Jostaberry blossum – a rare sight


If, like me, you love winter, 2010 has been a vintage year in this soggy corner of Victoria. At Icy Creek, however, even I’ve been starting to hanker for some warmer weather.  And a week into October we finally got some – that is, before an Antarctic blast blustered up from the valley below us last weekend.

Spring has been slower to settle in than in previous years, but the jostaberry bushes are finally in bloom. As the plants themselves are still growing (quite vigourously too in the last year) and still very unusual in Australia (I’ve never seen the fruit on sale in any market) this is, by default a rare sight, even if not a particularly spectacular one.

Meanwhile, the blackcurrant flowers (below) are, to use an inappropriate yet strangely apt metaphor, are proving to be one of nature’s red herrings. Weirder still when you factor in that these are one of the jostaberry’s parents. The other is the gooseberry.


The miracle of the American paw paw in Australia

Not as ripe as it looks

Last year we planted two American paw paw trees. By the start of this year they had both disappeared. Sad, but true. Probably eaten by deer, or maybe just not watered enough. Whatever the reason, it makes what I’m about to tell you seem a little weird.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been harvesting American paw paws. Not from the dead trees, I hasten to add. But around five years ago, it turns out, we bought an American paw paw seedling from a nursery in Warragul. We planted it, and more or less forgot about it, imagining that the burgeoning bush behind our rampant kiwi fruit vine was a noxious weed.

So when we saw large yellow fruit on the ground around its trunk, we imagined these were random quinces that had been mysteriously transported from the top paddock, where – if truth be told – they have performed without distinction. This attractive looking but so far entirely tasteless fruit turns out to be the Asimina triloba.

What I want to know now is whether anyone has ever actually eaten one. I’m going to follow up myself with Kentucky State University, which runs the world’s only full time (American) paw paw research program. The fruit we’ve tried so far has been less than ripe, despite its luscious appearance. But it’s June, and to be honest, at this time of year, any kind of harvest is remarkable enough as winter tightens its grip. Especially for something we’d given up for dead.

If you’ve ever eaten or even seen this fruit before, please let me know. I want to know what to expect next.

The chestnuts are a falling

I wouldn’t claim this for other areas of my life, but when it comes to our modest patch, I’m starting to figure out what’s meant to happen when. So driving up to Icy Creek yesterday I had a $20 bet with self that, this being the first day of April, and April being chestnut month, there would be chestnuts on the ground when I arrived.

Well guess what, I won. And the first to drop – big ones they were – come from the De Coppi and Purton’s Pride trees in our orchard paddock, one of the only places on our patch where wild deer can’t ravage any branch within two metres of the ground.

We had some tonight on home-made pizza which raddichio (currently starring in the vegie patch) and gorgonzola, and by the time Easter’s over we hope to have put the chestnuts into a rissotto, a soup, and a chicken dish – in other words, anywhere we can until we get sick of them. Did I mention roasting them in the fire?

So summer’s over, but we strung it out a bit with a pie made for our friends Sally and Jonathan, who had a harvest dinner last weekend. There’s a pic of the pie on Sally’s excellent new blog A Season of Sunday’s  (as well as a snap featuring some of our chestnuts).  

I reckon the pie might be the first one in the whole world to combine poached quince, jostaberries, black currants and wild blackberries baked in chocolate pastry. Happy to be proved wrong as always, so just let me know.

So these are prunes

From the first crop from our Prune D'Agen tree

As a kid I was made to eat them. As I got older I gradually started to love them. But the notion that a prune is actually a dried plum has never quite clicked in my head. So when we planted our Prune D’Agen tree five years ago in our orchard paddock alongside various other plums, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It didn’t fruit at all during last year’s summer from hell, so when we noticed bucketloads maturing on the tree about two months ago, we realised we were going to have some questions answered.

Two weeks ago, the fruit were ripe enough to eat straight off the tree, but they tasted like that of any other other plum, albeit a bit sharper. Then we noticed one caught in the net (not the internet) and one mouthful of this confirmed just how sugary they are when fully ripe.

Fruit on Prune D'Agen tree

This weekend we picked the lot of them – not quite bucketfuls, but two baskets worth (the birds did well to get the rest), and they’ve been in the drying machine ever since, where they are starting to look like – well, prunes. Yet however delicious these turn out to be, I reckon that the ripe but undried version of the prune – which originally comes from the south of France – is pretty special in itself. And so do Moose and Elka, who seem to have managed to eat quite a few of them whole that had landed in the grass before we picked them. Prunes might be good for dogs, but I can already assure you that there are repercussions.

