Tasmania 4Ever: Long Live Bruce

It’s been over a month since the return from Tasmania, and the dreams of the food are still lingering.

Tasmania really surprised me in that way. This little island at the ass-end of the ass-end of the earth really knows how to source the good stuff from right at home.

Fresh salmon was top of the list. Tasmania is well known for it. What I didn’t also realise is that Tasmania in general just seem to… love food. Aside from the abysmal experience at the Admiral, the food we had elsewhere was intentional and loved (like the pillowy interior of the ciabatta at Ginger Brown’s). It was inspired and harmonised (like the beer-braised brisket at Cascade Brewery). They were simple and elegant (the world’s best scone in Evandale). And what I really loved the most was the way that the raw ingredients were available for anyone to uncover.

I explored them on our return to Launceston.

Tasmania Travel Tip: if you do absolutely nothing else while in Launceston, a visit to the Ingleside Bakery for these scones is a must. #WOW

The Saturday farmer’s market (open till noon) had me out of bed early and dreaming about dinner. The first thing I noticed after scanning the grounds of the market were the mushrooms. The seller’s stand was simple–a table in the front and a tarp overhead–but the mushrooms they had on display did the visual heavy lifting.

These massive fungi exploded into the scene with their show-worthy weight and texture. Their colourful diversity created an almost too-good-to-eat edible bouquet. There were massive collections of silky oyster mushrooms and bags brimming with brown. But really, the big BOOM-POW of the stand was the “lion’s mane.” It’s something i’ve never seen before. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Double-fist sized, these mushrooms were big, snow white, and furry, like a shag rug.

The confused me and entranced me. How would it feel on the tongue? How would it taste? How would you cook it?

We moved along as I pondered this–briefly–because that’s when I spotted the honey. Honey was prominent here, sold at almost every other tent we passed, interspersed with local cheese, seasonings, and bread bakers.

I was greatly regretting our stock-up trip to Woolworth’s the night before.

Luckily, Tasmanians are nice enough to let you try things. So we sampled around, spending a particularly long amount of time at the locally pollinated honey. There were a surprising amount of things to consider, we learned. Like what type of flowers the bees pollinate around, and what the weather was like that year. It’s a process not too far off from wine. Some selections included exoticisms like Eucalyptus flower or Creamed Leatherwood. I ended up with a Rainforest Wildflower honey, sold to me by a fellow American.

“Where are you from?” I asked, picking up the accent.

“During what time in my life?” he responded, still with his American accent in tact.

I made a mental note of that response. I’ll have to use it myself one day.

His answer to the question I really needed to know (where in the States are you from? was) LA.

“I came to Tasmania 15 years ago and never left.” A similar response to our AirBnB host, who had arrived from the Netherlands 30 years ago.

Eating like this every day and I can see why.

There’s one thing about Tasmania that you never seem too far from, and that’s cheese.

At this particular market, there was plenty of cheese, and even a vegan alternative: cashew cheese.

We tried it, and I’ll say this about that: cheese is often imitated, but never duplicated. We passed up on the vegan purchase.

The one thing that, retrospectively, I wish I’d gotten more of was the Tasmanian pepper berry. This taste can best be described as s a s s y. It’s pepper on the tongue, but…like…LOUDER. Possibly because the familiar spice of pepper is met with an undeniably floral scent. You can smell it like a rose and taste it like a petal, all in the heat of black pepper.

It’s incredible on anything. I’ve been enjoying topping my roast veggies or potatoes with it. Basically just any time my meal needs a bit of BAM.

There was still one thing at the market that I was buzzing about: that giant furry mushroom. I simply had to have it. There was just one more stop returning to that wonderfully spartan shroom stand, and that was to visit Big Bruce.

Unfortunately, we found that Bruce had the day off. Apparently, he’d been touring Tasmania for the past few days and was feeling a bit spent.

We heard this from the oysters shuckers as they broke open the unlucky of Bruce’s family.

Bruce is an oyster (yes, an oyster) from Bruny Island. What makes him so special is he’s a BIG oyster. They didn’t have the heart to kill this superman of a mollusc, so they kept him on board, and alive, as their mascot.

So Bruce had the day off to bathe in some fresh Bruny Island water (but never directly in the actual ocean, which would be considered to contaminate their source). And so as to pay homage, but not overshadow, the holy experience of those oysters on Bruny Island, I got an oyster shooter.

Maybe it was the shot, but by the time we came back around to the mushroom stand, my energy was palpable.

“She’s back,” the mushroom seller said, announcing my wide-eyed approach.

“I can’t leave without it,” I told him.

I asked him, as the expert, the best way to cook up those fuzzy f8ckers. He said to basically treat it as any other mushroom.

He also threw in one value mushroom cooking nugget: “Tear it, don’t slice it.”

Tearing mushrooms is better, he said, because it maintains the fibres and how it cooks in the pan or roasts in the oven-both which are acceptable ways to cook it.

When it was time to cook dinner, I opted to tear it into shreds and roast it in the pan–of course seasoned by my Tasmanian pepperberry sea salt. This was all alongside a fresh pan-fried Tasmanian salmon–some of the most buttery mouthfuls of fish I’ve ever tasted. I am somewhat practiced in cooking salmon, I’m sure that those cold crisp waters were really to thank for such a success.

In my excitement, I forgot to take a picture of the plate, but it will always be an unforgettable meal.

Cooking with the small, treasured sachet of Tasmanian pepperberry seasalt is my homage to that meal. Luckily, pepper berry salt I can easily order online–unlike the oysters which are well worth the trip for themselves.

Salud, Bruce!


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