steamed Oysters, Southern Style
prep time: 30 - 45 minutes to make a fire and get good coals
cook time: 8 minutes
serves: as many as you have oysters for!
Fresh unshucked oysters
Thick metal BBQ plate
2 x Hessian Sacks
Fresh water (not sea water)
Horseradish + Tabasco Sauce
Homemade saltine crackers (see recipe below)
Once you have built a fire and have hot coals, make a sturdy base for the BBQ plate over the coals using the bricks. Place the plate on top and allow the plate to heat up for a minute or two (it will be ready when a splash of water dropped on the plate immediately sizzles).
Place the oyster shells, flat side up, on the hot plate. Dip the hessian bags in the cold, fresh water and place over the top of the oysters. Allow the oysters to steam for 6-8 minutes. Once cooked, their shells should pop open. Transfer the oysters to a plate and serve at once with a saltine cracker, a small dollop of horseradish and a drop of Tabasco sauce.
Homemade Saltine Crackers
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
140 g / 1 cup flour
2 tbs butter
90 – 100ml water
1/2 tsp salt
Extra flaked sea salt for sprinkling the tops
Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F.
In a food processor, pulse together the butter and flour until the butter has turned to bread crumb consistency. Alternatively, rub butter into flour using finger tips.
Slowly add the water until the mixture just comes together to form a dough. The dough shouldn’t be too sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle the dough and a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out until it is 3-4 mm thick. Be sure to pick the dough up and turn midway through rolling, sprinkling extra flour underneath to avoid sticking to the surface.
Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into little rectangles (approx. 3 x 4cm) and place on a baking paper lined tray.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Leave to cool (they get crispier as they cool down).
Serve with oysters as above or with cheese or dip. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Blood Orange Mignonette
cook time: 10 minutes
makes: approx 1 cups mignonette for 2 dozen fresh oysters
serves: 8 as a starter
1 small red onion, finely diced
½ cup champagne or white wine vinegar
½ cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice (about one large orange)
freshly ground black pepper
Combine onion, vinegar, orange juice and pepper to taste in a bowl. Whisk together until combined. Serve over freshly shucked oysters (two teaspoons per oyster a good amount!)
Stinging Nettle Butter
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 5 minutes
makes: approx 250g butter
I found a good bunch of stinging nettle leaves on my drive between Berry and Kangaroo Valley. However they seem to thrive anywhere where there is a little moisture in the ground and cool shelter from the trees. To forage the leaves, you will need gloves, scissors and a bag to carry them in. The barbs on their leave sting - a lot! Try to aim for the young leaves that grow on the top part of the plant. If they have flowers, they are too old. In Australia, fresh, young nettles are best found at the end of August through to late November.
225 g cultured unsalted butter at room temperature (we used pepe saya butter)
2 cups loosely packed young wild stinging nettle leaves
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
½ tbs Dijon mustard
grated zest of one unwaxed lemon
50 mls fresh lemon juice
10g flaked sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Using tongs, place the nettle leaves in a small saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and blanch for 5-6 minutes. This blanching process removes the sting from the nettles. Drain and pat dry.
Place all ingredients, including the blanched nettle, into a food processor and blend together on high speed until the nettle has been chopped to fine pieces and the butter is smooth. Transfer the butter to a bowl. This butter pairs beautifully with fresh bread or roasted oysters.
If using on roasted oysters, place a small dollop (about one teaspoon) per shucked oyster and roast on a bbq plate over high heat until butter has melted and begins to bubble. For lightly cooked oysters 2-3 minutes, for well-cooked oysters, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.