This article was published in the Canberra Times Food and Wine section October 2010.
The evergreen loquat (Eriobo-trya japonica) is grown extensively in orchards in its native China and also in Japan. Its leaves are softly hairy and the tree produces perfumed flowers in winter but it is the orange-coloured late spring fruit that tempts the kitchen gardener.
A fine Canberra loquat tree grows in the courtyard at the National Film and Sound Archive in Acton, an art-deco building dating from 1931. During autumn and spring this year, the archive is offering guided tours of the area, led by landscape gardener David Norris.
The loquat, planted in 1961, has fruit that ripens from later this month until early summer. Norris kept dozens of seed from the last crop which he plans to share with walkers in the New Year. He finds the lychee-type flesh of loquats refreshing and says they're juicy straight off the tree. A Greek friend told him to keep some loquats in the fridge and eat them cold on a hot day. He also makes a loquat sorbet (recipe follows).
His favourite tree at the academy is a 30-year-old mulberry near the resi-dence, which reminds him of a mulberry in his grandfather's garden at Mount Ku-ring-gai in northern Sydney. When the Canberra tree fruits, he takes full-time garden em-ployees and university students whom he coaches in rugby and who help part time, to pick the mulberries for a taste.
Norris has worked at the archive for 16 years and he says during the drought his father Bill Norris, a retired farmer from Goulburn, dragged hoses around the grounds to keep trees and grass alive.
A magnificent red gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) in the grounds has a hollow that is home to European honey bees, identified by a woman who studies bees and was on his last walk. Occasionally honeycomb falls out on to native grass at the base of the tree and it has a smoky dark flavour.
Near a stone sculpture in the grounds is an area where field mush-rooms the size of a butter plate appear each autumn. Norris leaves some so the spores produce crops each year. His father used to take him out collecting mushrooms and Norris says these are "totally edible". A pair of Irish strawberry trees, an original planting, have been joined by three new arbutus, but the fruit is gritty, like bush tomatoes, Norris says.
Tomatoes have self-seeded in organic mulch spread in an area where lawn was replaced with the native poa grass. A healthy bay tree near the residence provides leaves for winter casseroles.
In the central courtyard, an orna-mental pool, adorned by a distinctive bronze platypus, is dedicated to Sir Colin MacKenzie, first director of the Institute of Anatomy. Twelve years ago, Norris cleaned out the pond and discovered a colony of freshwater yabbies living in its depths.
Looking down on the courtyard from a mezzanine level, birds have a good view of the ripening loquats. Lab technician at the archive Toby Wright has made prize-winning chutney from the loquat fruit.
A couple of years ago, as the fruit was dropping to the ground and being eaten by birds, Wright and three colleagues decided on a challenge. They stayed behind after work and cooked chutney in the work kitchen, all keeping an eye on each other so no one cheated.
Two made a slightly tart chutney, which won first prize at the Canberra show, and Wright and his pal made a sweeter version, which won third prize (recipe follows).
Wright, who was a chef years ago, served the chutney at barbecues and also stuffed pork fillets with it, rolled them in filo pastry and baked them.
- See www.actonwalkways.com for details of October walks.
- Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.
Canberra Show Award winning recipes.
700g loquats (weight after taking out the stones - leave skin on)
250g dried apricots
2 thumbs of ginger spoonful of black mustard seeds
500g raw sugar (they used white sugar)
750ml cider vinegar (they splashed out on good quality which made a difference)
2 long red chillies, finely chop¬ped rind and flesh of 1 orange
Put all ingredients into a large stock saucepan and boil for two to three hours until the chutney has a thick, jelly con¬sistency. Pop into sterilised jars.
Loquat lemon mint sorbet
500g peeled and pitted loquats (about 750g with peels and pits)
juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp sugar (to taste)
1 tbsp (about 5g) loosely packed mint leaves
Peel and pit the loquats. If the peels do not come off easily, dunk the loquats in boiling water for a few minutes first. If you are not using an ice cream maker, put the cleaned loquats into the freezer and freeze until solid. Finely chop the mint leaves. In a food processor, blend the loquats with the mint, lemon juice and zest (zest adds texture; leave it out if you want a smooth sorbet). If your loquats were not frozen, put the mixture into an ice cream maker for about 30 minutes until frozen. Let the mixture harden in the freezer.
Note: This sorbet is better when not frozen too hard -it was good (albeit some¬what slushy) straight out of the ice-cream maker.