Tasmania, the beautiful, wild and isolated Apple Isle, recently selected as one of the Lonely Planet’s top ten regions to travel for 2015. We planned our family holiday to Tasmania a little while ago, coinciding with the visit of Barth’s parents from the Netherlands. This was to be their first trip outside of Europe, and as they also love the outdoors, we wanted to show them the diversity of Australia’s countryside.
After a quick stop in Sydney, we flew into Hobart last Sunday and made our way straight to Cradle Mountain. I had checked out the temperatures beforehand, and they were a very (un-Australian) frosty 5C. I packed my down puffy jacket, and was made fun of by the whole family. I guess they were laughing on the inside when the woman at our lodge told us that the forecast was for snow that first freezing night….
Fortunately it didn’t snow. It was, however, extremely cold as we set off for for a day hike to the Cradle Mountain summit, complete with our picnic lunch. I had wanted to visit Cradle Mountain for many years, so I was pretty excited to finally see that sweeping miner’s cradle carved into the blue sky in the distance. The 13km hike was a fairly arduous one, with lots of uphill climbs, chain ropes and clambering over boulders. I was very impressed that Barth’s parents, who are almost 70, made most of the trek.
Tasmania is only a small island, however there is so much to do and see; sweeping beaches, ocean views, wineries and naturally formed landscapes on the east coast; culture, waterways, artisan food (salmon, cheese, preserves, oysters, cider, whisky) and Huon pine in the Hobart and south area, and the world heritage wilderness of the national parks, mining towns and convict history in the west. For this trip we chose the wild, wild west. However, we will definitely be making a return visit, as we only just scratched the surface. The Bay of Fires in the north east, and south of Hobart are at the top of my return list.
After Cradle Mountain, we drove to Strahan, a pretty, small coastal village on the west coast. Here we visited the expansive Ocean Beach, and took a boat trip over to Bonnet Island to watch the sunset and see the fairy penguins (which were amazingly cute!). Regrettably, we didn’t have time to visit the dunes, or cruise on the Gordon River.
Next stop was the South West National Park area, a densely wild area in south-west Tasmania. We had a beautiful drive along the Lyell Highway, including passing through the desolate but Lord of the Rings-esque copper-mining town of Queenstown and pausing mid highway to allow an echnida to cross the road. We stopped at a lovely B&B near Fentonbury overnight, which had a woodfire stove (my favourite) and a small dam where we saw a platypus (in the wild!!). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a platypus in the wild before, and Barth’s parents certainly hadn’t. On the following day, we drove an hour or two to the start of another 11km day hike to Mt Eliza. This hike was not as challenging as the Cradle Mountain one, as the path was quite well marked, but it did have a 700m ascent and spectacular views over the South West National Park, Lake Pedder and Lake Gordon.
Lake Pedder is essentially a man made lake with some controversial history. In the 1960s and 70s, the Australian government approved the flooding of the original (and very much smaller, but natural) Lake Pedder to make way for industry and hydroelectricity. A sad intrusion into one of the world’s last areas of untouched wilderness. The result is now the Gordon dam, and one very long, lonely access road through some of Tasmania’s pristine forests in the magnificent Southwest National Park. The drive is absolutely stunning, with diverse scenery, wildlife and nature, alternating between pine and rain forests. The upside of the dam is that the road allows us to access part of an area which we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see. The lakes and mountains which were created by the damming of the area are beautiful, although I’m not sure how I feel about this man made imposition. The dam itself is fairly impressive too, towering 140m in height and almost 200m across. Fortunately the significant environmental campaign in the 1980s was successful in preventing the construction of the second Franklin-Gordon dam, which would have further impacted the wilderness and ecosystem. I hope we are able to prevent further logging in this area in the future, carried out in the name of (short term) benefit for the economy.
Our next day in the wild west was spent in doing some shorter walks in the Mt Field National Park and viewing the beautiful waterfalls, mossy landscapes, ferns and the tallest trees (swamp gums) in the world outside of California’s redwood forests.