Moose before the prune effect kicks in

Mulberries – an insanely sweet seasonal treat

And now for 2009's biggest sugar hit

Just when it felt that the last of the seasonal indulgences of the year were being processed by my increasingly stressed digestive system, we find that our mulberry tree is, for the first time, laden with deep purple fruit, thanks to the miraculous success of my net strategy (and no, I’m not talking Web 2.0 here).

Mulberries are relatively slow-growing trees, and our five-year old Hicks Fancy – which is suitable for cooler climes – is still more or less contained by the cage that surrounds it to keep out the deer and wallabies that are constantly marauding the block.  We scored a handful of berries last year, but it wasn’t until this week that I got to pick a whole punnet’s worth from the tree.

I’m always been told that the primary reason that you don’t often see mulberries in markets is because they’re notoriously hard to store. This might be true, but I know that for me such talk is merely hypothetical, because I can’t imagine why I’d allow even the smallest fraction of any yield out of my sight until I’ve consumed it. For despite the sinfully syrupy taste – imagine eating jam straight off a tree – there’s enough sharpness in these berries to ameliorate what might otherwise become, after a modest binge, an almost nauseating sweetness for all but the most ardent of dessert tragics.

Still, if you want to tone them down just a tad, combine them in a fruit salad with some genuinely tart berries – we tried this with our black currants and jostaberries and plain yoghurt – a concotion that can only be conjured for a few days at the end of the year. And perhaps that’s just as well.

Broad bean and invasive weed pesto

Broad bean pesto

Hey Pesto!

Guess what, it’s spring! I only say that because of course it isn’t really. Picking broad beans is meant to be easy work, something you do on the first sunny days after what in these parts is usually a damp and cold winter, but over the last two weekends it’s been so hot that I’ve been making heavy weather of it, if you’ll forgive the pun.

But the heat has certainly got these beans going, and after completely filling the fridge with this morning’s harvest, I realised I’d have to do something with the pile of pods on the dining room table. I found a few recipes for broad bean pestos, but none of them addressed my other immediate problem: the profusion of once welcome herbs into monsterous clumps.

With the broad beans now finally all out of the ground, I thought I might as well see if I could at least begin to address the issue of the out of control mint, the rampant oregano, and the plain silly dill. With modest quantities of this terrible troika bathing in a brew of freshly picked garlic, the juice of several Meyer lemons, and some pretty basic olive oil, I boiled up as many beans as I could pod, and whizzed them into the blender with the other ingredients, and then applied the pesto to an unsuspecting bowl of penne.

Having some parmesan cheese handy in  the fridge (I completely forgot to bring any food with me this weekend) turned my morning of torment into a solo if sorrily solitary triumph. So I thought it might be a good idea to gather some photogaphic evidence, and luckily the industrial quantities I’ve managed to conjure from our productive patch means that this pesto is set to star in an assortment of scratch meals in the coming week.

Aside from my culinary cunning, however, I’m not sure what I’ve really achieved today. A few hours and several glasses of Italian plonk after the heat of the day has subsided, I’m watering the garden, including the patch where the broad beans stood so tall this morning, and I could swear that those herbs have already found a new haven.

Invasive mint

This mint took just hours to grow

Soggy September

Even too wet for a leek

Even too wet for a leek

We knew that Icy Creek was famous for its inclement weather, but over the last few years really soggy weather has been disappointingly rare. But between the start of the Grand Final on Saturday and this morning (Monday) it rained pretty much continuously, with more than 100mm falling in less than two days. I can’t get an accurate reading on the September total because our rain gauge has overflowed twice, but nearby Noojee has just topped the 200 mm mark for the month (compared with just 65 mm in September last year).

The spuds are loving it, but the parsnips (pictured above) seem to have started to brown up with all that water, and even the leeks seem to wish someone would turn the tap off (there must be some reason why I can’t pull them out of the ground with them snapping at the base).

As for Moose and Elka (thanks for asking), they only demanded one swim all weekend and, uncharacterstically, were pretty happy to just curl up on the couch. I confess I did nothing to discourage them.

