We drive past fields of cotton being harvested into large rectangular or cylindrical bales on the Liverpool Plains in north west NSW on our way to an Australia's Biggest Morning Tea, at Little Kickerbell homestead, to raise funds for cancer research.
We have been invited by caterer Cathy Armstrong and artist Dr Rowen Matthews, who moved from the Blue Mountains after buying Little Kickerbell and 12-hectares in February. Little Kickerbell reconnects Cathy to the New England North West, having started school at Tamworth, and visited aunts at Gunnedah and Armidale throughout her childhood.
Hosting an Australia's Biggest Morning Tea was a great way to meet the neighbours and raise funds for a charity close to Cathy's heart. "Of all the charities this is one I have the greatest attachment to because my mother Robin Armstrong died of breast cancer three years ago," Cathy says. "It's a really lovely thing to do."
Cathy and Rowen hosted nearly 20 women from the Liverpool Plains and Tamworth region, using Cathy's pretty collection of china and hand embroidered tablecloths picked up at a swap meet at the Quirindi Heritage Village. The collection is right at home on the wrap-around verandah of the weatherboard and stone homestead, built from 1835 by the Blaxland family.
"When I see the embroidered tablecloths I think of all the work and hope that went into creating them. I can feel the hands."
The morning tea was also an opportunity for Cathy and Rowen to share their plans to open Little Kickerbell as a weekend cafe from the June Long Weekend (half price Saturday, June 10, standard pricing Sunday, June 11, and Monday, June 12). They will also offer accommodation, catering, monthly themed dinners, artist residencies, and workshops.
The Australia's Biggest Morning Tea raised $850 and the menu gave a glimpse into Cathy's 35 years working in food as a caterer, making preserves under the Princess Pantry brand, and chef at Bondi, Avalon, and with Sean Moran in Sydney, and the United States. The menu included Zucchini, pink peppercorn fritters, Arc-en-Ciel smoked trout, and creme fraiche; Little lamb, currant & pine nut turnovers; Roasted chicken, mustard mayo & watercress sandwiches; Chocolate vanilla cremes; Quince, mascarpone, toffee hazelnut tarts; and River Cafe lemon polenta baby cakes with labneh & rose water Turkish delight.
For Little Kickerbell bookings, accommodation or catering call Cathy on 0404 851 990.
River Cafe lemon polenta cake by Cathy Armstrong
What you need: 450g butter, 450g almond meal, 450g caster sugar, 225g polenta, 6 eggs, 1 1/2tsp gluten free baking powder. Lemon syrup: 3/4 cup lemon juce, 3/4 cup caster sugar, 1/4 cup water. Labneh and Turkish delight for decoration.
What you do: Preheat oven to 170C. Grease and line 26cm springform pan. Melt butter and set aside. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add butter to the eggs. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Pour into a greased and baking paper lined 26cm spring form pan and bake at 170C for 50-70 minutes depending on oven.
For syrup, combine ingredients in a saucepan, boil and reduce to a simmer until thick. Use a round cookie or scone cutter to make smaller cakes from the large cake, then pour small amount of syrup and top with small quantity of labneh and Turkish delight, or if serving as a large cake pour syrup over the warm cake while still in the pan.