I’ve been disappointed by our ‘orchard’. I use the word loosely (hence the inverted commas), because when you talk of an orchard, one imagines rows of healthy, lush, shade-providing trees heavy with fruit. The reality of ours is a few rows of struggling, often sad-looking trees spending all their energy fighting off the wallabies, rabbits, bandicoots, and now chickens. ‘Give us a break’, they seem to be saying. We’ve tried. Plastic bottles, sliced up the side and wrapped around the trucks of some of the trees, wire guards surrounding others. The Orchard Rescue Plan is a frequent dinner-time conversation at the moment.
Even the mulberry tree was near destroyed by Dudley the goat. He ripped off and ate half of it before I could get to him. I ran, yelling, scolding, cursing, to no effect. I dragged him back to his paddock while he continued to happily munch on a branch. The mulberry tree has never been the same since.
The apple tree was ring-barked by rabbits. They literally ate away all the outside layer of bark around the base of the tree. It needs replacing this winter – the whole tree I mean, not just the bark. Must remember to add that to my to do list.
In past years, we’ve had amazing (and yes, admittedly, meagre, but amazing nonetheless) crops of peaches, plums, nectarines, mulberries and apples. But this year, it’s been woeful. Interestingly, many locals have lamented the lack of fruit. An off year? The planets didn’t align? Perhaps it was the absence of rain in the lead-up to Christmas. Whatever it was, I hope it was some external factor and not me.
The orange, lemonade, lemon, lime and mandarin trees are now in fruit – very encouraging, but the pear tree has yet to produce one piece of fruit that hangs on until maturity, ever.
Having said all of that, I’m happy (and relieved) to report, the jewell in the very shabby crown this season, has been the Persimmon Tree. Bless its cotton socks, or glossy leaves, or sweet orange fruit, as the case may be.
I planted the tree on account of a glowing report by Meredith Kirton in her book, Dig. Maggie Beer also loves them – the trees and the fruit. That makes it sound like I know Maggie. I don’t. I just read that somewhere. Probably when I was googling ‘what the heck do I do with all these persimmons?’
We’ve eaten persimmons fresh. You can cut them up as you would an apple and eat the slices, skin on or off, whichever you prefer. I’ve cut up a container load of persimmon flesh and frozen it for later. I’ve also frozen a couple of the fruit, sliced in half, skin still on. About 45 minutes are taking them out of the freezer we ate them with ice-cream. It was akin to persimmon sorbet.
With the bulk of them though, I made jam.
I found a recipe which didn’t necessitate a trip to the shops (www.persimmons.com.au – click on the recipe tab). I don’t have any pectin in the cupboard (apparently a rather critical jam ingredient). This one called only for persimmons, lemons and sugar. Tick, tick, tick.
We were given a lemon tree by one of my best mates as a house / farm-warming present. It taught us a lot about looking after citrus. It was the first tree we planted. Apparently citrus trees have lots of tiny, fibrous roots that grown up, as well as all the roots that grow out and down. If those little vertically growing roots have too much competition, from say, thick kikuyu grass (which we have in abundance), the tree can suffer from collar rot. Our lemon tree had 4 strong branches, and slowly three of them died, one by one. Until we were left with only one main branch and very lop-sided looking tree. A trip to the nursery for advice, a big clean-up around the tree, extra soil, compost, worm wee, organic fertislier and mulch helped the tree make a miraculous recovery. Somehow it’s compensated for the missing limbs, and it’s now producing lots of large, juicy lemons. And it was these lemons that made their way into the jam.
In a large pan, for every 4 persimmons (peeled and chopped), I added 1 lemon (juiced, pips and all, and then threw the rind in – this helps the mixture congeal apparently), and 3/4 cup of sugar (less than the recipe suggested). Boil, simmer (for ages), remove pips and lemon rind, and then bottle in sterilised jars. Easy peasy. Even for someone who doesn’t like cooking. I found the whole process quite therapeutic actually.
I am enjoying my persimmon jam, spread thickly on toasted, buttery turkish bread made by Lizzy from our local Farmer’s Market. I’ve given a few jars away, on the grounds that I have a year-long supply now occupying my fridge. Feast or famine, that’s what they say about living off the land. I know Mum and Dad are enjoying theirs. The other night however, when we were over at Bec C’s for dinner, I happened to notice her unopened jar in her fridge (no, I did not go foraging for it, I just happened to spy it when in search of the wine). So I know she’s not enjoying hers.. yet. Bec C? I know, I know, you’ve been away. But I’m desperately awaiting your verdict.
Anyway, that’s enough about persimmons. I’m now off to deal with the last of our butternut pumpkins. Suggestions anyone?