TASMANIA - TWO CENTURIES OF FINE FOODS
Tasmanian food products, being of outstanding quality, have an international reputation for excellence and are widely sought. Interestingly, this can be said to be part of our heritage. In early times Tasmania, (then called Van Diemen’s Land), was the bread basket to the other Australian colonies.
The early settlements in Tasmania struggled in providing for themselves. In the south the Risdon Cove settlement of 1803 was abandoned and transferred to Sullivans Cove on the western bank of the Derwent River and this, as well as the Dalrymple settlement in the north, was on starvation level, surviving on local game. Despite these extreme hardships, the endurance, effort and enterprise of the early settlers turned the situation around within twenty years. This was a marvellous achievement.
By 1818 the raw colony made up of small settlements, prisons and isolated farms had begun to produce abundantly because of the soil, climate and terrain. Clearing the land saw a gradual increase of sown and improved pasture. As a result meat production began to climb; dairy products and fruit growing began to appear. By that year wheat, barley, oats, peas, beans, potatoes, turnips were being grown.
Ten years later in 1828 production had quadrupled. With the Coal River valley opening up to free settlers, the townships of Richmond (1824) and Sorell (1821 - originally called Pitt Water) were established and food production increased. The land was ploughed by oxen or horses and the grain grown from these areas would be carted to sailing ships, moored at the mouth of the Coal River. Richmond became a rich agriculture area and Tasmania’s major wheat growing district. By this time Tasmania was supporting half a million sheep.
By 1842, the island colony of Van Diemen’s Land was Australia’s principal wheat grower. There were over 75,000 acres sown to this crop, nearly half of Australia’s wheat growing area at that time. A great deal of the wheat was exported to the far larger colony of New South Wales as well as into the newly formed colony of Victoria. Tasmania was then supporting in excess of one million sheep and more than 90,000 cattle. Barley production was steady, but production of oats, turnips and potatoes had increased greatly.
Before the 1850’s most farming had been confined to the eastern half of the island where open plains and open forest country encouraged penetration. Further development required the clearing of very difficult areas. Incredibly rich chocolate-coloured volcanic soil was found on the north-west and settlement continued to the north-east around the Ringarooma area. By then the heavily timbered Huon Valley began to see settlers arrive, as did areas such as the Tamar valley and the Mersey valley.
With the end of the penal settlement at Port Arthur, producers were to make the Tasman Peninsula another valuable food growing area. Other food produced included honey, beer, cheese, small fruits and fish. And before Federation, apple production exceeded one million bushels.
An indication of the colony’s pride in its rural achievements can be gained from the fact that a Tasmanian named Edward Abbott, a journalist and later a Parliamentarian, produced Australia’s first cook book, the 'English and Australian Cookery Book' in 1864. His recipes included ‘Roast Beef of England’, ‘Kangaroo Steamer’ and even one on how to cook kangaroo brains!
Subsequent years saw the rise and decline in the production various crops such as apples, which at one point were so important to the local economy that Tasmania became known as the Apple Isle. But currently a wide range of high quality and specialised edibles is being produced here, including fish and seafood such as Atlantic salmon and abalone, vegetables and fruit, many types of cheese, olive oil, international award-winning whisky, wines - particularly whites and pinot noirs - as well as some of the best beef, lamb and pork grown anywhere in the world – all taking advantage of the clean environment and cool climate.
And of course there are the producers of the great products you can source from Tasmanian Gourmet Foods …!