Raining and nothing on TV

Grazing with Moose

Moose just can't finish that bone!

Moose just can't finish that bone!

Was going to put up a post about our new chestnut and almond trees, but after catching Moose chomping on a bone in the orchard paddock today I thought the horticultural stuff could wait another day.

Quince buds – an early sign of spring

It’s still the first half of August, and Icy Creek’s elevated enough to experience something approximating a period of winter dormancy. But today there were signs of spring, and not just the precocious daffodils and the exhuberant weeds. The budswell on our quince trees suggests that those awesome white/pink flowers might be about to unravel.

It must be spring - almost

It must be spring - almost

Also planted ten chesnut trees today  – an air of mystery surrounds the identity of the varietal, but I’m betting that they’re called Bouche de Betizac. I’m tagging the name, ever so hopefully, in case anybody else has heard of them.

Also planted this weekend, some Alinta strawberries, thornless blackberries (no, they’re not digital devices), and a couple of marionberry plants to boot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s partly because of the aforementioned dormancy (which I enjoy) and also because of a new publication a few of us have set up at La Trobe University called upstart – it’s an online magazine which is specifically designed to publish student and staff work, and to become a resource for emerging journalists. Our twitter address is http://twitter/upstartmagazine

The Chinotto – an improbably frost-friendly citrus

Sour tasting, but they don't complain about a bit of frost

Sour tasting, but they don't complain about a bit of frost

It sounded like a dumb idea. A stand of chinotto trees in one of the coldest places in Victoria. Well, maybe the global warming factor is kicking in, but I’ve also seen these handsome citrus specimens stand up to minus five frosts. They don’t shiver. The fruit doesn’t drop off. The leaves don’t turn pale yellow.

The fruit never tastes any good straight off the tree, but it’s not meant to either. And while it might be a relative newcomer to the citrus family, the Italians have ensured that chinotto is an essential ingredient of several beverages, including Campari, and in Australia it’s possibly best known as an ingredient in a soft drink called Bisleri Chinotto, which is owned by Coca-Cola Amatil.

The fruit looks juicy, but ours aren’t. Still, the peel turns out to be a star if chopped into a pot of poached pears or quinces, and I’m sure we’re going to end up making the world’s best marmalade with them if we ever get around to it. But even if their culinary uses turn out to be slight, the beautiful fruit and fragrant spring blossom makes them more than welcome in our midst, especially on those dull, dormant winter days, which I’m pleased to say we still seem to get our fair share of.

American pawpaw trees go into the ground at Icy Creek

Just planted: a pair of American pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) which we bought at Yamina Rare Plants at Monbulk. These trees have long been celebrated in North America as “tropical” trees for temperate climates, and there’s some very interesting posts about them at The Fruit Blog, we as links to newspaper articles about them including this 2005 piece in USA today. The two cultivars we purchased were a Pennsylvania Gold, which was developed in 1982, and and Louis, which Yamina describe as a “large fruited form”.

As our climate at Icy Creek is a milder version of that experienced in the tree’s native New York State, it will be interesting to see how well they fruit. Certainly, the frost and occasional snow we get in winter shouldn’t be a problem.

In the meantime, if anyone else has experienced growing these trees, we’d really like to here from you. How big do they get? (According to the Flora of America site, can get as high as 14 meters, but Daley Fruit Tree site says they mostly grow to only 5 to 10 metres.) How long do they take to start fruiting? And – now here’s one I’m sure I don’t need to know yet – do they taste like bananas (which Istrongly dislike) or mangoes (which are my favourite fruit)?

Train your Labrador to harvest chestnuts


And then please tell me what I can do to train mine. 

So where are all the chestnuts?

So where are all the chestnuts?

Labradors are legendary for lots of things, including various forms of human assistance, and, increasingly, truffle hunting. But when it comes to chestnuts, it seems that Moose and Elka could deal with their very own guidance program. I’m sure that it’s not that they don’t want to help. It’s just that the enormity of the task of prising open all those prickly chestnut burrs seems so utterly ridiculous. Maybe they have a point. Something to sleep on.


A good time to be a certified nutter


Landed safely, now straight into the fire

Landed safely, now straight into the fire

As a paid up member of Chestnuts Australia, it is with considerable excitement that I got up to the farm today to find that the cockatoos hadn’t got to all of the nuts, and that the chestnuts from the first planting five years ago and bigger and about 100 times more plentiful than they were last year. There’s plenty of saffron milkcap mushrooms too. And a thunderstorm. Autumn is so much better than summer.

