After making the decision to focus on eating seasonal, locally-sourced food, Marrickville cafe owner and mother of two Alex Elliott-Howery found herself wandering around the supermarket with an empty trolley. Finding little on offer, she began building a food philosophy focused on growing, pickling, sharing, trading, and now, selling.
The Cornersmith cafe, opened with her husband James, is a community-focused, sustainable sensation that was awarded best cafe in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2014. On top of the honest- to-goodness meals turned out at the busy corner spot every day, the couple opened a picklery up the road where all the luscious relishes, chutneys, jams and pickles served with their meals are prepared. And to further spread their passion this wholesome way of eating, Cornersmith runs regular workshops educating participants on a variety of foodie delights, from gluten-free baking to whipping up home-made passata. Keen to get involved, be. magazine headed down to one of Alex’s workshops on pickling and preserving.
Arriving in the cool evening, Cornersmith’s Picklery beckons you like a temple devoted to home-made goodness. A glut of cumquats, recently dropped off by a local as part of Cornersmith’s fruit and veggie trade swap, has just been made into a preserve and is bubbling away in the steam oven. Jars of bright relishes and chutneys line the shelves, champagne corks are popping and pickled beans are being laid out, setting the scene for the evening ahead.
We sit down to a table laid out with pickled cucumbers, beans, corn relish and tomato chutney. Thick slices of sourdough from the Bread and Butter Project (a local social enterprise donating profits to baker training and employment for communities in need) are piled high on the table, and pats of Pepe Saya cultured butter are passed around. Plates of creamy labneh, prepared by resident cheese maker Kristen Allan, round out the spread and we tuck in while Alex enlightens us on the science of pickling and preserving.
Inspired after our sampling, we begin the creative part of the evening. First up is a pear, lemon and rosemary chutney. As we get chopping, Alex encourages everyone to taste the produce to get a sense of how sweet the fruit is. Onions, fresh rosemary, lemon zest, crunchy pears and cloves are all in the mix, and the combination is beautiful. After adding red wine vinegar, which imparts a lovely deep colour to the chutney, and the required sugar, we leave it to simmer away for around an hour and turn our focus to pickling.
Alex has planned a fennel and onion pickle for us to create, and we begin chopping up the veggies while the spices get laid down the table. Bright turmeric, chilli flakes, fennel seeds, orange zest and mustard seeds are all in the mix, and the temptation to be a little too heavy-handed is strong! With flavour added, we carefully pack our sterilised jars as prettily as we can, then in goes the brine. The jars are then brought to the boil for around 15 minutes, before cooling off and sealing themselves.
Back to our chutney, which has turned thick and glossy, we throw in some more rosemary and leave it to cool off while we get on to our final recipe of the night – flavoured vinegar. Simple and beautifully presented, flavoured vinegar involves adding an array of herbs, spices and seeds to a clean, sterilised bottle and pouring in cold white wine vinegar. Filling the bottle with fragrant ingredients like rosemary flowers, pickled garlic, whole black peppercorns, ginger and orange zest, the vinegar infuses with these wonderful flavours, taking a simple salad dressing or marinade to another level.
After we tighten the lids on our finished pear chutney, it’s incredibly satisfying to see our home-made pickles, preserves and vinegars lined up. Generous with her knowledge and experience, Alex really imparts just how rewarding, social and enjoyable this sustainable, wholesome way of eating can be. With everyone encouraged to get together with friends or family, split a box of veggies and spend a fun day preparing and bottling, it’s a group of very inspired people who head home from the Picklery that night.
Keen to try? Find upcoming Cornersmith workshops at facebook.com/cornersmith