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.
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.
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
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.
This mint took just hours to grow
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.
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.
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)?