At the approach of autumn, Hans Dimpel jnr wrote, "During the ACT COVID lockdown, when the tannery was closed [last August], we started a veggie garden out the back if the factory. The space had been a real dump - full of weeds, thorns, rusting old machinery, rotten old leather, snakes and rat nests. Now it's an oasis and a paradise. I love it!"
We had spoken to Hans for our Christmas gifts column (Kitchen Garden, December 14) when choosing a eucalypt leaf leather bookmark to send to my daughter in London. The tannery has given away about 40,000 of the cutouts/bookmarks since the late 1980s in a range of colours and each one is unique. The design is based on a leaf picked from a tree beside the tannery.
Hans said his father (Hans snr) obtained the land and built the tannery in 1977. He had worked in tanneries in Germany and Canada (where he worked as a taxidermist) before emigrating to Australia. In Canberra he worked for the CSIRO Division of Wildlife. Being a tannery, it was placed as far away as possible from the rest of Canberra. It started as a fox-skin tannery, then kangaroo skins, then cattle hides, followed by sheep and ostrich leather and, finally focused solely on lambskins for, what the tannery calls, ugh boot production.
Hans jnr worked at the tannery during weekends and holidays when he was at school and the children built cubby houses in the upper levels out of old sheep skins. He did an apprenticeship in tanneries in West Germany and trained at a specialist tanning technology institute near Stuttgart after he finished school.
Now we have visited the tannery. The 2020 bushfire swept across from the airport in three hours and was stopped 10 metres from the back fence by fire and emergency services. That was the impetus to clean out the junk, they laid down gravel and concrete and put in water tanks. Hans had read that planting a vegetable garden was one of the ways to cope with the stresses of lockdown.
Hans's partner, Gordon Christie, built the seven raised vegetable boxes and designed a watering system which will be automated and test for moisture levels. There are worm farms in each planter box. The soil was a veggie mix from Canberra Sand and Gravel to which compost from home will be added. Gordon's brother, David Christie, has just built a handsome greenhouse with beeswax vent. One raised bed is devoted to flowers to attract bees and a beehive will be added to the area.
Currently there are rows of flourishing basil plants which are backed by tomatoes climbing up frames. The tomato seedlings came from Hans's sister Michelle Dimpel and her husband Peter Clark who live near Crookwell. Beans, which are cropping well, peas, rocket, spring onions and carrots are planted because these are things they like to eat. Seedlings were purchased at Home Hardware in Karabar, Queanbeyan.
Gordon does most of the cooking. For my visit he had made twister bread to a fun recipe from the Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Feast television series (and I will share the recipe in Kitchen Garden next week).
Gordon has made the tear 'n' share recipe a dozen times to share with friends - it is absolutely delicious and filled with pesto from basil grown in their own garden.
As an accompaniment, Hans had made moonblush tomatoes to a Nigella Lawson recipe (which follows) featured in Nigella Express. Then there were mouth-watering strawberries from the garden of Michelle Dimpel which they visited last weekend. We ate in a quiet, undercover area behind the tannery and beside the edible garden, where, until 15 years ago, skins and leather were hung to dry in the sun's warmth after tanning and dyeing.
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney's Tomato Festival will be online this year from February 19 to 20. There will be free live sessions with festival ambassador Costa Georgiadis, Community Greening staff, The Diggers Club and Grow It Local as well as recipes from executive chef of the Longest Tomato Lunch, Luca Ciano.
500g cherry tomatoes
1 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp white sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
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