About a two-hour drive from Melbourne lies the rural, community-spirited town of Murchison. This year, tomato lovers took the drive to spend the day in this location and celebrate this gorgeous fruit at the Murchison Tomato Festa. Hosted by the Goulburn Valley Tomato Growers Association, Greater Shepparton City Council and Murchison’s hospitable community, the Murchison Tomato Festa is a thriving festival filled with good food, traditional tomato-cooking demonstrations and fun-filled entertainment.
It’s best to arrive into Murchison early to experience the fruits of the Festa. The main street is cordoned off from traffic to make way for tables draped in red and white checkered table cloths and stalls bursting with local produce. It’s such a delightful scene that anoints the Italian heritage in this part of the state of Victoria.
The Goulburn Valley is Victoria’s agricultural fruit-bowl and many migrants have immigrated to the area over the decades, lured by lush employment opportunities and the promise of a new life. What has defined this immigration is the culture that it brought to the area and, judging by the Festa, Murchison is all the better for it. Another bonus, according to census data, is that Italians remain the highest proportion of overseas born individuals in this region; true pioneers of the area in their own right.
It’s glorious to wander the street in the mid-morning sun, enticed by trestles filled with basil, locally-grown and pressed olives and olive oil, relishes, chutneys, cordials and, of course tomatoes or tomato-based products! Travellers to the Murchison Tomato Festa are advised to bring a couple of shopping bags in order to cart these wonderful culinary finds home. Amidst the stall-holders spruiking their labours of love, there are little secrets to be found.
Seed samples and seedlings can be purchased so travellers can take home and grow their own slice of Murchison. Herbs such as rosemary or basil can also be purchased; prized additions to any vegetable patch back home. Another find that defies logic yet tastes incredible, is home-made basil cordial created by Mimi’s Kitchen – a local business started by a family of Swiss immigrants.
Then, there are the tomato sales. Travellers who want to buy in bulk can do so from neighbouring park gardens and it’s a valuable opportunity to buy the quantity required in order to make home-made passata – a tomato puree sauce that is the staple pantry item for any traditional Italian cook. Travellers shouldn’t be worried about knowing how to make it themselves as they can garner the skills from live demonstrations. This year, travellers were treated to one such demonstration from Australian home chef and author Angela Villella. Angela is also credited by her site www.mangiamangia.com.au, a source dedicated to sharing family recipes, food rituals and keeping family cooking traditions alive.
There are many varieties of plump and juicy tomatoes on offer, gathered in boxes and lined up near a reminiscent display of local photographs illustrating the tomato journey in this part of Australia. The typical Australian ethic of blood, sweat and tears is so prevalent in Murchison and the Goulburn Valley, depicted in this fascinating display that is now a part of everyday life here.
Travellers wander the street in the tomato-ripening sunshine, with serves of pasta, antipasto or an espresso purchased from nearby shops in hand, and a humbled sense of appreciation for this versatile food. The Murchison Tomato Festa not only celebrates Murchison’s agricultural roots, it’s a day that keeps local traditions alive…and the spirit of eating, of course. Mangia!