Story telling from Australia
In spite of the dire warnings broadcast on radio, it didn’t snow in Orange until after I’d left, so I never got to see the weather forecaster run naked down the main street (as he promised he would in the absence of any significant falls) but I did see something that still makes me smile a week later.
Orange is a food lover’s paradise and I was looking for somewhere for lunch. The cold sleet that fell on the day of the book reading was replaced by a china blue sky and bright winter sun, but it was still barely three degrees; too cold to walk the streets without a hat or gloves.
I drove around, finding by chance the best coffee in town at Factory Espresso, where they roast their own beans in an old mechanical workshop.
The quiet concentration of the two lads behind the counter spoke volumes about their dedication. I used to wonder what people were on about when they raved about ‘decent’ coffee. Having been raised on instant, with the occasional pot of filter coffee as a Sunday treat in my early twenties, any kind of coffee made from beans and not granules qualified as a decent drop.
I’ve since discovered there’s an art to making good coffee; you can taste the skill of the barista and the quality of the beans in the final cup. So hats off to Liam and Rhys in Factory Espresso.
It hardly seemed worth finding anywhere for lunch after such a satisfying coffee (and cake) so I set off for Dubbo late morning. On the outskirts of town I passed a sign for The Agrestic Grocer. Angela Owens at ABC Radio had suggested it would be a good place for brunch, so I pulled over, intending to buy a couple of apples for the two hour trip to Dubbo. I was planning a stop of no more than five minutes; I stayed an hour and a half.
Oh what delights! An enormous wood-burner warmed the entrance and a traditional chalkboard welcomed visitors, there was even a static bicycle demonstrating how pedal power could crush grains of wheat.
Smells drifting out of the warm dining room tempted me to stay for lunch, and the huge bowl of home made mushroom soup, with thumping great chunks of fresh bread, didn’t disappoint. Neither did the singer, her voice as sweet and rich as the worn timber tables and as welcome as the jam jar of fresh flowers in front of me – a surprising addition in the depths of winter.
There were other surprises too, like old fruit crates full of well-thumbed gardening magazines from around the world. ‘Help yourself,’ the sign said, ‘or leave some behind if you’ve finished with them.’
The Agrestic Grocer was a celebration of everything I love about rural life. There was Australian grown cinnamon and vanilla, jars of sweet smelling star anise and vats of honey from bees fed on flowers that only emerge once every four years.
If that all sounds a tad precious believe me, it wasn’t.
The bearded man behind the till (Lucas) was passionate about local produce and quality fruit and vegetables.
No-one minded waiting at the till while he explained the finer points of honey to an interested customer, or pointed out where the heritage variety potatoes came from, who grew the apples, why the chocolate would raise money for kids overseas…
Lunch qualified me for a ten per cent discount off any purchase, so I took my time wandering around the displays, fascinated by apples, pears and beetroot that didn’t resemble anything I’d ever seen in a supermarket.
It was impossible not to take photos of the beautifully presented displays, and I couldn’t help feeling there was something familiar about the colour, form and proportion. This wasn’t just food as fuel, this was food as something inherently beautiful; I’d seen that aesthetic somewhere else.
It was unlikely that the Agrestic Grocer would have any connection with Sydney – four hours across the Blue Mountains – but something made me ask.
‘Do you ever sell at farmers markets?’ I asked Lucas as he bagged up my apples.
‘Yep. My partner’s in Sydney now,’ he said.
‘Where?’ I asked, although I was already smiling.
‘Orange Grove Market,’ he said. ‘In Lilyfield, do you know it?’
Do I know it? Orange Grove Market is close enough to our house in Sydney to cycle there; it’s my favourite spot on a Saturday morning, especially if you get there early before the crowds gather. It’s where I bought most of the plants now growing in the back garden, and it’s where I took these photos a couple of days ago.
It may not have snowed in Orange but I still found another luscious strawberry in the desert.