Thanks to Aesop's famous fable The Fox and the Grapes, sour grapes have been stuck with an image problem, often conjured up in our minds when someone behaves badly. But in the creative hands of Australian culinary icon Maggie Beer, sour grapes are not only a good thing, but an essential ingredient in many of her delectable dishes.
To be more precise, Beer uses verjuice, the bottled juice of unripe grapes, to add unique flavour and tartness to her cooking. If you've never heard of it, you're not alone. Once a staple of Western cookery, the popularity of verjuice waned after the lemon was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages.
So who exactly is this advocate for a tart juice that hasn't been in the cupboards of most cooks for centuries? Beer, a self-taught cook and champion of traditional cooking methods, established the Barossa Pheasant Farm Restaurant with her husband in 1978 in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. The restaurant became famous for serving pheasant (raised locally) as well as a high quality paté, known as Pheasant Farm Paté. They operated the restaurant until 1993.
Later, she became a partner in Charlick's Feed Store restaurant in Ebenezer Place, Adelaide. Currently, Beer operates a business in the Barossa Valley which produces a range of speciality gourmet foods, including Pheasant Farm Paté, quince paste, verjuice and a range of ice creams.
On the ABC television network in Australia, she also co-hosted the popular cooking programme The Cook and the Chef with Simon Bryant, head chef for the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide. She also has written several books about food and food preparation, as well as co-authored a book with noted chef Stephanie Alexander.
Beer was awarded the Centenary Medal on 1 January 2001 for service to Australian society through cooking and writing. In 2008, Maggie Beer won the Australian Publishers Association's Illustrated Book of the Year Award for Maggie's Harvest. She won the Senior Australian of the Year Award in 2010.
If you'd like to learn more about this fascinating celebrity chef and her cooking style, you'll be pleased to know that Maggie Beer is slated to host a culinary enrichment programme on board Silver Shadow's Voyage 3203, sailing Auckland to Fremantle (Perth), 4-23 February 2012.