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Exclusive interview with Maggie Beer

Maggie Beer you certainly don’t show any sign of slowing down! Tell us about your new Orchard in the Barossa, what are you growing?

Handpicking from our own Heritage orchard has been a dream of mine from our very first days in the Barossa; the literal fruits of heartfelt labour, picked at their peak of ripeness. Our orchard offers me the chance to share old fashioned flavour beyond our own table, and that is the essence of what I strive for.

The Heritage Orchard is very dear to me, holding equal measures of sentimental value and the chance to preserve an all but lost tradition of fruit growing, beyond grapes, in the Valley.
If we hadn’t bought this place, somebody else would have and the trees would have been pulled out and planted to vines. We simply can’t lose the tradition of the landscape and all that heritage.

Established over a century ago, the orchard is made up of a collection of 2000 trees including heirloom apples, apricots and pears, all bursting with the kind of flavour I remember from my own childhood; real flavour.
And now we have five grandchildren, I hope this place will be in the family forever.

How can our readers get a taste?

Maggie’s Orchard products are available online, at the Farm Shop and at Thomas Dux.
You are famous for being a self-taught cook. Can you tell us how you turned your love of food into a career?
Everything in my life has been an ‘organic’ process that has developed rather than necessarily been planned… that’s not to say it has always been easy but more so that I have learnt to ‘go with the flow’. So when it came to a career involving food it really just evolved. There was no grand plan – but moving to the Barossa when I married Colin and being surrounded by such wonderful, seasonal produce certainly sparked my existing interest in food to be taken to the next level. And yes, eventually starting the Pheasant Farm Restaurant really clinched the deal to set me on my food path.

Do you think being a self-taught cook make you more sympathetic to the Masterchef contestants?
I felt for all of them! It’s a brave thing to cook under pressure and an even braver thing to do that on live television.

You believe in ‘cooking from the heart’. What does this mean to you?

Getting your hands on the very best seasonal produce available and letting that drive your intuition for a meal. Improvisation is key to everything I do and while you may make some mistakes along the way, it is the most wonderful way to cook for all the delicious surprises that pop up and can quickly become staple dishes you rely on again and again. It allows you to put your creative stamp on everything you cook.

Many people don’t know about your other passions, such as music and local politics, what are you up to these days apart from cooking?

I dabble on the piano a little but my true passion is singing. I would love to have a voice of operatic caliber. Until that day though I am content to get together with my singing group every Wednesday night to have a completely unrehearsed sing along. There is absolutely no pressure to do anything other than have fun.

Your new website looks fantastic, tell us what our readers can do there if they give it a visit?

It goes without saying that there is always something exciting on the boil at Maggie Beer Products, but I am particularly thrilled to be able to bring our ‘freshly baked’

the changes we’ve made, but also notice that they make it a lot easier to spend time looking around the site – especially for those of us that still think ‘twittering’ is something small birds do in the garden!

I cook from the heart and wholeheartedly encourage improvisation in the kitchen, so my main priority for anyone jumping onto was to provide recipes to be used as a starting point; recipes that make you want to get into the kitchen! With that in mind, we have added new recipes and categories, along with different ways to hunt down your favourite recipe; based on the season, or an abundance of any particular ingredient, or whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner than you’re planning on cooking. I can only imagine that the addition of these extra search options will further encourage the pleasures of sourcing good produce and sharing great food – exactly the right idea!

But above and beyond that, I will be sharing exclusive recipes just for food club members, along with special offers, your monthly newsletter – and to raise an especially loud cheer amongst the food club ranks – free postage and handling for all member’s online orders. Being a food club member just became all the more delicious.

Why is seasonal produce so important?

That’s where the best flavour is! Cooking with seasonal produce, in turn, helps to educate us to make informed food choices. For so many people, because of the change in our lives where both partners work, there’s not been that handing down of cooking skills. And it’s something that really is necessary for absolutely everyone. I really believe cooking is an art form we can all practice on a daily basis when armed with a passion for good food.

What are your top five ‘must-haves’ in the kitchen?

A few kitchen timers – especially if you are as easily distracted as me.
Citrus zester with sharp ‘claws’  – I’ve even been known to take a lemon to the kitchenware shop to check before buying as there are so many blunt ones on the market.
Selection of small, serrated knives – I find these very handy for tasks such as slicing tomatoes, cutting eggplant, segmenting citrus fruit and picking vegetables from my garden.
2 sets of Stainless steel Australian standard metric measuring spoons (mine are joined together); make sure that the tablespoon measure is in 20 ml and not the US 15 ml
Lots of glass or stainless steel mixing bowls – small, medium and large – that stack inside each other.

What do you think is the best kitchen appliance ever made?

The original Oscar food processor by Sunbeam.

Maggie Beers top food books
French Provincial Cooking – Elizabeth David
The Cook’s Companion – Stephanie Alexander
Cooking of South West France – Paula Wolfert
Chez Panisse Café Cookbook – Alice Waters
The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, and Science of Good Cooking – Madeleine Kamman

About the author

Alana Lowes

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