First chestnuts of the season

The first chestnuts of 2009

The first chestnuts of 2009

Well I have to admit it was wishful thinking. After all the heat of summer and then a hugely welcome wet spell earlier in the month, we daytripped to the farm just to make sure that the birds wouldn’t be the only ones to devour the season’s first bounty. As it turns out, after trudging around for an hour all so, all we got you can see above. The food mile police will no doubt punish us. But I guess it’s good to know; no matter how fast the climate is changing, chestnuts don’t fall to the ground until April. Which means we’ll be back up there next Saturday.

When the sky comes back to earth

The view from the deck at Icy Creek

The view from the deck at Icy Creek

This is my kind of day – rain, thunder, mist, fog, soggy Labradors, and the sound of the water tanks filling up, instead of being emptied in a frantic effort to save thirsty trees. The pic above is the view from the deck in the intermission between two violent rainstorms. All up we’ve had more than 30mm (a bit over an inch) since midday, and the ground is even starting to get muddy.

Quinces, the first taste of autumn


drought survivors

A few weeks ago we were worried that even these notoriously hardy trees would be too stressed from the heat to hang on to their small crops. But by the end of the first week of March, we realised that the fruit, which turns the most intense of yellows as it ripens, had managed to cling on. We placed them all in a large pot along with some of our very ripe chinottos (this is a citrus, and they loved all the summer heat), and left them on the kitchen stove all day. More about our quinces here.

Lucky to be at Icy Creek

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

The view of the house from the blackcurrant patch

Driving through the smoke haze in Melbourne on our way to Icy Creek this morning, exactly one week after hell descended on our corner of the world,  it was obvious that the potential hazards of this most tragic of summers aren’t completely  behind us yet. And then no sooner had we turned off the highway at the Robin Hood exit, we could see the Bunyip fires still burning. It’s only thanks to the superhuman efforts of the CFA that the situation is under control, for now at least.

Still. the weather forecast is reassuring in a qualified way: there’s no sign of the deluge we so badly need, but there are at least a few showers promised in the forecast period, and nothing over 30 (that’s 86F for our North American friends) in the week ahead.

The whole farm is covered in a thin layer of ash, as is the house, and much of the area looks predictably parched. But remarkably, the orchard trees are mostly holding up well, and there are still tinges of green in the freshly mowed paddocks. There’s fruit on the blackcurrant bushes, nectarines under the net waiting to be picked, ripening tomatoes bulging on their trusses, and the chestnuts are building up their prickly armoury.  

It’s hard to feel anything but lucky.

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

The orchard after its mandatory haircut today

Anzac Harvest

2009 Anzac peach harvest

2009 Anzac peach harvest

 A few more of this year’s Anzac peaches – a big effort for such a small tree.

2009 – Just Peachy So Far

An Anzac peach resting before lunch

An Anzac peach resting before lunch


 There are two peach trees in our orchard at Icy Creek: the first planted was a Taylor Queen, and we got a good crop of sweet fruit from it at the end of last summer. This year, however, it’s our Anzac  Peach (yes, it’s a local cultivar) that has taken the lead, providing large bunches of beautifully coloured fruit, the first of which passed its taste and juice tests yesterday. I worry that I’ll damage the tree with the net I’ve put over their still rather delicate branches. But the birds have already had their fill of so much of the orchard offerings this summer, so I’ll do anything to stop them from getting their sticky beaks on these.

Birdproof we hope!

Birdproof we hope!

Shipova Trees in Australia?

I recently read about the shipova tree in Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden by American writer and “farmder” Lee Reich and was wondering if anyone had tried growing shipova trees. As Reich puts it: “Although shipova (X Sorbus auricularis) is a fruit that has been known at least since the 1600s, it is rarely planted. It is one of those rare intergeneric hybrids, in this case between European pear and whitebeam, a relative of mountain ash. It resembles a small, yellow pear in appearance— somewhat rounded with a red blush on the side kissed by the sun. The flavor is also pear-like but with a little something special, as well as a most pleasant meaty texture.”

I’m interested in hearing from anyone who has grown this tree, and especially keen to know about any Australian suppliers. There’s an interesting account of their place in one garden by Larry Rettig in Dave’s Garden blog, but so far I haven’t been able to find any evidence of their availability in Australia.

