Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Spring's Big Three

Spring's Big Three are: Broadbeans; Asparagus; and Strawberries. No debate entered into people. These are the ones, the ones you have been dreaming about as the artic wind swept up Commercial Road and you wondered if the sun would ever shine again

And now Spring is here, we've all thawed out a little in the glorious weather (34 degrees? Why, thank you) and are thinking how to make the most of it. Parks, picnics, white wine in the backyard and the Big Three of course.

Broad beans are the most fleeting, blink and you'll miss them. The other two will stick around into summer, but by then we'll all be swanning around with stonefruit and sweetcorn, so enjoy them now.


The controversy here is of course to pod or double pod. Look at your beans and check how young and small they are for the answer (also have deep think about how lazy you are).  Broad beans are a brief pleasure, put some effort in and reap the tender rewards.

The delicacy of the broad bean lends itself to equally light pairings, some fresh goat curd, ricotta, soft lettuces. Don't overwhelm this flavour with a bang, go gently and Respect The Bean.


Asparagus is here and all over the Market in purple, white and green. The very youngest asparagus could be eaten whole without snapping the woody ends but those days are drawing to an end. There are plenty of recipes in our cooking section  for delicious ways to use asparagus, but the simplest are often the best. Soft boil a couple of beautiful free range eggs and dip some lightly steamed stalks in as soldiers. Brush with oil and grill on a cast iron griddle, then sprinkle with salt and lemon zest. Or simmer lightly in a pan for a couple of minutes, then drain and drizzle with newly-pressed olive oil and a squeeze of mandarin juice.

Our vegetable recipes are here.


 Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula strawberries are coming into the Market now. If you are able to restrain yourself from eating an entire punnet as you unpack, take the berries out of the punnet and store in the fridge on a plate on top of a kitchen towel.  Their flavour is best at room temperature, so take them out an hour or so before eating and leave the green stem in until the last minute (if you feel the need to remove).

Again, these are wonderful served simply - when super-sweet, add a little creme fraiche on the side. If a little sour, drizzle with balsamic or dust with Billington's Natural Golden Icing Sugar from Delicatess or the Essential Ingredient.

If you disagree on our Big Three or have great ways to prepare them, that's what the comments section is for, people. Go to it.

Fabulous spring fruit and veggies available from our beloved greengrocers

Cheong Fruit and Vegetables
Damian Pike Wild Mushroom Specialist
F & J Fruiterers
Garden State Fruit Supply
Patty's Fruit & Vegies
Pino's Fine Produce
Reliable Fruit & Vegies
Ripe the Organic Grocer
Russo's Fruit Supply

Monday, 22 October 2012

Damian Pike, Mushroom Man Extraordinaire

Damian doesn't like it when you say that sort of thing about him. Damian still seems somewhat taken aback at the recognition he's received, from the food community, from Melbourne and 2 years ago from the Australian government in the form of an Order of Australia for services to the fruit and vegetable industry.  As Damian puts it, "It was the first time it had been given to a 'Joe Bloggs' like me. I'm not anyone special, I'm just me. I enjoy what I do and if I didn't, I certainly wouldn't be here."

Growing up in Queensland, he used to eat Kraft cheese "I think it came in a blue packet" between white bread. When he had celery for the first time in Queensland, no one had heard of it. Damian moved to New Zealand later on and found his way in a hotel chain "I just enjoyed the industry and was fortunate to get involved here in the mid-60s and mid-70s. I was lucky enough to be involved as the food industry took off."

Damain then worked all around the world on offshore oil rigs as a chief steward in catering. "I was employing people from everywhere. And it was another eye opener to see produce that I'd never seen before, that I couldn't even spell.  Then I returned to Australia and worked in the desert for a while, doing catering for a mate's company. That folded and this opportunity at the Prahran Market came about and I thought we'll give it a go. It's been just great for me. I just wanted to enjoy what I had and have always had as my motto "I am here to make friends, not money. And now I''ve got a lot of very good friends. I've been very fortunate to work in an industry that's brought me up to respect the people and the product."

Damian says that he was helped by some wonderful people along the way. "In mid-1986 Jill Dupleix came and asked me what I wanted to do with my stall and she wrote a 2 page spread about it in The Age and Terry Durack brought people round and opened doors for me. They were both great shoppers at the market."

He was then introduced to mushroom brokers and importers.  "Terence said he could get me anything I wanted so I asked for 20 cases.  No one was doing those kind of quantities of chanterelles, mousserons and cepes as a retailer. I was lucky to have the support of customers in the market who were willing to have a go, people who had been overseas and eaten the produce and away it went."

He started sourcing mushrooms from all around the world, including South East Asia and began expanding into the exotic side of mushrooms. Damian was offered mushrooms from Sydney for the first time and then Ron, a local man in Melbourne approached him. "Ron was growing shitakes and asked if I wanted to sell a local one and that industry boomed. It was a great success."

Elizabeth Chong was also a great supporter of the Market and they did a few gigs together on different programs for culinary and medicinal use of mushrooms with the Asian community. Then people began enquiring about truffles in 1988. "I've always been game to try new products. Thank god it's been rewarding ever since."

Damian's worked solidly for years. "Never had a break from the market until four years ago, we started to pinch a day here and there and then I had a week off after Christmas 3 years ago and that's the first time I've ever had a holiday. 23 years we worked straight, on the Market days. I got used to that, didn't really matter.  Now it's good to look at the calendar and plan a break."

And any recommendations?

"I don't buy things I don't eat. Very proud of that.What I eat's what's in my shop."

Come and visit Damian at Stall 116       Damian Pike at the Prahran Market 

Welcome To Our Blog!

Welcome, welcome to the Prahran Market blog!

A little piece of the internet for tales of our market floor, where you can get to truly know our traders and their produce.  Find the best recipes and ways to cook local food in season.

There will be NO SCURRILOUS GOSSIP (okay, maybe a little bit) but good food, tall tales and people who are the salt of the earth.

Sit back (are you sitting comfortably?), get a cup of what you fancy and enjoy ...