It was the winter of 1985 when my grandfather first came to Sydney.
Brusque winds and chilly air greeted him and my grandmother as they stepped out of the airport and into my parents’ waiting car. They were here to visit their granddaughter. The first of many. But one that would (unlike her Malaysian born grandparents, parents and cousins) be brought up as an Australian.
English speaking. Sun loving. Culturally reverent. Food obsessed.
My Ah-Kong (“grandfather” in Hokkien) returned to Sydney every two or three years.
To marvel at the never-ending beaches. To sit in our backyard watching brightly coloured birds circle and squabble and screech whilst smoking cigarettes and nursing a glass of cognac. To shake his head and gesture confusedly at me as we tried to bridge the language divide. To eat what he called “Australian food”.
Meat pies. Steaks. Fish and chips. Bacon and egg breakfasts accompanied by milky coffee. Sandwiches. Proper creamy ice-cream in a cone.
And peaches. Always peaches.
I remember his last visit, way back in the late Summer of 2004, before he grew too old and frail to endure the eight hour flight.
He would greet me from his position on the back porch in a wicker chair as I rolled back through the door from uni in the late afternoon.
“Seh-Lohh” would come the muted call as he waved. He could never pronounce my English name – too many difficult consonant sounds.
“Lai. Chia ke-chi.” (Come. Eat fruit.)
The juice would run down his chin as he took another bite of the peach in his hand. Shoes off, bag on the ground, I would sit and eat fruit whilst we spoke in a broken muddle of English and Hokkien.
“The prawns in Australia are big” he would say.
“The crabs in Malaysia are tastier” I would counter.
“Only because we buy the best ones when you visit” he would respond.
“Australian fruit is the best” he would declare, whilst reaching for another peach. “Seafood can be found everywhere, but the fruit can only grow when the weather is right.”
We bring two kilos of Australian stone fruit to my Ah-Kong with each visit to his home. Peaches, plums and nectarines. We bring them to him, washed and sliced, as he sits on his back porch in a wicker chair.
“Chi-eh ke-chi ani tii” he will say to anyone who will listen. (“This fruit is very sweet.”)
And for a moment, I am sure, he is back in Sydney with the screeching birds circling overhead and the promise of steak for dinner.
peach melba parfait
There are so many aspects to Australian cuisine that it’s hard to identify a single dish that encompasses it all. So I didn’t, and focussed instead on the things that remind me of why I love living here and the moments that our visitors have carried back home with them. My Ah-Kong’s love of peaches, for one. The feeling of ice-cream dripping down your arm on a stinking hot day. The bottles of gorgeous wines that are flown right around the world as testament to our vineyards and winemakers.
Even better, the fact that all three were brought together in a single dish (by a Brit no less!) to celebrate one of Australia’s most loved songbirds. The Peach Melba.
I’ve mixed the original recipe for a peach melba up a bit here to make a delightful little dessert. Vanilla poached peaches and muscat form the base of a light as air parfait, perfectly paired with that ubiquitous raspberry red sauce. (It’s an easy recipe too because really, who needs to be stuck in the kitchen when the outdoors is calling?)
vanilla poached peaches
you will need:
750g fresh peaches
1tsp vanilla extract
how to do it:
1. Wash the peaches, remove the stones and cut into eight slices.
2. Put the remaining ingredients into a pot and heat until the sugar is totally dissolved. Add the peaches and bring the liquid to the boil.
3. Once the liquid has started to boil, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
4. Carefully retrieve the poached peaches and peel of the skin. It should separate from the peach flesh easily.
5. Retain the poaching liquid. Reduce in the pot until it is one quarter of its original volume. You should have about one cup of poaching liquid left. This will be used for the raspberry sauce.
peach & muscat parfait
you will need:
one batch of vanilla poached peaches (see above)
1/2C muscat (or dessert wine if you want a less pronounced flavour)
how to do it:
1. Separate your eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until it is lighter in colour and the mixture thickens.
2. Heat the milk to a simmer and carefully pour it into the egg and sugar mixture whilst whisking. This will form a custard mixture. Transfer the mix back into a pot and heat gently, stirring, until the custard thickens.
3. Add the muscat and stir to combine. Let the custard mixture cool. Puree the vanilla poached peaches and fold into the custard mixture.
4. Whip the cream and egg whites in separate bowls until they reach soft peaks.
5. Add the cooled peach and muscat custard to the cream and fold to combine. Fold the egg whites in, taking care not to deflate them.
6. Transfer the mixture into silicone moulds or a baking dish. Cover with cling wrap and freeze for at least 4 hours.
raspberry sauce & assembly
you will need:
reduced poaching liquid (from vanilla poached peaches)
1 cup frozen (or fresh) raspberries
how to do it:
1. Combine the liquid and raspberries in a pot over heat and stir until the raspberries are broken down and bleed their colour into the syrup.
2. To serve in scoops, remove the parfait from the freezer fifteen minutes ahead of time. Serve with extra poached peaches & raspberry sauce.
This post is my entry into the Rick Stein Food Odyssey – Hunt for Australia’s Top Blogger. To book tickets to the Rick Stein tour, or to find out more about Rick’s search for the essence of Australian cuisine, please check out the website at: http://www.ricksteintour.com.au