Saturday, 11 February 2012

By their fruit ye shall know them

Weekends. On Saturday morning I go to the local produce market, buy sour dough bread, some vegetables, and a bunch of flowers. Generally I buy lilies. This week, for the first time in months, I bought apples. Gala apples are just coming in to season.

Apples are wonderful. When I was a child, my family lived in a house which had two blocks of land, and the previous owners had planted many fruit trees.  In the days of my childhood it was common for people to have vegetable and fruit gardens. My maternal grandparents had a small garden, and grew many vegetables, some fruit, and also had chooks, for eggs, and at Easter and Christmas, to provide the rare treat of a roast chicken dinner. We all liked the legs. My mother used to tell us  "It's not a centipede."

In our garden, there were two almond trees, quite tall ones. I used to climb on to the roof, and pick the fruit. I knew nothing about almonds, or how to judge when they should be picked.  I picked the almonds while they were still covered in green furry stuff, and the shells were soft. When the almond kernels were uncovered, they were still green and quite soft. They never seemed to get brown skins, the way bought almonds did. I ate them anyway, but the whole almond maturing process remained a mystery, and I still know nothing. My parents were much less interested in gardening than I was, so they were no help.

We had an apricot tree, which presented no problems at all. The fruit was delicious. There was an orange tree, but the fruit was not worth eating. The juice was drinkable, fortunately. The pear tree produced fruit which remained green and firm. The walnut tree was as great a mystery as the almond trees. It seemed pretty useless to me. There were loganberries growing along the side fence, and they bore prolifically. My grandmother made jam from them and we also feasted on the fresh berries. Over the other side of the fence, our neighbours had passionfruit vines. If we were lucky, some of the fruit came over to our side and thus we could legitimately pick them. There was a quince tree at the back, but I think the actual tree was on the back neighbour's fence. I quickly learned not to bite into raw quinces, but I loved the cooked quince - and still do. It is a fruit which almost disappeared from society for years. The trees seem to survive for many years, generally, I think, in old rural properties, and gradually the fruit came back into favour. Each season I make quince jelly. I used to make fruit crumble, but as I mixed with a very fussy lot of people I had to make fruit crumble carefully. In the first part I used cooked apples. In the second part, I put rhubarb, and then the third part contained poached quinces, all glowingly pink and delectable. Each guest could specify which part of the crumble they were prepared to force down. I liked all of it.

I love cooking quinces. The aroma is wonderful, and the taste delectable. The change in colour is quite entrancing. It is extraordinary to me that some people do not like quinces. Foolish, foolish!

But I was writing about apples. Having grown up eating apples fresh from the trees, I learned to be very fussy about apples. We had two trees, one a Granny Smith, which is more a cooking apple than a raw eating apples, and the other was a Jonathon. They were the ones I loved. My father used to spray the apples trees, as otherwise they would be infested with codlin moth grubs, which are revolting. We had unlimited apples to eat during the season. I think there was another apple variety - maybe a Gravenstein or a Delicious, neither of which I consider worth biting into.

You don't often see Jonathon apples now. New varieties have replaced them: Gala in particular, and another one, the name of which just won't pop into my head right now. Ah, it is the Pink Lady! At my local market, apple growers bring along the fruit in season, and this week I bought some Galas. They are still a trifle tart. Ocasionally a stall will be selling Jonathon apples, but these days it seems I prefer the Galas, and Pink Ladies.

When I lived in Canberra, in apple season we could shop at the local apple orchards, just near the airport. A number of varieties are grown there, snow apples, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Jonathons, Galas, Pink Lady, and other funny English varieties whose names escape me right now. We were spoiled for choices, and when I moved to Sydney I missed the apple season. On visits I would call in and stock up on really fresh apples. Fortunately now we have the markets.

I must have foraging antecedents, as I loved to go blackberrying, and then to make jam. Blackberries, when introduced into Australia, rapidly became a most invasive pest, especially on the banks of creeks and rivers. I used to pick blackberries frequently and use them to make jam, and for fresh desserts, or to make blackberry icecream. Our CSIRO did research into means of exterminating blackberries and I think they discovered something, possibly a rust, which did the blackberries a lot of damage. The fires around Canberra some years ago, which destroyed about 500 homes and which came very close to where I used to live, also managed to wipe out a lot of blackberries, but possibly they may have recovered. I know the area where I used to pick now is free of blackberries, and it is being turned into a new suburb. On the border of my garden there used to be a self-sown blackberry plant, which year after year I hacked at, but every year it grew back, stubborn survivor that it was. It has ample defences, takes root easily, spreads seeds everywhere, ably assisted by the birds, and has truly wicked thorns.

Ah, perhaps we should all learn from the blackberry. But I'd rather have apples. I can sympathise with Eve, so unjustly blamed for so many things.


molly said...

It makes us sound old to go on and on about the good old days but they really were good! I remember fresh apples plucked from the tree and bitten into in the same instant! Now you don't know how long they've been off the tree, or how far they've traveled from it! I did go apple picking in Ohio a few years back, with my daughter and little grandsons---best tasting apples ever---but I forget the name.....

Dartford Warbler said...

Lovely to read your childhood memories.

Both of my grandmothers grew up as countrywomen, picked blackberries and made them into jam or jelly. I love to do the same every summer and always think of the generations of women before me who enjoyed foraging the hedgerows in late summer sun.

Elephant's Child said...

This triggered so many memories. The apricot tree which grew in my childhood home was so prolific that we begged people to take some away. Ditto the peach and the fig. Blackberries are a joy. And apples, in season. I like Pink Lady, Gala, Braeburn and Jazz. And the first time I bite into a floury apple they go off the menu until next year.
Thank you for this post.

VioletSky said...

My favourite is the Honeycrisp apple. It is fast becoming the darling of apple lovers but is not always available - and that is how fruit should be. In season only.
And I love blackberries best of all the berries, but hadn't realized how invasive and nasty they could be.

Pam said...

I have never seen a quince and have no idea what they're like. You've made me feel quite deprived. What a lovely post.