“Cooking with seasonal ingredients is a continuous ritual of farewells and welcomes. To expect the arrival of lettuce, observe the position of roselle, reminisce the gone longan and lychee, you will realize all seasonal foods actually possess a certain seasonal force,” said Mr. Ko from TOYAU. From their perspective, it is all so natural to farm and eat according to the season. “It’s a blessing to spend time with the seasonal ingredients. So you have to cherish the time between welcoming and bidding farewell to them.”
On a hot September day, Puikei led us through an untidy farm overgrown with weeds. I was so annoyed by the mosquito bites, but she seemed to be just fine with it. “Mosquitoes love to bully the newbies. I also had a hard time with the itchy bumps, but now they seldom bother with me anymore,” said Puikei as she was picking up the sweet potato leaves. “There isn’t much harvest from the farm today. Let’s have stir-fried sweet potato leaves with garlic!” Without much intention on what to nurture, the vegetables and fruits just grow naturally here on the farm. “We simply eat whatever is ready to harvest. Surely we also buy from local farmers sometimes. It’s only until the ingredients are laid down in front of us then we think what to cook.”
“Have you always been a good cook?” I asked. Feeling hungry after feeding the mosquitoes with my blood, I was so enjoying the simple dish of stir-fried sweet potato leaves. “We only picked up cooking after coming to TOYAU,” said Sum with a bowl in her hand. “My grandpa used to make ceramic wares for a living. All the patterns were hand-painted and look very different from the machine-made wares. Handmade bowls are usually thinner and lighter, with patterns more delicate but vivid. Grandpa and I used to make ceramics together. It was by chance that both of us became chefs.” The bowls made by grandpa had a great influence on Sum, no wonder she has inherited both his grandpa’s craftsmanship in ceramics as well as his talent in cooking.
“I start working in the farm every early morning, handling the cooking and a bunch of other errands. This is a place to properly learn how to live, which in turn gives me a solid sense of security,” Puikei continued and said, “The naturally grown lemons taste just right with a good balance.” That “good balance” did really taste impressive when I tried the lemon tart she made. Puikei used cashew cream cheese instead of traditional cream cheese for her lemon tart, which is probably the reason why the acidic taste of lemon zest is so refreshing; the crust made from oatmeal is also so crunchy and full of layers. The tart was so delicious that I ordered one for my friend’s birthday so I can share the joy of a satisfying bite. I recalled Mr. Ko once said that he wished people who come to visit TOYAU can enjoy the beauty of local produce, by letting your taste buds and body to feel the blessing of how our earth is connected to our bodies.
On top of serving meals at TOYAU, people here also produce some addictive-free sauces, fermented foods, dried foods, and tea, etc. A piece of wisdom is well inherited from villagers and farmers by preserving the seasonal produce. I bought the peanut butter to try myself. The peanuts used are a mix of redskin peanuts from Tsiu Keng in Kwu Tung and selected white-skin peanuts grown organically in farms in mainland China. Every peanut is peeled, screened, roasted and deskinned by hands. The lukewarm peanuts are then ground into bits and powder to release natural oil. Blended with extra virgin olive oil, fairtrade organic brown sugar from the Philippines and organic sea salt from Kampot, the peanut butter is utterly full of fragrance. It was a perfect combination when spread on the organic apple bun made by Wanho. I was actually trying to make an extra order of lemon tart but Sum just told me that the farmers had given them a few boxes of unsold apples, and therefore they came up with the idea of making me apple tart and apple bun. Since my body has already memorized the taste of the apple tart and bun, I began to worry that I would never get to experience that taste again. Our local farms are continually fading out in the face of urban development, implying we would have less chance to taste local produce. This is a great opportunity to remind people to cherish self-sustainable food culture.