I surprised myself by having a little cry in the shower on Sunday morning. It sort of came from nowhere, a mixture of complete joy and total relief after discovering 35mm of rain in the rain gauge.
I didn’t realise until that moment just how significant rain, or lack thereof, had become.
After almost 20 months of none of any significance, I’d subconsciously convinced myself that this would be the new normal. We’ve watched un-irrigated trees around the district die, and realised local pasture farmers were at the brink of despair.
Our irrigation regimes on the vineyards are running on a kind of unknown deficit, and we keep expecting the well on The Food Farm to simply stop delivering water one day soon. The fragmented aquifers around here are notoriously difficult to read or understand, so we don’t know when they are at dangerously low levels.
Don’t get me wrong. We understand lack of water. We lived in South Australia for 12 years and it’s the driest state in the driest continent in the world, but lack of water is a totally relative thing.
We farm here on about 650mm of rain a year, and because this particular rain comes three days into the new year, 2015 was the driest on local record for forty years. It’s easy to understand then how last year created a changed environment for us all. Mature trees couldn’t cope, river ecosystems put under terrible strain, and pasture non existent.
For all these reasons I’m feeling a little better about the cry in the shower. I know there are more severe droughts elsewhere, there are also those who have too much rain, or even the uncertainty that this spells the end of the drought; but right now for us on this little piece of land, 35mm is totally worthy of a few tears.
It has come slowly and softly enough to prevent too much run-off, and at a really good time of year- after grapevine flowering and well before there is any disease pressure on bunches. On The Food Farm any trees or perennials suffering from lack of subsoil moisture will be recharged, and with the exception of soft fruit and cherries, everything else will love the nitrogen rich precipitation. It’s so much better than any other form of irrigation.
So yesterday evening, as the final 48mm reading was tipped from the rain gauge, we celebrated by lighting the wood fired oven for the first time in forever (because of the fire risk).
Homemade pizzas are one of our family favourites, and rightly so. They are easy to make, can feed a crowd, and allow everyone some creativity on their plate.
The Food Farm Pizzas
Pizza bases (recipe with thanks to Stephanie Alexander for years of service):
1 tablespoon instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
400g plain flour
1 cup lukewarm water
Mix yeast and salt with flour. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil with the water and beat into the dry ingredients using a dough hook. Knead until mixture is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes (or 10-12 minutes hand kneading). Grease bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer dough to bowl, then cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in draft free place until doubled in size (approx. 1 ½ hours). Knock back dough, then fold gently in 4 and allow to rise again, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes.
IMPT: We seriously scale this recipe to suit. As an example we often make it with 1.7kgs of flour to feed 7 plus people. You could work on 150g of flour per person. If we’re using bread flour we also add just a little more water as this seems to help the dough come together.
We use a lot of homemade or local ingredients on our pizzas. Here’s a list of some for inspiration:
Preserved artichoke hearts
Chargrilled peppers and capsicum
Tomatoes drizzled in basil flavoured oil
Homemade salami, sausage or prosciutto
Thyme & other woody herbs (love thyme on pizzas)
Local salmon or trout
A few favourite Food Farm combinations:
Rosemary, olive oil & sea salt
Thinly sliced potatoes and rosemary
Tomatoes, mozzarella and thyme
Passata, anchovies and chillies
Smoked salmon, preserved lemons and capers.