Monday, September 24, 2012
Quandong…Yeah, I spelled it right!
The Quandong is a truly unique native Australian fruit. Found in the arid and semi-arid regions of all Australian mainland states , Quandong trees have been classified as belonging to the santalum genus of plants. Ideally adapted to arid environments, the Santalum Acuminatum species is a semi-parasitic plant. Quandong trees can tolerate high salinity levels and often rely for their complete water requirements from the root systems of host plants. Across their native distribution range, Quandong trees typically grow 2 to 3 metres in height, with a dense leathery crown of leaves perhaps 2 metres wide. The trees cant be transplanted and are notoriously hard to propagate. They have to have a host plant and once they grow into the hosts root system they are married forever. Strangely they do no damage to the host plant but simply share the root system which continues to grow to support both plants. It was believed for many decades that the only way to make them grow was to pass them through the gut of an Emu. Emu's love the fruit and eat lots of them, from the droppings the seed geminates surrounded as it is by fresh fertiliser. The seedling sends out tiny roots and if they find the roots of another plant they become one...a very strange plant indeed. Fossils of the fruit have been found that are 40 Million years old.
Ever since childhood I’ve eaten these berries as Jam, Ice Cream topping and Pies, the pies are my favourite, served with Ice cream or Cream. Basically you pick the fruit, take out the stones and dry the husk to intensify the taste. They keep for years sealed in bags or tubs and can be quickly reconstructed by simmering in a little water and lots of sugar. The fruit is very tart, lots of people dislike the taste of the fruit straight off the tree but made into jam or pies the earthy taste is strange but wonderful. Imagine a cross between the strange tart taste of Rhubarb and rich Plum. ish.. hard t describe.
These days this humble fruit has been noticed by the rest of the world and it’s value has skyrocketed. That’s bad news for people like me who have always wandered into the bush to pick a few buckets each year. Australian restaurants are charging around $30 for a tiny portion with a splash of cream, I cannot imagine what the Japanese are paying in their trendy restaurants.
Traditionally the Quandong was an important food source for Australian Aborigines. Amongst male members of central Australia’s Pitjantjara people, Quandongs were considered a suitable substitute for meat. Eat too many of the fruit though and they have an unfortunate effect on your bowels.
I've been discovering trees while out in the bush riding my various bikes over the years, once found I can go back and pick a few fruit from time to time. I've been watching a small group of trees growing by the roadside for about 15 years now and they have finally begun to fruit, so I stopped to take photos for you and of course eat a few fruit. About twelve seedlings came up after road works covered a tiny area of bush about 15 years ago, they thrived on the tiny bit of extra run off water from the road and here they still stand ten meters from the busy highway fruiting at last. Like I said that's bad news for me because unscrupulous people illegally pick and dry the fruit and sell it. The fruit ripens over a period of months so any fruit eaten or blown off the tree by harsh weather conditions does not ruin the trees chances of reproducing for that year. The unscrupulous few though take every last fruit and the green ones ruin the taste of the product. Everyone I know who picks the fruit returns the seeds to the bush after husking them. The trees are pretty rare and hard to grow so scattering the seeds back in the bush gives them the best chance of growing and making more trees.