Meet: Alex Elliott-Howery, Pickler and community builder
To say that Alex Elliott-Howery and her husband James Grant have a café doesn't begin to tell the story. Cornersmith is not just a café, but a pickling and preserving business and school, and a trading hub for the produce gardeners of Marrickville. And I'm excited to tell you today that Marrickville is coming to Clarendon - yes you heard right - we're getting a little inner city pickling magic at Collectors' Plant Fair (Saturday Only!).
Interview by Robin Powell via The Garden Clinic Magzine. Photos from 'Cornersmith', the book by Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant, out now from Murdoch Books
How did the idea for produce trading come about?
When I was home with the kids and in need of a creative project, I started to focus on the way we ate, to stop eating processed foods, and to make as much as I could at home. A girlfriend and I got together once a week to make things like jam and pickles and mustard and butter. At the same time I’d walk around the streets with the screaming babies and notice all this produce falling on the ground. I hated to see the waste, so I started knocking on doors and asking if I could pick the cumquats. Most people were happy for me to take it; they hated the waste too.
What do the growers get out of the trade?
The majority don’t want anything more than to feel connected to a community. Creating those connections you might have in the country is really important to us. We write their names on the board, and use the produce in the cafe. Some people might trade a box of mandarins for a bottle of pickles, but mostly people just like to see produce being used and not wasted.
What do the preserving classes cover?
The vinegar-based class teaches a chutney or relish, quick and preserved pickles, and flavoured vinegars. All the recipes are interchangeable so once you know how to do it you can apply it to any produce. They are really popular with gardeners, as are our seasonal days, which focus on what to do with a single ingredient, like chillies, tomatoes or citrus.
What is the biggest pickle challenge?
To let them sit! They get better over time: time allows the vinegar to soften, and the flavours to develop. Gherkins, for instance, are best a year after you pickle them, so it pays to be patient.
What vegetable makes an unexpectedly good pickle?
Choko! Pickled choko lasts for a couple of years in the jar. Because they don’t have much taste of their own they take on the flavour of the spices really well. And they keep their crunch.
Alex and James have writtena book of recipes served in the café and taught at the Picklery. Cornersmith is published by Murdoch, $50. To book a class at The Picklery, go to www.cornersmith.com.au. Or come and chat to Alex at the Collectors Plant Fair on Saturday 9th April, 2016.