Feral fruit between Coast – Cooma – Canberra, delicious and part of history

Dozens of apple trees dot the roadside between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Dozens of apple trees dot the roadside between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The drive between the Far South Coast, Cooma, and Canberra is dotted with sites that make your mind wander.

Dilapidated railway bridges, decaying wildlife, rows of rural letterboxes, and sparkling solar farms, all inspire thought and question for the mindful traveller or curious passenger.

Right now, mixed with the scenic vistas on this 240km stretch of road is a more seasonal point of interest – apple trees heaving with fruit. Red, yellow, green apples bending branches to the ground.

There are dozens of apple trees growing in the harshest of conditions parallel to the highway and old railway line. At some points in this golden landscape, this native from Central Asia is the only show of green life.

How did they get there?

Are they any good to eat?

Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Growing alongside the Snowy Mountains and Monaro Highways is not the managed orchard environment I thought apples needed – perhaps I’ve watched too many pruning videos on YouTube and forgotten that apples are a tree like any other with their own wild force of nature!

While apples are the dominant feral fruit, you’ll also notice peach, plum, and pear trees.

Bega Valley Permacultrulist Kathleen McCann has a few theories to explain this roadside fruit salad; one of which is that she believes some of the trees date back to the horse and cart days.

“People did grow fruit trees and plant tree shelters at some of the stops they made on their journey,” Kathleen says.

“Often you can see tree cover, lone pines, and fruit trees in the oddest places along our highways, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. These are where the horse or carriage needed to stop for lunch or for the night.

“In the days of horse and carriage, people were only able to cover 10 to 20 kms per day, depending on the weight they were transporting and the terrain they covered. Remember everything was a dirt track and ungraded in those days,” she says.

Often these apple trees are the only "green" in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Often these apple trees are the only “green” in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Apple and pear cores, plum and peach seeds, discarded by travellers are also part of the story according to Kathleen.

“You can spot fruit trees along the railway track as well. These were definitely tossed out the window as a passenger finished their prized fruit and have germinated where they fell,” she says.

“These trees have existed in the elements all on their own and are therefore very hardy.”

Our green thumb also believes birds and animals have been a factor in spreading the trees.

“Stone fruit especially could have been carried quite a distance if the seed was swallowed by a cow or horse. Apple seeds could have been carried by birds and deposited in droppings,” Kathleen says.

Weeds are spread in similar ways and are a significant problem to the region’s landholders, however, despite not being a native, the apple trees aren’t considered a pest.

“The apples certainly aren’t a problem for us,” says Brett Jones, Vegetation Management Officer, Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

“The Biosecurity Act deals with weeds which have a direct impact on the areas social, economic and environmental values, which the roadside apples certainly don’t.

“If they were identified as harbouring pests like fruit flies, then they might cause some concern but I’m not aware of any negative impact,” Brett says.

Far from it, it seems a whole variety of species are enjoying this wild harvest – birds, kangaroos, cattle, flying foxes, and humans.

Friends of About Regional report using the apples in all sorts of recipes.

Former Canberra girl, Renee Griffiths O’Reilly says, “They are cider apples so very tart and ideal for making cider. Juice them then add winemakers yeast or alternatively make apple pies with a lot of sugar.”

Akolele local, Deborah Taylor suggests an old-fashioned apple dessert: “Baked apples – cored and filled with a mix of currents, raisins, sultanas, zest and juice of two oranges, butter and brown sugar too if you want to be indulgent”, she writes.

“Bake until soft. Serve with yoghurt or cream. Leftovers are great for breakfast with muesli and yoghurt.”

People throwing apple cores from a horse, train, or car is thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are here. Photo: Ian Campbell.
People throwing apple cores from a horse, train, or car is thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are here. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Show winner, Fiona Scott suggests apple jelly and is generous enough to share her secrets.

“It’s a bit fiddly but a good way to use apples that aren’t perfect,” she writes on About Regional Facebook.

“Cut up 2 kilograms of apples into fours, skin, core and all. Put into a big pot, like a stock pot with 1cm of water in the bottom.

“Bring slowly to the boil and simmer the whole mess until soft. Cool, then (the vital step) pour the whole lot into a muslin lined colander over a large bowl.

“A clean old cloth is fine if you don’t have muslin, just rinse well so the detergent remnants don’t make the jelly taste like Cold Power!” Fiona suggests.

