Pinetrees has been around for a long time. Our ancestors arrived on Lord Howe in 1842 and settled on Pinetrees land in 1848. We have guest records from the 1890s, but there were probably guests at Pinetrees from as early as the 1870s. This means we’ve been serving food for at least 125 years, perhaps a bit longer. We’re not entirely sure, but this probably makes us one of the oldest hotels in Australia.
Lord Howe Island is hopelessly lacking in bush tucker – apart from Woodhens, Providence petrels, seabird eggs, and fish. Luckily for the birds (and us) the most common fish species – Yellowtail kingfish – is one of the best table fish in the world. Most places are known for at least one food, maybe cheese, beef, lamb, nuts, olives, spices, lobsters or sea urchins. Our place, Lord Howe Island, is known for kingfish.
The early settlers were lucky to have an endless supply of kingfish, but they still had to grow fruit and vegetables, milk cows, make butter, raise pigs, keep chickens and ducks, and trade their surplus for salt, tea and clothing. And this was the food setting for Pinetrees cooks over a hundred years ago. In hindsight, and if you can ignore for a minute how hard it must have been to live in almost complete isolation, we were kind of cool. Most of our produce was organically grown with zero food miles. We served rustic style dishes on enamel plates, with mostly paleo ingredients. If only we had celebrity chefs, lifestyle TV programs and food bloggers in those days.
And so it was for generations of guests – wake up to the early-morning bell for tea with bread and butter, and then space the day out between breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. Yes, seven meals a day and lots of cream cakes. Guests would swim, walk, fish, sail, snorkel, ride, read and relax, and then come together for meals and a drink. Not much has changed, except, perhaps, the food.
When the custodianship of Pinetrees (we don’t really see ourselves as owners) changed from the fourth to the fifth generation of the family in 1976, a flood of new ideas arrived. Pixie, Ed, Kerry and Bruce (aka ‘the big four’) had lived in Sydney, been to university and travelled through different food cultures. Kerry roasted and ground her own spices for Indian curries, Bruce cooked Elizabeth David’s lentil soup, Pixie made beef Bourguignon in a big orange Le Creuset pot and Ed cooked barbeques and delicious chicken satays over red-hot coals. The big four understood the difference between cooks and professional chefs, and knew that the future success of Pinetrees depended heavily on the food experience.
Within a few years, Pinetrees had changed from a base to explore Lord Howe to a place with really good food. Guests came from everywhere to eat classic English, French, Italian and probably at bit of Chinese food. In Sydney and Melbourne, new restaurants were serving Thai, Japanese, Malaysian, Vietnamese and other regional food, and in the mid-80’s Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopaedia of Asian and Oriental Cookery delivered authentic recipes to the masses. Food was changing, and so was Pinetrees.
For the next 20 years, Pinetrees served mostly European classics mixed with enough Asian influence to keep the chefs excited and the guests happy. Our soups and desserts were standouts, as was the freshness of our food. We baked bread every day, used local milk and beef from cows in our back paddock, and served lots of local kingfish – of course.