The food bowl of Bundaberg is alive and snapping

Not your average prawn cocktail … a fine start to lunch.
Not your average prawn cocktail … a fine start to lunch.

Bundy and cola … to use the latter ingredient’s generic name. You’d have to be totally ignorant of what is happening in most Australian pubs to not realise that this is a national drink.

And it doesn’t take long to figure that the sugar which goes into making the rum is grown around the Queensland city of Bundaberg — as probably is most of the sugar that goes into producing the mixer softdrink.

Showing how it’s done … Gaylene Phillips.

Showing how it’s done … Gaylene Phillips.

And that this is the place the rum itself is produced.

So, we know that Bundaberg produces lots of rum and sugar, but less well known is the propensity of its rich, dark-chocolate-coloured volcanic soil to produce a vast array of fruit and vegetables, certainly enough edible stuff to be justifiably referred to as one of the nation’s food bowls.

When it comes to specifics, the Bundaberg district produces most of our sweet potatoes and tomatoes, not to mention plenty of melons, lychees, capsicums, cucumbers, snowpeas, macadamias and ginger.

Anthony Rehbein … banking on hydroponics for his children’s future.

Anthony Rehbein … banking on hydroponics for his children’s future.

Little wonder that the city lists high on the calling cards of buyers for the major supermarket chains.

But as I discovered on a recent mission to cover Winterfeast — a 10-day celebration of local foods and drinks — Bundaberg also has a burgeoning foodie element among its residents, and visitors who are increasingly charmed by the place’s flavours and laid-back ambience.

You only have to take one of Suzie Clarke’s Bundy Food Tours to realise that there’s plenty happening in the district that has nothing to do with pushing a trolley down the aisle of a major supermarket.

The passion that Suzie deals with is typified by Rick Nelson, who produces absolutely excellent sourdough bread at the very appropriately named Pocket Storehouse bakery. 

Rick Nelson … a passionate believer in his sourdough starter culture.

Rick Nelson … a passionate believer in his sourdough starter culture.

I say appropriately named because Rick has to break up Suzie’s relatively small group to fit us into his bakehouse, but the intensity of the love for his products are obvious when he talks about the virtues of sourdough and having nothing to sell on the few days that things go wrong.

The passion and taste are enough to entice one of our small media contingent to get up early the next morning and join the queue to get a precious loaf of Rick’s sourdough.

Sourdough treats from the tiny bakehouse at the Pocket.

Sourdough treats from the tiny bakehouse at the Pocket.

And there’s no need to worry about something to do eat or do while we’re waiting for our turn in the bakehouse. We have plenty of coffee — made from beans locally grown and roasted by Barking Dog — and sourdough bread and scrolls to amuse ourselves with while sitting in the sun.

And the fervour doesn’t start or stop at the Pocket.

Breakfast of champions … a selection of seafood for a late breakfast at Grunske’s.

Breakfast of champions … a selection of seafood for a late breakfast at Grunske’s.

We’ve already had a taste of excellent local seafood for late breakfast at Grunske’s, and we’re headed to the greenhouses where Anthony Rehbein is assuring his children’s future on his block by scaling the steep learning curve of hydroponics and growing some spectacular crops of things such as melons, eggplants  and tomatoes.

But we haven’t met real commitment and promotional verve until we’re introduced to Tina McPherson at Tinaberries who is truly effervescent as she shows off rows of strawberries that are just being picked.

Tina McPherson in her strawberry patch … a real champion of local ingredients.

Tina McPherson in her strawberry patch … a real champion of local ingredients.

She and her husband Bruce travelled the world before choosing Bundaberg for their future, because of the fertility of its soils and the lifestyle enjoyed by that part of the world.

Their farming is sustainable, and vigorously employs measures such as companion planting and ‘good bugs’ that biologically control pests without damaging the berries.

And then it’s off to learn some cooking skills from local chef Gaylene Phillips and to try some of the fantastic produce we’re picked up on our travels.

Yes, it’s very much alive … Sian McDowell with a fine crab specimen at Grunske’s.

Yes, it’s very much alive … Sian McDowell with a fine crab specimen at Grunske’s.

I tell you what. A prawn cocktail may be an old-fashioned dinner-party stand-by, but not in Gaylene’s hands when she has some scrummy prawns, perfectly ripe avocados and crunchy macadamias at her disposal.

John Rozentals was a guest of Bundaberg North Burnett Tourism. Visit www.bundabergregion.org