Thursday, July 10, 2008


Have you ever heard of a little place called Koonwarra? Until recently I hadn’t. So when I heard that it was Australia’s first completely plastic bag free zone, we jumped in the car and headed south! Past Leongatha, south of Melbourne, An hour and a half in the car through pleasant country side, to the little town with ‘quite the badge of honour’ in this increasingly environmentally conscious world.
The downside to following this interest in the ‘environmentally aware’ - is that we had to drive to get there. My conscience was only assuaged by the fact that I was supporting such a great initiative by the visit and that I could see no practical way to visit the town without driving.
There. To get to the town with no plastic bags, we had to drive- one step at a time to save this world.

The town of Koonwarra is little more than a cluster of about 5 shops off the South Gippsland Highway- but such a pretty nest of shops and good intention I have never seen.
Koonwarra Store- (Café, Providore, Wine store- 03 5664 2309 – sits right on the corner of the cluster, and on a Sunday afternoon was simply bustling with life, wafting smells of goodness and the happy chatter of various groups that had come to Koonwarra for the joy of sharing food.

The shelves heave d under countless bottles of local jam & preserves (keep and eye out for the home made tomato sauces), and local produce underpinned the daily changing menu. With sun streaming in the French doors, friendly service and a book to peruse on the ‘functional Australian garden’ you couldn’t ask for a more positive sustainable food experience.
The town prides itself on being organic and sustainable & after the drive, nothing could have made me happier than the coffee and cheerful service that I received whilst pouring over a gardening book and planning where best to place the ‘functional aspects’ of the fictional garden that was growing in my mind.

After wandering through the shared garden at the back of the food store and perusing the vintage and recycled clothing shop next door, I was so refreshed and invigorated by the positive attitude of the area that I was as convinced as ever that now was my time to start growing my own beans!

When we got home I was so inspired that I grabbed the last of our russet pears, pulled out a trusty Marie Claire cook book and modified a recipe to make a ‘pear and almond-meal cake’.
When you are longing to prolong such a beautiful experience, the only sensible thing to do is cook a cake with seasonal ingredients.
With mashed autumn pear through the golden nutty & buttery goodness, this cake was a huge success.
The original recipe was for a plum cake- but here’s what we ended up with.

Autumn ‘Almond Russet Pear cake’


  • 2 fresh russet pears (squishy is good)- chop and mash 1 1/2 and then slice the rest for decoration.
  • 155g butter (room temp is best, but melted is fine)
  • 3/4 cup of castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (I recommend vanilla bean paste- closer to the bean when you can’t get them)
  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat your oven to 200degC.
Either by hand or in a blender, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.

In a separate bowl mash 1 1/2 pears and then add the pears, almond meal, vanilla, flour and baking powder to the egg and butter mixture.
Mix until well combined, or until your arm is ready to fall off.
Lightly grease a ring tin and pour the mixture in.

Lay the reserved slices of pear on top in whatever pattern best suits your cake tin and mood.

Bake for around 45 mins at 180degC- or until golden and a test skewer comes out clean.
Happiness is hot pear cake!

Served still hot (or even slightly warmed) with cream or natural yoghurt- this is Autumn/Winter cake at its best.

Note: the original recipe was for ‘Fresh Plum Cake’ & can be found on page 152 of 'Marie Claire - Cooking’.
For this version, I replaced the 4 plums with seasonal pears and reduced the number of eggs from 3 to 2.
Don’t be afraid to substitute and play around with seasonal fruit. If you think about the size & density of the fruit required by the recipe, you can almost certainly substitute it for another seasonal fruit, as was done here with pears.

All ingredients possible were organic- and I personally think this makes a difference to anything that you cook- it certainly makes the egg yolks yellower.

END: So next time you’re looking to back-in your interest in sustainable living without wellies and a straw hat, take the time to visit Koonwarra and see just how peaceful & inspiring life can be without plastic bags and fast food.

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