Black Currant Affairs

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Blackcurrants harvested on New Year's Eve, 2008

Forget New Year’s resolutions. I can tell you with some certainty that 2009 is going to kick off much the same way that 2008 is coming to a close – with me extracting small and fiddly black currants from their billowing bushes. It’s been a bumper crop this summer, but with so much effort required to harvest these delicate morsels by hand (the berries you can see in the picture above were a whole morning’s work), I’m already seeking expressions of interest to “outsauce” next summer’s haul.

That said, I don’t think I’d go quite as far as the legendary Louis Glowinski, who begins his spray about them in his classic tome “The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia” with a damning dismissal. “Black currants are not decorative, they’re not a delight to have around”, he writes. “Their taste when fresh is unpleasant, and their smell is worse.” And they’re “obviously not for fresh eating”.

Much as they’re hard work, I beg to differ. Our black currants taste just fine straight off the bush, and they’re certainly terrific in desserts or over pancakes. I do, however, see what Glowinski’s getting at when he points out that they don’t ripen evenly, which makes extracting them from their tiny trusses pretty tedious – I’m sure that most of the armoury of Vitamin C they contain is expended on removing them one by one, day after day, year out, year in. In this respect they’re a lot more fuss and bother than jostaberries, which were conjured up in the middle of the 20th century by crossing black currants with gooseberries.

Still, at least I know that when the sun goes down this evening, there’ll be a glass of Kir waiting for me.

I’d better get back to them. Happy 2009.

Jostaberry Icecream & Redcurrant and Gooseberry Sorbet

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

The jostaberry ice-cream fan club

With jostaberries at the their peak, we finally got to do some experiments in the kitchen with them last night and the icecream was voted a big success. While the berries themselves are black when ripe, the mix turns a psychedelic purple once the fruit is blended.


2 cups of jostaberries.

1  1/2 cups of cream

3/4 of a cup of sugar (go up to a cup if you like your icecream really sweet).

Combine jostaberries and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for no more than five minutes. Blend the jostaberries but do not put them through a sieve. Cool, and then churn with the cream in an icecream churn.

We also made a sorbet out of this bowl of redcurrants and gooseberries.

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny

These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny


One cup gooseberry and/or redurrants

1/2 to 2/3 cup of sugar

Simmer to dissolve sugar and continue until gooseberries are just tender (no more than five minutes). Blend, and pass through a sieve. Churn and eat immediately, as this one won’t keep all that well.

A Very Goji Christmas

Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home
Goji berry trees on the first day at their new home

Thanks to a seasonal spending  spree curated by our two Chocolate Labradors, Moose and Elka, our orchard is now home to a pair of goji berry trees. Yes, I know that I have only this week been ruminating about the joys of unfashionability, but every now and then there’s nothing wrong with giving the next big thing a bash, notwithstanding the scepticism that’s been aired about their alleged nutritional value and anti-aging properties (see, for instance, this 2008 Herald Sun article). I’ve never tasted a goji berry, but it the labels on the plant are true then we’ll be able to report back on the part cranberry part cherry-flavoured fruits of this endeavour in a couple of years. In the meantime, Happy Holidays.

Fooled by Gooseberries?

Spot the gooseberry

How may gooseberries can you spot?

If there’s one thing I love about having my own patch, it’s being able to revel in my unfashionable tastes. Chestnuts, quinces, blackcurrants, salsify, cider apples and turnips all have their place at Precipice. (Well, maybe not turnips). And yes, I especially enjoy watching my friends marvel at what they assume is the novelty of what are really just old fashioned fodder.

Take gooseberries. Almost unknown by anyone under 50 in Australia, these exquisite if often tart fruits have probably lapsed into oblivion because they require “handling” before serving. But do they? The variety we grow, known as “Captivator”, actually get pretty sweet if left on the bush until they turn red, yet I’ve never seen “red” gooseberries anywhere in markets. Maybe they’re just picked before they ripen, which might be fine if you’re planning to cook them, but this doesn’t do much to promote their qualities as fresh fruit.  To my taste, if left to ripen they are sweeter than blackcurrants, and just as sweet as ripe jostaberries, a relatively modern arrival engineered by crossing gooseberries with blackcurrants.

