Helping bushfire recovery easy as pie
When Sam and Melissa Ramaci saw the burnt pile of rubble that was once their home and the collapsed ruins of their shop coolroom, they said to each other: "What are we gonna do?".
The couple from Bilpin - or the Land of the Mountain Apple as it's known among foodies - has been making delicious apple pies for the past 25 years at their shop, the Bilpin Apple Pie Cottage Orchard.
But with their entire coolroom and six months of stock destroyed, it seemed unlikely that tourists and residents would be tasting more of the vegan, lightly sweetened, house-made pies any time soon.
"The coolroom got burnt down. We lost our old house and our new house was burnt a little bit," Sam said. "There were days when I didn't know what to do. You go back into the shop and start all over again. You have to move forward otherwise you do get into anxiety attacks and things."
Many of the roadside stalls and cafes in the region which sell apple pies and fresh apple juice were wiped out when the town was engulfed by the Gospers Mountain blaze on December 19.
Three weeks later, Sam and Melissa were back in the shop recreating pies from Melissa's mother's recipe.
The secret: not too much sugar, oil instead of margarine, an eggless pastry, and apples cooked with love to make the pie taste homemade.
Locals enjoy the apple pies with a side of Bilpin's famous cider which was first launched in 2011 by former food executive Sean Predergast.
"My wife peels the apple, cooks the apple and I do the pastry. We try and not make it overly sweet," Sam said.
"It was a bit quiet at first but .... last weekend with the long weekend, business was great. It's great that people are coming through and supporting the Bilpin area."
Making the pies together hasn't been easy for the couple in the past few weeks, with Sam admitting there were plenty of teary moments in the kitchen.
"You look at everything that's gone and you see everything collapse and you think it's all over," he said.
Crowds have been heading to the area thanks to the #BackToBilpin intiative which encourages people to take day trips to the region and support the local economy.
The social media campaign has been featuring different local businesses in a bid to boost sales.
"A lot of people have been giving me donations and I said no I prefer you buy a pie.
Support the business, that's how you can help us," Sam said.
This local burger alpaca punch
Fresh meat from a farm up the road, house-made bread from the local bakery, put together by a local chef and pub owner - this is the recipe for success for The Berry Hotel's alpaca burger.
The unconventional pub feed was created by head chef Matthew Watson and has been a hot seller since its conception.
As Berry - the gateway to fire-ravaged Shoalhaven - struggles to keep fire and drought-affected local businesses afloat, Watson said this burger is a symbol of what locals do best: "Banding together in times of need."
An alpaca patty is served with Turkish bread, caramelised onions, slow-roasted tomatoes, rocket and cheese.
"Our local bakery, they make Turkish bread for us so we use their pide bread. I can see the bakery from where I am sitting," Watson said. "A lot of businesses are working together and doing things to help improve a bad situation. It is devastating what's happened around us but in saying that it's in times like this that people come together."
The Berry Hotel is donating $7 for every burger sold to the local Rural Fire Service Brigade and Watson said locals and tourists alike had gotten behind the initiative.
"The other week the local cricket club came for a meal after they trained and they all had alpaca burgers to show their support," he said.
"We would normally have people making a day trip to Berry but because people weren't coming to the region because of the fires, Berry did get affected in an economic way. There just isn't enough work for all the casuals."
Apart from the donations, sourcing all the ingredients from within Berry is another way the local community can heal.
"Illawarra Prime Alpacas is a five-minute drive from here. They are a local business and we use alpaca meat from them quite often," he said. "I think morale wise in times of need you find people do band together. The flow on effect of the fires is massive."
Tour the south coast on a plate
The sleepy little dairy town of Milton knows how to serve its heart on a plate.
Threatened by bushfires and a record-breaking drought, the region's business owners are showcasing their best produce to return the ghost town to a bustling tourist destination.
Cafe Milk Haus owner Danielle McKeon is using her menu to back fellow producers from around the area.
"We grow our own produce and we buy from local producers," she said.
One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the Ploughman's Lunch which can best be described as a map of the south coast on a plate.
"It has a lovely smoked ham from our local butcher in Milton, a pork and fennel salami, vintage-aged cheddar from our providore warehouse in Nowra, our own orange mustard pickle and sourdough bread from a bakery in the St Georges Basin," McKeon said.
The cafe also prides itself on backing local dairy farmers who have been heavily impacted by the drought.
Menu favourites include kaffir lime and goat's cheese polenta and crumbed goat's cheese balls served with leaves from the cafe garden.
"We also do lemon ricotta pancakes (pcitured) with basil roasted peaches, toasted coconut, spiced honey yoghurt and mandarin olive oil. The peaches we get from a farm in Jerrawangala which was also impacted by fires and the olive oil is from the Alto farm in the Southern Highlands," she said.
Coasting on a bellyful of seafood
It may have only been a few weeks since fires ravaged through Batemans Bay but locals say they've got "their mojo back" as a growing number of tourists head their way to back struggling businesses.
Mark Hood owns three seafood business in the area: Pearly Oyster Bar and Farm, Finer Foods meat and seafood wholesale and The Fish Shop in Burrill Lake.
Hood said even in the aftermath of fire, Batemans Bay is the perfect spot to holiday and locals were heading down in huge crowds to support the community.
"The morale is right up, no smoke in the area, it's paradise down here. There aren't many spots much better than here. There have been lots of people coming down," Hood told Delicious.
"Seventy per cent of the produce was wasted (during the bushfires). We took what we could to the evacuation centre, which was down at the football field.
"We didn't have power for about 11 days."
Hood says the south coast stands out for it's seafood because of its freshness.
"All our fish we serve we buy direct off boats. So none of the day transport or the day market - this way it's straight off the boat all prepared. The oysters are out of the river daily," he said. "We have had a lot of people down chasing local oysters and prawns, which they don't get anywhere else. The way we do seafood it's fresh. We serve tuna, scallops, the mussels, fresh straight out of the water."
Hood recommends trying:
1. Lakes Entrance prawns cooked in a salad or on the barbecue;
2. Flathead from Eden for fish and chips or in fish tacos;
3. Fresh local Clyde River oysters, eaten on their own;
4. Eden mussels, which are a renowned choice among the world's leading chefs; and
5. Sashimi tuna straight off the boat in Ulladulla.
Helping recovery as easy as pie
The three days after the Clyde Mountain fire ripped through the coastal hamlet of Mogo the town's new pie shop owners did not know if they would have a business.
There were 44 homes destroyed and 70 buildings razed in the New Year's blaze.
Zoran Pantelic and his partner Sam Ricza run Mogo Pies in the centre of town.
They endured a worrying 72-hour wait to see if they would still have their shop.
"We opened the shop in November, so it has all happened pretty quickly," Mr Pantelic said.
"The day before the fires came through it was pretty scary. It was raining ash and burnt leaves.
"Like most of the people who live around here, we all just said 'We'll wait and see'."
Mr Pantelic said no one had anticipated the situation would get this bad.
"In the end, we were saved by the southerly. That didn't stop some places in town going up but we were lucky."
Following the fire, trade dried up at the shop's busiest time of year with thousands of tourists evacuated from the south coast.
The couple has been battling inconsistent power supplies since they managed to reopen in mid-January.
Dozens of tourists came down to the flame-licked town over the Australia Day long weekend but Ms Ricza urged them to keep visiting.
"We have had 10 weeks of heavily impacted trade. It's hard because we feel we're lucky compared to other people who lost their homes and businesses," she said.
"We want people to come down and help the town get back on its feet."