Beyond the punnet

WORDS Sophhie Pusz

Spend five minutes in conversation with producers Bob Harley from Sorrell Fruit Farm outside Hobart, or Rebecca Barnes from Playing With Fire in Ballina in Northern NSW and you will discover there are dozens and dozens more types of berry than you could ever have imagined possible!

At Sorrell Fruit Farm you can visit for the day and pick your own fruit. As well as the standard offerings such as strawberries and cherries, you can pick tayberries, silvan berries, jostaberries, boysenberries and loganberries.

Bob’s favourite is the tayberry, a fruit first bred in Scotland in the 1970s and brought to Australia in the 1990s. The tayberry (bottom right) is a cross between the raspberry and the blackberry, ‘We’ve used it not only to eat but we make jam and vinegars and I make a liqueur with it. It’s got that freshness of a raspberry, but with more of a background blackberry flavour. It’s very nicely balanced.’ In fact Bob’s French-style tayberry liqueur won a gold medal at the last Australian Fruit Wine show in Hobart.

Although the tayberry is a fairly recent import, berries have quite a history on the Apple Isle. Berries (usually blackberries) were a popular supplement for small, family-run apple farmers on the sloping hills behind Hobart, because the berry season started and finished before the apple season began. According to Bob, a curious collection of scenarios combined to bring about the demise of this once bustling industry, including a decrease in the demand for jam, the increasing cost of hand harvesting a crop on the hills and finally a serious bushfire in 1967.

While Sorrell Fruit Farm is a bit of a novelty and has become a popular tourist attraction for locals and overseas visitors to Hobart, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Australian native berry industry is just beginning to bear fruit.

At Playing With Fire, Rebecca and her partner Gus Donaghy grow native bush foods, and count a number of native berry varieties (Australian Rubus) and several varieties of lilly pilly among their produce. Australia has eight indigenous raspberries, according to Rebecca and Gus, in the true sense that they bear red raspberries on mostly prickly biennial canes. While much is known of it’s close relatives in the northern hemisphere, little information is available on Australian Rubus species and their taxonomic variations, which isn’t surprising given real interest in Australian natives is still in it’s infancy.

The main variety they promote is the molucca berry (Rubus moluccanus), which shows the most promise as a cultivated variety as it has the best yield and works well with similar growing practices to the European and hybrid varieties. Australia’s molucca berry is closely related to and resembles the European raspberry familiar to most people, but with a brighter colour and sweeter flavour. It is a rainforest fruit that grows happily alongside streams and shady creeks, over a wide are of eastern Australia from Victoria in the south to tropical north Queensland.

As well as being delicious to eat molucca berries are very nutritious and are fast gaining a reputation as a natural medicine with anti-bacterial properties.

‘Rebecca’s favourite berry is one of the native raspberries that she grows. ‘The Atherton raspberry is pretty hard to beat. It’s very sweet; it’s much sweeter than European raspberries, but it’s still got that beautiful raspberry note to it. It’s best taken by the handful. They’re divine, they really are. It’s very hard to not eat when you’re picking. They get so juicy, they get really large and soft and juicy. They’re just wonderful.’

Rebecca and Gus also grow several varieties of lilly pilly, a native variety of clove. ‘The riberry is the one that’s mostly commercialised. It has a bit of those clovey, gingery notes to it. Its had some breeding done to it so we’ve got a seedless variety [which] the chef ’s are pretty happy about,’ she says. There are countless other varieties of lilly pilly, some of which are more suited to harvesting and eating than others.

So look beyond your favourite summer berries to find an immense variety of unusual and native berries with new flavours.

Playing With Fire sell many of their products: fresh and frozen fruit, spices, teas, jams and cordials on their website.

For the full story, grab a copy of Sprout Magazine Summer 2017 or subscribe and never miss an issue.

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