Harvesting presents challenges though. There’s no thorns on these Captivators, but I find it almost impossible to see the fruit before it fully ripens. The bush in the picture above, for instance, is jam-packed (if you’ll forgive the pun) with large berries, but only one is cleary visible, and it was promptly taken care of as soon as this photo was taken. Indeed I’d pretty much written off this year’s crop as disappointing until I did a close inspection this arvo.

I’ve read all about how growing gooseberries became a serious competitive sport in northern England (the bigger the better, of course) and a Scottish colleague of mine was a shivering wreck of homesickness after sampling a modest offering from a previous summer crop. Now I realise that I really have been missing out on their enigmatic charms. If you can grow you’re own, understanding their potential is clearly all about timing, and being able to find them before the birds get them. If they can spot them. As for the title of this post, if it doesn’t make sense, then check out this recipe.


Hot at last at Icy Creek

Moose and Elka under the kiwifruit vine

Moose and Elka under the kiwifruit vine

After a cool damp spell unseasonal enough to confuse the climate change out of us, hot and windy weather has returned to Icy Creek, which means the veggie garden has to be watered, and Labradors, always happier in a bracing blizzard, look for their place in the shade. This year Moose and Elka’s options have multiplied thanks to the rampant growth of a lot of the fruit trees and, right on the edge of the veggie patch, our increasingly chaotic kiwifruit vines. They won’t need to stay there all that long; a cool change is on the way, and – if we’re lucky – a storm. In the meantime I’ve set up a separate page about the veggie garden.

Blackberry and Youngberry

Thornless blackberry and Thornless Youngberry plants

Thornless Blackberry and Thornless Youngberry plants

Now when I say “blackberry” let’s get one thing straight. I’m not talking about the electronic organiser that caused the recent Barack Obama controvery. Not that I didn’t have issues of my own when it came to putting a blackberry plant in our bramble row. When we bought our block at Icy Creek five years ago, the paddocks were two metres high with these prickly pests of plants, and we’re still fighting to keep them at bay. But the Thornless Blackberry plant I bought at a nursery will not, I’m assured, take hold of the region. And if only grows as half as well as its wild cousins we should have enough fruit for blackberry icecream next summer. That’s providing we don’t pull them out by accident.

Our other newcomer, the Thornless Youngberry is a domesticated version of a berry that was itself first cultivated in the US in 1905. I’ve read that this variety doesn’t fruit quite as prolifically as the thorny youngberry, but with any luck it will be fully productive within three years.

I’ve put both plants in a row with several two year-old jostaberry plants and a sprawling loganberry for company.

There’s a huge range of blackberries and related soft fruit varieties on the market these days, and this excellent piece from the TyTy Nursery in Georgia helps explain how they’ve been engineered into existence. Did you know, for instance that “the “Youngberry “was developed in 1905 in Morgan City, Louisiana; it is a cross between Luther Burbank’s, Phenomenal Berry, and the Austin-Mayes Dewberry, a trailing blackberry. This berry had excellent qualities, such as taste and high yields, and it soon replaced the Loganberry of California after its release”? Who would have thought?

I am on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to bramble berries, and so I’m keen to hear from anyone who has had success with a particular variety, or who can suggest what else we might want to try bunging in the ground, bearing in mind we’re a cool climate location about the same latitude as Melbourne, but 500 metres above sea level.

Farming with Labradors

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Moose on high alert under the berry bushes

Even harvesting summer berries can have its solitary side. But not if you have a couple of Chocolate Labradors ignoring your every command. While not as keen on eating redcurrants and jostaberries as his daughter, Elka, six year-old Moose (see above) still enjoys chilling out in the canopy between our redcurrants and blackcurrant bushes, providing welcome paws for thought and companionship, and, as far as can be meaningfully verified, keeps birds, snakes and vermin at bay. Of course, if we had any truffles lurking beneath our four hazelnut trees, they’d be onto them in a flash. In the weeks to come I’ll be posting  a few hundred of my favourite snaps of Moose and Elka hard at work at Icy Creek, but in the meantime, I’m sure you get an idea of how busy we all are from the “action” shots above and below.

Elka having a field day

Elka having a field day

Redcurrants, you’re pudding!

The don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

They don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding

I’ve long believed that redcurrants were invented just to add a bit of a counterbalance to oversugared breakfast cereals. So this year, we’re keeping a few kilos of these frozen to give a bit of a kick to our muesli and pancakes.

