is published on January 31st by Tor Books.
Five Favourite Bush Fruitsby Thoraiya Dyer
If you go for a stroll in an English forest, you might be able to forage for such familiar fruits as plums, raspberries, blackberries and wild strawberries. Ditto for a Malaysian forest, home of mangosteen, pomelo and rambutan. But would you recognise good fruit when you saw it in my backyard? What are the tastiest (IMO) fruits to be found at random while hiking in the Australian bush?
Here are my top five!
(1) Magenta cherry (aka magenta lilli pilli, Syzygium paniculatum
). There are many tasty, snack-sized lilli pillies out there, but this one is my favourite. I love the crisp texture, like a nashi pear, and the slight sourness with a hint of turpentine aftertaste. They can get quite big, hovering between grape sized and date sized, not only in wild rainforests but when people who water their plants every day use them for suburban hedging purposes. And they’re so pretty. No hesitation naming magenta cherries as my number one!
(2) Finger lime (Citrus australasica
) comes a close second, although if I’m truthful I’ve never seen one in the wild and it seems they’re threatened in their native range due to land clearing. You can find them in most Australian nurseries, however. The plant itself is just wonderful, painfully thorny with tiny, perfect, three-petalled flowers that attract tiny, perfect native bees. And the fruit, full of round vesicles full of lime juice that snooty restaurants have christened vegetarian caviar, are sublime to eat straight off the tree. Or in cheesecake (see recipe below!). Or in salad dressing. Or on smoked salmon and crackers. Etc.
(3) Blue quandong (Elaeocarpus angustifolius
) is even more sour than finger lime, and a little bit bitter, but is so satisfying to suck on as you hike through the forest that I’ve foolishly started trying to grow one here in Sydney. These towering hardwoods aren’t really practical for climbing without ropes and harnesses, but flighted birds have usually been squabbling in the branches, knocking down plenty of ripe fruit for both humans and flightless cassowaries to enjoy. Just make sure you wash it so you don’t get rabies-like diseases from flying fox saliva. The luminous blue skin is a structural, light-bending thing which quandong fruit have in common with blue Ulysses butterflies (Papilio ulysses
) in a fine example of convergent evolution.
(4) Sandpaper fig (Ficus coronata
) is pretty much everywhere up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia. I’ve picked and eaten them straight off wild-growing trees in Cairns, Port Stephens, the Wollemi and, most recently, Palm Beach in Sydney. Sometimes they’ll be dry and hard and nasty. Other times, they’ll be squirming with fly larvae. But occasionally, you’ll get one so syrupy and full of concentrated figgy flavour that it makes all the other attempts worthwhile!
(5) Pine leaf geebung (Persoonia pinifolia
). This geebung is from drier climes, one that thrives in the devastation that follows a good bushfire. Eat these straight from the tree, and discover the unique experience of pouring dirty turps in your mouth. However, pick the ripe, fallen fruit up from the forest floor, after a period of good rainfall, and geebung fruit are sweet, refreshing and unique.
And finally, honourable mention…(6) White mangrove (Avicennia marina
). I’ve heard that though these fruits are mainly used for medicinal purposes and can be toxic when untreated, there is a way to render them delicious! Sadly, I am not wise in such ways. So the white mangrove fruit must go untasted for now, lest I die before I finish my trilogy. Let this be a reminder not to eat anything that hasn’t been properly identified!
Recipe for Finger Lime Cheesecake:
Crush 100g hazelnuts
and 100g chocolate tiny teddies
in a mixing bowl. Add about 2 tbsp of melted butter
- just enough to make it stick - and press into the bottom of a 20cm diameter cake tin to form the base.
Take your 250g block of not-in-the-fridge cream cheese
and beat it in another mixing bowl with 400g melted white chocolate
(don't bother about fancy double-bowled chocolate melting, just chop the stuff into a saucepan and heat it on the lowest possible setting until melted). Add 1 cup caster sugar
, a 300mL tub of sour cream
, and keep beating until the sugar's dissolved.
Squeeze out the insides of a bowl of Australian finger limes
. These are the pink variety but they come in yellow, green and red. I’ve used about 1.5 cups
of finger lime "caviar" (read: tiny sacks of sweet-sour lime juice)...this is a great workout for your fingers.
Stir the lime pulp into the white chocolate mixture. Add 3 egg yolks
one at a time, beating well in between each one. Whip the whites
of those 3 eggs in another bowl before folding in gently. Pour this mixture into the tin.
1 hour in a 180C oven did the trick for me, but others have had this set (firm and brown on top) in as little as 35 minutes, so keep an eye on it. Serve with whipped cream.