Our final day was spent exploring Hobart’s hip, dark and salacious MONA museum and famous Salamanca markets. Which leads me back to the point of this post – apples!
Before rising to such heights in the Lonely Planet, Tasmania was famous for producing most of Australia’s (and some time ago, the world’s) apples. Our week in Tasmania inspired the purchase of some Red Delicious apples, the most popular eating apple from the isle (the other ones go into making cider, which we also sampled).
The apples are slowly caramelised with some honey in the oven on top of a tahini smeared socca (a kind of chickpea crepe, which originates in the Ligurian Sea area, also known as farinata or torta di ceci), sprinkled with fennel, chilli and lemon and some freshly made labneh cheese. I love the combination of sweetness from the apples and the honey, the bite of the chilli, crunch from the socca and pumpkin seeds and sourness from the labneh and lemon. It makes a great brunch or lunch meal, served with a green salad. The recipe below makes 2-3 socca rounds.
- 1 cup of chickpea flour* (also known as besan, gram or garbanzo bean flour)
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup of water
- 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Caramelised apple topping
- 2 apples (I used Red Delicious ones)
- 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons hulled tahini paste
- 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 60-80g of labneh cheese (store bought or home make (see below))***
- A sprinkle of nigella seeds & pumpkin seeds (optional garnish)
- Olive oil, for cooking
- Prepare the batter for the socca by mixing the chickpea flour with the salt in a large mixing bowl, and then slowly whisking in the water and the olive oil. The batter should be fairly runny, and you may need to add another tablespoon or two of water. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for at least an hour or so (preferably two).
- Preheat the grill (broiler) setting on your oven up to high, with the oven tray about 10cm from the grill. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a 24cm cast iron pan**, swirl it around the pan so all the surface is covered and put it under the grill to heat until it is very hot.
- Core and thinly slice the apples. Squeeze lemon juice over the apples to prevent browning.
- Using ovenproof gloves, remove the pan from the oven and pour about enough mixture into the pan to just cover its base (about one third to a half of the mixture). Swirl it round, sprinkle over half a tablespoon of the fennel seeds and then put back in the oven under the grill. Bake until the socca mixture is just set, starts to turn a light brown and the sides begin to curl up away from the pan.
- Remove from oven and spoon a tablespoon of tahini paste over the socca. Sprinkle a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes over the tahini, and then carefully layer the apple slices. It works best if you layer each slice overlapping with the previous one, so that all of the tahini is covered.
- Mix the honey with a tablespoon of water, and using a pastry brush, lightly brush honey over the apple slices.
- Change the grill to an oven setting, and turn the dial up to 180C. Return the socca and apple to the oven, and bake 10-15 minutes until the apple caramelises.
- Remove the socca from the oven, spoon over half of the labneh and sprinkle with lemon zest, nigella and pumpkin seeds. Repeat with the remaining socca batter.
- 250g Greek full fat yoghurt
- 1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
- Muslin cloth or unused chux cloth
- Mix the yoghurt with the salt and spoon into the muslin cloth. Put the muslin cloth into a sieve and leave to drain over a large mixing bowl in the fridge overnight (preferably 12-24 hours). Discard the liquid.
- You can either use the labneh immediately; or store it by adding olive oil to a glass jar, rolling the labneh into small balls and adding to the jar and topping up with oil. You can also add some fennel seeds, chilli flakes, garlic and/or peppercorns to spice it up. It will keep a couple of weeks in the oil in the fridge.
* Note: You can also make your own chickpea flour if you have a high speed blender with whole chickpeas. Just add the chickpeas into the blender on a high setting and blitz for a couple of minutes until you get a fine flour.
** Note: I used my cast iron crepe pan, which has a heat resistant handle. You can also use a heavy based ovenproof dish (preferably cast iron). If all else fails, you can use a frypan on the stovetop with a lid, however the socca won’t crisp up with this method.
*** Note: Blue cheese would also taste great with the apple.