On the bush they look better than just about any fruit I can think of, thanks in part to their almost translucent glow. They’re also a favourite with Elka, our two year-old chocolate Labrador, who can get manic after she eats them (even for a Lab). Could this be the canine equivalent of binging on raspberry cordial?  She won’t get too any of them today, in any case, as we have to get our stash down to the Outpost Retreat in Noojee, where you’ll almost certainly find them somewhere on the Christmas menu, along with our jostaberries.

Saffron Milk Caps – something to savour after a summer deluge


Saffron Milk Caps in the Icy Creek forest
Saffron Milk Caps in the Icy Creek forest,

You normally find them around Easter. Warm weather, a spell of rain, then another warm day or two will get these spores shooting up threw the soft undergrowth of pine trees, especially around abandoned trails. But a cooler and moister start to summer has summoned these fungi through the forest floor.  Officially called Lactarius deliciosus, they are better known in Australia as saffron milk caps (see this  piece by chef Steve Manfredi). I first became aware of them when I’d see them on sale in Sydney and Melbourne greengrocers for around $30 a kilo. Which isn’t surprising; they’re plentiful under very specific conditions but they can’t be farmed. Yes, you could get them mixed up with more toxic temptations, so make sure you know how to tell the difference. And opinions differ about what they can do to you, the prevailing wisdom being they’re less likely to upset sensitive stomachs if properly cooked (sounds sensible if you’re inclined to the conservative when it comes to the culinary). For me, they’re best poached in butter and sage, and perhaps the only reason to make an omlette. Not bad with pasta either.

Jostaberries on the menu

Jostaberries ripening at Icy Creek, December 2008

Despite the soggy start to summer, the soft fruit has come up trumps. The pic above is of jostaberries ripening on the vine (or is it bush? I need to check on that) this afternoon. While it’s tempting to pick them when they go purple, it’s best to wait until they’re black, and then they’re sweet enough to eat without adding sugar.

It turns out that our jostaberries, along with our redcurrants and gooseberries, are going to be on the Christmas menu at The Outpost in Noojee, providing that they’re not all eaten by our two year-old Chocolate Labrador, Elka, who has become a soft fruit junkie.

Berry Brekkie

This morning's breakfast

This morning's breakfast

After 30mm of rain last night, the strawberries were a bit soggy, but the soft fruit was otherwise firm and ripe. Redcurrants are the go at the moment, but also on the menu were some early ripening jostaberries, a few strawbs, and the first ever blueberries from our Denise plant.

Icy Creek – Fruit and Nut Inventory


Midsummer in the main orchard paddock

Midsummer in the main orchard paddock

As well as the chestnuts, we have started up a cool climate orchard with a range of  fruit trees, soft fruit shrubs, and a few other nut trees. Over this summer I’ll set up some pages for some of the season’s star performers (the kiwis and the gooseberries look promising this year), along with some of our newest additions (the perry trees, which are supposed to get enormous in about 50 years)  but here’s a broad overview of what’s in the ground.

APPLE (Pomme de Neige, Peasgood Nonsuch, Red Fuji, Staymans Winesap, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Gala, Akane, Bramley’s Seedling, Kingston Black, Mutsu, Somerset Redstreak, Michelin, Bulmer’s Norman, Grimes Golden, Frequin Rouge Amer, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Stewart’s Seedling, and Summer Strawberry)

PEAR (William, Packham, Beurre Bosc, Corella)

PERRY PEAR (Gin and Green Horse)

APRICOT (Moorpark)

PLUM (Greengage, Prune D’Agen, President, Coe’s Golden Drop)


NECTARINE (Goldmine)

CHERRY (Sunburst, Napoleon)

PEACH (Taylor Queen, Anzac)


GOOSEBERRY (Captivator)






MULBERRY (English Black)

BLUEBERRY (Denise, Northern, Blue Rose, Brigitta)


QUINCE (Smyrna)

KIWI (Haywood)


STRAWBERRY (Cambridge Rival)

WALNUT (Hartley, Tehama)


CHESTNUT (Red Spanish, Purdon’s Pride, De Coppe Marone)



LEMON (Meyer)


ORANGE (Seville)