“Leave overnight for the juice to drain. DO NOT SQUEEZE the leftover apple, compost it or the jelly will be cloudy.

“Measure the juice and put into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add 40% equivalent in sugar, i.e. 1 litre of juice to 400 grams sugar.

“Stir the lovely pink mess until the sugar dissolves and continue boiling until it tests as set.

“I put a teaspoon of the juice onto a cold plate and when it is cool give it a push with my finger. Highly scientific! If wrinkles form like skin the chemistry is right for the jelly to set,” she writes.

“Pour into sterilised jars, cover with a clean cloth until cool, then cap the jars. Don’t put the lid on too soon or condensation from the cooling jam will make the jelly go mouldy.

“All that effort will give you several jars of the loveliest, clear pink and slightly wobbly apple jelly.

“Now you know all my jam making secrets,” Fiona confesses.

Sprout Cafe in Eden is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott, Sprout Eden.
Sprout Cafe in Eden is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott, Sprout Eden.

Sprout Cafe in Eden builds its weekly menu around what is seasonal and what is local, and the first apples are starting to come in from growers.

Elaine O’Rourke in the kitchen at Sprout is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake, and has shared the recipes with us!

Vegan Apple Loaf (Gluten Free)

1 ½ cups gluten-free self-raising flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple sauce
½ cup Nutlex
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp Vanilla
½ cup almond milk
2 apples – peeled, cored and diced

Beat Nutlex and 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar until creamy, add apple sauce, vanilla and milk.
Mix in flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir until well combined.

Mix the remaining 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar with the apple sauce and stir half the apples into the mixture.

Pour into a loaf tin approx 23cm x 13cm
Sprinkle the remaining apples on top.

Bake at 180 degrees for 20 – 35 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Apple Crumble Cake (Gluten Free)

Crumble:
1 ¼ cups gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g butter
½ cup caster sugar

Apple Filling:
5 apples – peeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp butter
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

Base:
100g butter
½ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 cup gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Make crumble by mixing flour, baking powder and sugar together and rubbing in the butter.

Make the filling by cooking the apples until soft and cooling.

Make base by whipping butter and sugar together, adding the egg, flour, baking powder and milk.

Spread base into a lined pan or tray, top with filling mixture and sprinkle topping over.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 – 50 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Feral apples at home among the gum trees of the Snowy Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell
Feral apples at home among the gum trees of the Snowy Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell

Like the weather-beaten shearing sheds and chimneys without a house that dot the Snowy-Monaro countryside, the apple trees that grow in this soil are also a throwback to another time.

These tough local specimens of one of the world’s favourite fruits will be ready for harvest come late February – early March. Find a safe spot to pull over, grab a bag, and be a part of their ongoing connection with travellers.

*About Regional content is supported by, Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Sprout Eden, the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Kylie Dummer, Kaye Johnston, Geoffrey Grigg, Robyn Kesby, Amanda Fowler, Sue and Duncan Mackinnon, and Geoff Berry.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

The power of a simple homemade meal By Leah Milston

Leah Milston @ Mystery Bay By David Wallace
Leah Milston @ Mystery Bay By David Wallace

Years ago when my children were small and I was very depressed, a friend arrived on my doorstep with a homemade meal.

I had gone from an energetic high to a motionless low.

I always managed to look after my children but everything took so much effort and time.

My friend was concerned about me, she had a sense I wasn’t well in the way friends know. She had no idea of or experience with what I was going through but thought a home cooked meal would be useful.

She was so right.

The fact she offered no advice and was honest about not knowing what I was going through, was such a relief from the well-meaning but ill-informed advice that I had been receiving from other people.

She made me feel so cared for – and what a relief to know that I could feed my family that night without worrying about what I was going to cook.

It’s a gesture that touched me and one I have tried to pass on; seeing someone in need and trying to think of something practical to do for them.

It can be just sitting with a person, folding laundry, bringing in firewood, taking children to school, feeding a pet, or going to the shops.

We don’t need to understand fully what someone is going through in order to help them.

When someone is ill it can be hard to know what sort of assistance is needed and even hard for the person who is unwell to know. So if you want to help – start with the simple stuff.

For me, when I was sick I felt I was so isolated, so alone, like no one understood.

When I received that home cooked meal all of a sudden I was not forgotten or alone, I was given strength to get through another day, a day closer to wellness.

