The Spice Garden - Garnisha
Photo - Robin Powell
Tim Warren grows all the fresh ingredients he needs to make his Garnisha range of spice pastes and chutneys. Here we take a deliciously fragrant walk through the garden.
Tim Warren grew up on a dairy farm in England. It was not the most obvious background for a curry-lover but Tim’s father developed a taste for Indian, Malay and Chinese food when he was based in South-East Asia during the war. Back home Mr Warren snr. would travel to London to buy spices for curry cook-ups .“Other sons do crosswords with their dads; we made curries,” says Tim.
Fast-forward a few years and Tim was working in the Australian Embassy in London. “It was England in the ‘70s and it was vile,” he recalls. “So I came out here as one of the last of the ten-pound Poms.” He washed up in Melbourne where he loved the food, especially the wide range of curries.
By the early 1980s Tim had hatched a plan to make a range of spice blends with quality flavours and fresh ingredients. The first few batches blew up in the cupboard, but Tim harnessed the knowhow he’d developed as an amateur pickler, and his Garnisha products now have a perfectly safe shelf life of at least two years, with no preservatives added – or salt, oil thickeners, emulsifiers, artificial flavours or colours for that matter.
Having perfected his recipes, the next step was to grow the ingredients himself. That required a move from Melbourne north to the idyllic block where the Garnisha spice garden now flourishes near the tiny lakeside town of Boreen Point, 20 minutes from Noosa. From a little commercial kitchen in the garden Tim makes 18 different spice pastes, pickles and chutneys, for Thai, Malay, North African, Middle eastern and Indian cooking. Outside the kitchen is the treasure trove of the garden. Mangoes shelter mounds of cardamom; there’s a windbreak of bananas, rows of red and white galangal, brilliant orange turmeric, stands of lemon grass, and a fenced off wallaby-proof area for the chillies. Tamarind, pimento, allspice and Tahitian lime trees have plenty of space. And everywhere it can find a spot, there is curry leaf lending its delicious scent to the mix.
A handful of spices
Tim grows serrano and habenero chillies. In the subtropical warmth each bush lasts for about five years. Tim allows them to look ratty all through winter, and cuts them down in spring when the new growth emerges. One warning – the early summer chillies are hotter than those that mature later in the season, so you need to adjust your cooking to suit. He grows basil as a companion plant with the chillies to limit fruit fly, and fences in the bed to prevent the wallabies chewing the chillies to the ground.
Grow it yourself? Yes, for sure. In a pot or in the ground. If plants don’t last through the winter, plant anew each spring.
This fragrant and tasty leaf comes from a subtropical native of the Indian subcontinent called Murraya koenigii. Confusingly, the grey shrub Helichrysum italicum, which has aromatic peppery foliage, is sometimes called a curry bush. If you’re cooking you wouldn’t want to muck up your ID– curry leaf is a slender green leaf often cooked in Indian and Sir Lankan curries, or fried and scattered over a finished dish. Tim finds it grows like a weed at his place. Indeed he has to mow it to keep it under control! You can just imagine how the place smells then: delicious!
Grow it yourself? Certainly, in a pot or in the ground, depending on how big you can let it grow. It doesn’t like cold, so if you live in a frosty area, choose a warm place against the house.
Curry leaf. Photo - Robin Powell
This relative of ginger grows so readily in Tim’s perfect conditions he has to set fire to the bed each season at keep it under control. In recipes that call for galangal ginger is often given as an alternative. Galangal is also a tuber, tinged a reddy brown, with a more peppery and earthy flavour than ginger, and a sour tang.
Grow it yourself? Yes, choose a position with shade from westerly sun, and protection from cold winters.
Tim picked a leaf from this tree, crushed it and challenged me to identify it. The smell was familiar. It conjured salads – and cakes! - and that combination confused me so much I gave up. The fresh leaves are never available commercially because they lose their flavour as they dry, but Tim is able to use both the leaves and the dried berries in his cooking. Allspice (the name was given by the English who in the early 17th century though the berries combined the flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) is used in Caribbean seasoning mixes, Middle Eastern cuisines, American barbecue and chilli sauces, and yes, cakes and desserts too.
Grow it yourself? Not easily. You’ll need frost-free, drought-free conditions and plenty of patience as trees don’t fruit until they are eight years old. There are male and female allspice trees and you’ll need both to pollinate the flowers. Oh, and you’ll need plenty of space too.
Tamarind. Photo - Robin Powell
Easy to grow and costly to buy: when a gardener comes across a plant that ticks both those boxes, it’s certain to find a place in the patch. Tim was inspired to plant when the fragrant lime and coconut-scented leaves of kaffir lime when started costing him $70 a kilo! The plant is part of the citrus family and produces knobbly little limes, but these fruits have hardly any juice and are not the prize. It’s the double-lobed shiny leaves that cooks are after.
Grow it yourself? Yes, in a pot or in the ground, in the same position you’d grow other citrus.