It’s hard to believe but I’ve now read two books in a row that have maintained my interest and have kept me wanting to read. Two books in a row that had me returning to them at every available opportunity, and the difference in content could hardly have been greater.
One was an SF/Fantasy title written for “young adults” (see previous post), the other almost defies genre, being part memoir, part history, part cook book.
Foxeys Hangout is Cathy Gowdie’s account of her family moving from Melbourne to establish a winery on the Mornington Peninsula. Wine making wasn’t a completely new venture. They had already established a small vineyard in the region and wine from their grapes had been produced for them by other winemakers. It was marketed under the label “Foxeys Hangout” named after a landmark near their vineyard.
The whole idea of this book appealed to me from the time I read a review in a food and wine magazine. Gowdie’s family brought to reality a lifestyle I can only dream about. Growing grapes and making wine has a very romantic appeal to those who want to overlook the realities of hard work and the uncertainties of growing any kind of crop. It’s easy to envy a lifestyle of sitting on the veranda, sipping wine made from your own grapes as you watch the sun setting beyond rows and rows of healthy vines.
But I’ve now done enough vineyard work to understand that reality is far different from the idyllic scenario I described above.
Foxeys Hangout shows both sides of the picture: the joys of rural life, and also the realities of a WORKING rural life.
The family faced several problems after buying their property, intending to develop part of it into a winery and restaurant. Their plans were delayed when objections made to the local council effectively put an end to their idea of building and running the restaurant. Ironically, many of the objections didn’t come from fulltime local residents who made a living from the land; they came from the part-timers, those who had purchased properties as weekend escapes from the busyness of city life. Those who saw the farming countryside as a quiet retreat instead of work places providing their food and drink.
As well as detailing the family’s experiences, Gowdie also investigates the background of her new home. From the history of the landmark after which the wine label was named, to a local, historical murder mystery, she weaves diverse strands together into an original cohesive collection of stories. The uniting factor is Foxeys Hangout, a tree from which fox hunters hung the corpses of their victims, a practice which continued until the 1980s, creating a gruesome memorial for the introduced pest that was the bane of local farmers.
Gowie divided her book into monthly sections and ends each section with a seasonal recipe. These dishes are among those that the family serve to customers who visit their cellar door. While plans for the restaurant may have fallen through, this setback didn’t prevent the desire to serve quality food to complement the wines being produced. Gowie’s husband is a qualified chef as well as grape grower and wine maker. Such focused drive and commitment is clearly the decisive factor that divides dreamers like me from achievers like them.
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