During Mental Health Month there is much emphasis on what the individual can do to maintain their own mental health.

The importance of diet, plenty of exercise, being connected to the community, positive ways of thinking, coping with a stressful life by using meditation, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy – all are seen as important parts to promoting mental health.

I am adding something new, an idea from author and philosopher Shannon L Alder:

“When the “I” is replaced by “We” illness becomes wellness.”

We all have the potential to make such a difference in someone’s life, and all it can take is a small gesture like a delivered homemade meal…or writing an article and sharing your experience.

Don’t be afraid to be the ‘we’ Shannon Alder talks about.

 

About Leah…

Leah Milston was diagnosed as being Bipolar over 40 years ago.

She says she spent the first 16 years living in denial, the next 16 she describes as ‘reluctant’ but for the last 9 years Leah has embraced the way she is wired.

So much so Leah is now a voluntary speaker for Beyondblue and was previously a voluntary rural ambassador for Black Dog Institute (2007-2010) and regularly writes articles and speaks on radio about mental health issues.

She is also a representative on the Eurobodalla Health Services Community Representative Committee.

Since 2005  Leah has been the owner, manager and personality behind Milston’s Past and Present in Mogo. The shop has enough order and enough chaos and quirkiness (just like it’s owner) to make it a  wonderful place to browse.

Marriage equality, lets get it done – now! By Iain Dawson

Iain Dawson
Iain Dawson

I had just started working in my dream job, not long after settling in Sydney, back from the traditional post uni overseas trip, backpacking in Europe.

The dream job being a gallery manager for one of the eastern suburbs most ‘social’ art galleries.

Up until then, I had navigated the treacherous path of being a full-time waiter, I felt that I was truly moving in the right direction career wise – finally!

While grabbing an afternoon coffee at the place of my most recent past employment, I was surprised to see my replacement on the coffee machine was possibly the best-looking guy I’d seen.

Beautiful dark hair pulled back in a man bun, his beard impressive – a decade before either were fashionable. That’s him I thought, with the conviction of anyone who has fallen victim to love at first sight.

This is back in a time before social media, before mass use of mobile phones even, otherwise I would have been posting updates on my Instagram immediately – I had met the man I was going to spend my life with.

All it took now was to convince him to feel mutually inclined.

Me loitering until knock off over eight flat whites and then a few games of pool cinched the deal – that was 16 years ago.

I am not going to pretend it’s been all beer and skittles, there’s been ups and a few downs, thankfully he possess the patience of a saint when it comes to me, though I hope I’ve spiced up his life a little in return.

Over the past sixteen years, we’ve been to the weddings of his two sisters, the second wedding of my twin brother, the births of numerous nieces and nephews, godchildren and countless friend weddings. All are relationships we’ve watched blossom, like our own over time and settle into normal family life as we fast approach our mid-forties.

In taking their vows, all these husbands and wives have been gracious enough to add their own caveats to the statement that all celebrants must declare since the 2004 change to the Marriage Act.

A change that didn’t seem to require the sort of plebiscite that is now seen as so important when considering changes to the Marriage Act.

John Howard’s change in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends and family.

We are a secular country. No religion owns marriage.

The law needs to change and it needs to change quickly, decisively and without the possibility of harming young LGBTIQ people.

Until then, my relationship is not seen as being equal to all the marriages my partner and I have witnessed and celebrated in our two decades together.

For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

It’s beyond obvious that around 80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope.

The support for marriage equality is not disputed by either the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader, yet we find ourselves with a $200 million plebiscite to decide the issue.

We live in a democracy that elects its representatives to lead and make hard decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Why is it that this particular moral/social issue needs any more than that?

Add to that the suggestion that this wasteful and potentially harmful popularity contest will not be binding and still be subject to a vote in parliament, is just insulting to LGBTIQ people and the wider Australian population.

My concern is not for me or the man I love, but for the kids who grow up feeling ashamed of who they are while we still debate this issue.

Living regionally, those differences can be more pronounced, more isolating and potentially more harmful.

I’d like the teenager me, who grew up here on the South Coast of NSW, to feel as accepted and valued as I do, as a member of this amazing community now.

Marriage equality – let’s get it done in parliament now!

Iain Dawson runs the Facebook page Bega Valley for Marriage Equality