I met Andrew while I was living in Melbourne. He'd travelled the five hours across from the farm with dear mutual friends, and when I first met him, his easy manner and warm smile stood out. It was also pretty clear, from the checked shirt and RM Williams boots, that he was from the country: distinguished from the black-clad and suited urban types. A follow-up phone call, then a first dinner together, then another. Hours chatting over the phone.
We married two years after our first meeting. Farming is deep in Andrew's veins: he is the fourth generation of his family to farm here, and has an innate sense of care for the land and his stock. He's not partial to spending his days on a tractor, and instead loves the cyclical nature of sheep farming, watching his ewes mature to become mothers themselves. I became accustomed to driving across the bumpy paddocks, glad no-one was there to witness my giggles as I bunny-hopped starts and stops in the old Landcruiser ute.
Now the patterns of farm life are part of my life too, and my admiration for Andrew's daily dedication to managing the land continues to grow. The lambs the children hand-reared have moved to greener pastures, and their mothers are being herded together for shearing. Their wool remains a valuable commodity, and they spring out of the sheds kilos lighter after passing through the shearer's hands.
It is endlessly fascinating to watch the skill with which the sheepdogs herd the sheep into their pens, climbing lightly on their backs to follow the command of their master. Intelligent and gentle, the dogs must be trained with consistency and kindness, but once again it is clear the work is second nature to this breed, the Kelpie.
The intense physicality of this work builds up big appetites, and a strong coffee and a piece of cake are popular at 'smoko'. One of our favourites is this orange cake: quick to make, and consistently yummy. The lavender toffee drizzled over the top makes it a perfect pick-me-up.
FARMERS' FAVOURITE ORANGE CAKE
(Serves 10 if you're into little pieces!)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
125g softened butter
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
a pinch of salt
grated rind of 1 orange
Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper.
Place all ingredients in food processor or mixer, and beat until well-combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Cool in tin for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan.
Bring to the boil over medium heat, swirling the mixture around in the saucepan every minute.
Once the toffee is pale golden, remove from heat and add juice of 1/2 orange. Mix in lavender blossoms and pour immediately over the cake.
Lavender flowers sprinkled over the top look pretty too: the shearers won't object too much!