Raining pleasure

Cambridge Rival strawberries - clearly they don't mind a good drenchingWe were warned about Icy Creek’s reputation as the Cherrapunji of Victoria, but the last few years there have been disappointingly dry. It seems like we had the highest rainfall in the state, however, on the last Friday night of November (32mm), followed by another 60mm by this morning (Sunday). In the one brief dry interlude I managed to discover some strawberries in the patch that we planted last year – Cambridge Rivals I think. This could also a good place to throw in a gratuitous reference to Barack Obama, just because I want to see if Search Engine Optimization is all it’s cracked up to be for blogs like mine that nobody reads. Notice that I’ve spelt “optimization” with a “z”, not an “s” as we’d normally do in Australia (the country, not the movie), just so I leave nothing to chance.  Also, for those who haven’t heard it, the title of this post is an oblique reference to a masterpiece of 80s understatement from the great Australian band, The Triffids. Now that’s something I bet Sarah Palin didn’t know. 

Growing pains

Icy Creek today
Icy Creek today

I used to associate “weed” with “relaxation”, but these days the more mundane reality is that I’m overwhelmed by the unwanted extra features that nature throws in every year. The worst are the thistles and the blackberries (no, not the electronic organiser), but this year even agreeable herbs have gone on the trot around the garden, as well as wanton grasses and the dreaded radish weed. Still, it’s hard to complain when you get days like this. Moose and Elka (the two chocolate labs in the pic) seem to go along with that.


Artichokes at Icy

Artichokes at Icy

We don’t get all that many of them but artichokes are one of the October highlights of our veggie garden at Icy Creek. We grow the standard green ones, and the purple ones, which look spectacular, but tend to be a lot pricklier. The real advantage of growing artichokes is that you can pick them while they’re still small (the ones that make it to the market tend to be much larger), and then there’s a lot less work to do removing the fibrous choke before eating them. And the really young ones don’t need to be cooked at all; just squeeze some lemon juice on them as soon as you open them up, and – providing you pare them close to the heart – you can devour them fresh.

Jostaberries on ABC Melbourne 774

These jostaberries will be almost black when they ripen at the end of the year

These jostaberries will be almost black when they ripen at the end of the year

I’ve been invited on to the morning show on ABC rlocal adio on Saturday (Derby Day) for a chat about – amongst other things – jostaberries I’m keen to hear in advance from anyone else who’s been growing them in Victoria,  especially hobby farmers (as I’ve yet to see them sold commercially in any market or greengrocer).  A bit more about this relatively new hybrid between gooseberries and blackcurrants can be found on my Jostaberries at Icy Creek page.

In the meantime, get ready to weigh in on the burgeoning pronunciation controversy. Are they “yostaberries” or “yustaberries”?

Perry and Cider

Pear and apple trees at the start of winter this year

It’s great to see an increasing interest in perry and cider in Australia – stories like this piece on ABC’s Landline earlier this year point to the possiblity of a viable boutique industry developing here, although if I’m to believe some of what I’ve read, I’m going to have to wait about 100 years before our two year-old perry trees reach their productive potential. 

We’re already big fans of the produce of Henry of Harcourt  who are also in Victoria, and are keen to hear from anyone who is growing perry trees or apples trees whose fruit has enough tanin to make it suitable for cider. We made some cider last year from the produce of one of our rogue crab apples (the fruit of which is just a bit tarter than a Granny Smith) and we’ve since planted quite a few cider trees, including Improved Foxwhelp,  Bramley’s, Kingston Black, Somerset Redstreak, Grimes Golden, Mutsu, Frequin Rouge Amer, Michelin and Bulmer’s. We’re keen to hear from anyone who has had success with any of these varieties, both in terms of harvesting and cider-making. We can also recomment joining the mailing list of the Cider Digest that is managed by the Talisman Farm’s Cider & Perry webpage.

Tomato time – well, almost

Icy Creek tomatoes

Icy Creek tomatoes

Being Grand Final day (and what an awesome outcome) and exceptionally balmy for late September, we’ve planted some tomato seeds in trays in the hope of transplanting them into the warming soil by Melbourne Cup week in early November. If anyone has had any luck with any of these varieties, please let me know.

This year we’re trying our luck with Aunt Rubys Green,  Shimmeig Creg Elfies, Palmwoods, Stupice, Arcadia, and Ida Gold. The latter is meant to grow well in colder climes, which is good for us, as our place is about 500m above sea level, and can still get wintry right up until Christmas.