Two loaves of home-baked bread with garlic on top and grated cheese inside, eaten with chicken and corn soup. Entrée nibbles were baby beetroot leaves, sliced sausage and home-grown mandarin (tangerine) pieces. The mandarin tree is about 45 years old but still produces a juicy citrus crop each winter.
My childhood nickname was “Apple Queen”. In later years, I have wondered why I wasn’t called “Apple Princess” but I think it may have had something to do with the name of a variety of apple at that time. One of my mother’s favourite early black and white photographs of me, taken in my grandparents’ long driveway at Hampton, Victoria, illustrates my love of apples. I have a Granny Smith apple in each hand, possibly from a homegrown tree. I was about four years old and, by the look on my face, quite serious about the art of eating apples.
I still am. One sits next to me as I type. If I need a snack, a lunch box filler or fruit for a picnic, I grab an apple. Drool has formed in the corners of my mouth when I’ve looked at apples with sultanas and honey. Strudel, pies, pureed or skewered on a kebab, the texture and essence of apples is never lost. That crisp, sweet smell pervades my senses, particularly when I walk into a room and get a whiff of that fruity fragrance. Immediately I want to chomp my teeth into the cool, smooth skin, break through that thin protective layer to taste its juicy flesh. That first crunch is like no other sound. The sound reverberates through my jaw as I munch the apple into cider and swallow.
In my haste to eat an apple, I have been known to choke on a piece but it has never put me off. My mother could devour a whole apple, pips and all, but that’s not my style. I denude the apple to the core then toss the remains into the garden for some foraging creature to finish off.
I have a vivid memory of apple blossom and then tiny green and red striped apples forming on a tree we had in our backyard at Mount Waverley, Victoria. Picking them too soon, I recall my disappointment at their unripe, bitter flavour. Just recently I have read that apples are helpful to asthma sufferers and, since I am a life-long asthmatic, I wondered if instinct might have played a part in my voracious consumption. It certainly had nothing to do with Adam or Eve.
Occasionally, I am asked about my favourite variety and I answer “Any. As long as it’s not bruised.” Apples creep into my salads, my sauces and, thanks to a friend, into my hamburger mince. To me, a dessert isn’t a proper dessert unless it contains apples. Imagine a world without apple pie and ice-cream! My father liked cloves cooked into apple pies and that’s the only time I didn’t like my mother’s cooking. To this day I don’t know why the odd flavouring of clove is meant to enhance cooked apples.
The very shape of an apple is pleasing to me, even the logo on my laptop. During my teenage years, I collected ornaments in the shape of apples. Two examples may have survived. A red china apple made in two halves, the bottom half containing candle wax. The other apple made of hand-blown glass, with a glass leaf, which contains layers of coloured sands from Cooloola Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Baby daughters are now being named Apple; it’s something I didn’t think of at the time and I’m hoping it’s after the apple blossom fruit rather than the corporation. My fruit bowl is really an apple bowl with other fruit scattered around for effect. Sometimes toffee apples will creep into the mix and I treat them with caution. Hard red toffee and my teeth don’t work well together but I never let that stop me.
Dear Diary, it’s a calm, warm July day, almost like an early Spring, but there are no butterflies or buzzing insects. The crows call to each other across the back garden and noisy miners flit back and forth like feathered investigators on an important assignment. The children in the house behind my suburban block are jumping on a netted trampoline and soon there will be a cry and a parent will take them off. The towels have been on the Hills Hoist clothes line for two days. A dried-out agapanthus head is sticking straight up out of the perennial foliage, a reminder that I am not a conscientious gardener.
So saying, in a green square pot I have grown a very tall tomato plant with fat green tomatoes (above) emerging every day. The old mandarin tree has a yearly crop of pale orange-coloured mandarins, and my rosella plants are flowering (above) while the spring onions and ginger roots carry on regardless. There are non-native plants like a small pomegranate, poinsettia bright red and blooming (above) and our huge native gum tree towers over all of us; blossom for the parrots and fruit bats. Special mention goes to our agave family. These Mexican beauties (above) love our subtropical climate and we’ve given away more young plants than I can remember.
Of course, there’s the herbs, for better or worse, always trying so hard … The trailing hoya (above) was a joy with its pink waxy flowers but recently it decided it had had enough and shrivelled up. The ancient mulberry tree went the same way, dying in the drought a few years back, followed by the peach and avocado trees. The coffee bean tree (above) survives anything. We live on a sloping hill with poor soil which is interesting because many years ago cows grazed on the lush hillsides around us. My father once said “All your good top soil has been washed downhill”. Not so long ago the rich alluvial earth along the creek at the bottom of our street was plundered and no doubt sold for landscaping.
When I first lived here, the suburb was casual with a leafy roughness about it which made for a relaxed, friendly vibe. Indeed, every home was owner/builder and most residents chose not to erect fences nor were there any footpaths. Trees were planted to shade homes from the fierce western afternoon sun and if you were lucky you had a ceiling fan. Ah, the 70s, a time of emerging from the past and forging ahead with little regard for past cultural or community identity but, in so doing, it created a unique city. Strangely, if not surprisingly, it has taken about 40 years for the people of Brisbane, Queensland, to appreciate our subtropical city. The past is now nostalgically and fondly remembered as the concrete is poured for yet another highrise apartment block.
If real estate developers would let us, we would return to our friendly, informal way of life instead of building cement block homes and painting them grey like every other capital city in Australia. To take my mind off the screeching of chainsaws as they hack down another leopard tree (above) I will write a little bit about our front garden.
In the front garden, and I use the term loosely, there is structure and visions of edging and all, but I have let that slip. Two tall palm trees (above) on either side of the house echo early Queensland-style seen in rural areas. Tough-as-old-boots golden cane palms dot the area while I think our camellia is a Melbourne throwback. The stocky Illawarra flame tree with its pink orchids (above) was planted to complement the purple jacaranda nextdoor (viewed from balcony). I will not describe the weeds like camphor laurel, monstera or umbrella trees always springing up between the lemon scented tea-trees and more civilised shrubs. Does anyone still grow ‘mother-in-law tongue’ and ‘cast-iron’ plants? Cast iron is an unkillable broad leafed low-growing plant and I think it was beloved of early Victorians as either a hothouse or indoor plant in brass pots on wooden stands.
In the back garden, what there is left of our lawn is covered in bindii prickles thanks to lawn mowing contractors who disperse them willy-nilly via their lawn mower tyres. You can read my screed on Lawn Mower Men. There is a shallow bird bath under the eucalyptus tree for the enjoyment of noisy miner birds. On a tiled outdoor table, I have my inherited maiden hair fern (above) in a small pretty terracotta pot. The pot was thrown and fired by a neighbour and friend over thirty-five years ago. This little fern is hardier than most!
Apart from hedging bushes of murraya, or mock orange, there is no strong scent in the garden and no ornamental plantings with fragrance except a straggly French lavender potplant. Our forebears had a bit of foresight when it came to planting leafy, sheltering greenery in an otherwise hot landscape. It’s our trees which stand out, they, and others like them, represent our suburban streetscape. Long may they tower over us!