There were three surprises on the Xplorer train from Sydney back to Canberra recently. The buffet car menu of the day included roasted salt bush lamb (tender and tasty), Rodda's Cornish clotted cream on the warm scones and Young Henry's Stayer, a pale ale with stone fruit, lychee and hop aroma crafted in Newtown. Tours of Young Henry's brewery in Sydney were a prize at King O'Malley's Beard and Beer Day last month.
I first ate salt bush lamb in South Australia at Tasting Australia 2001. A busload of food writers were taken to Thorn Park by the Vines in the Clare Valley. In the homestead owner and cook David Hay gave a cooking class featuring yabbies, then saltbush lamb and eggplant custard with lemon thyme pesto. We went on to Annie's Lane where lunch was served in old stone cellars. The main course was rabbit with shiraz jelly and salt bush.
The plant grazed by sheep is Old Man Saltbush (Atriplex nummularia), a large woody shrub, native to Australia, which provides high-protein green feed for livestock. Adam Shipp, a Wiradjuri man, appeared in Kitchen Garden when he was raising indigenous edible plants for Greening Australia in Aranda. He is now running Yurbay a small Aboriginal business specialising in cultural themed projects and bush tucker workshops including foraging in Jerrabomberra Wetlands.
"Old Man Saltbush grows in more arid areas of Australia," Shipp says.
"There are many species and plant families that get called saltbush. I use Atriplex and Rhagodia in some of my demonstrations and talks. They are a lovely and culturally important plant/food. In terms of local Canberra saltbush, generally they are Einadia and some Atriplex species but they lack the real salty look and taste of their more arid-growing cousins. Much more like a leafy green veg."
Gerwurzhaus in the Canberra Centre in Civic sells a native lemon pepper blend which you can buy in small quantities and it contains salt bush.
A Canberran and Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan people tells me, "I sprinkle ground saltbush leaf sparingly with cracked pepper after oiling the skin of lamb roast. I have also thought about, but not yet tried, inserting rehydrated leaves into stab pockets of the lamb like we do with garlic." He added, "A friend is soon to share some venison and goat meat with me as I smoke it into a jerky. I will be trying saltbush as a rub as an alternative to brining some of it."
At the National Arboretum Canberra the new Friends sponsored garden in the Central Valley is planted with salt bushes (Rhagodia spinescens). Amalie Shawcross, operations manager at the Arboretum, says the plants were purchased from Yarralumla Nursery which propagates the majority of the saltbush it supplies as it is highly successful and is grown to Canberra conditions. This is not a plant grown for eating by humans but it makes a very attractive silvery accent in the garden.
Scott Saddler, executive manager of the Arboretum, who has Australian indigenous heritage, has planted saltbush extensively in his family members' gardens as well as rental properties, as it is very low maintenance and requires minimal watering. Owen Bolitho, horticultural manager, strongly advocates for planting saltbush particularly in Canberra as it is such a hardy and beautifully textural species that suits a range of different garden styles and planting palettes.
Orange is the new pink
A friend was off holiday in Tahiti and, as a farewell, I found an orange at a Kingston supermarket labelled "Venus". That acknowledged the 1769 voyage to Tahiti by Captain Cook, with naturalist Joseph Banks, to witness the Transit of Venus. For my pal's return, the welcome fruit was a "Beloved" orange from Fyshwick markets.
The Australian "Beloved", a premium seedless navel (not a blood orange), has juicy rich pink flesh. Each orange weighs more than 300g and comes wrapped in hot pink tissue with its name in black. I have given one to a number of friends and neighbours. A man going through an "orange specialty period" said he had found Cara Cara oranges which were smaller and cheaper.
Maria Costi of Venus Citrus, the growers in Loxton South Australia, explained the difference between regular Cara Cara and Beloved. "All the fruit that is packed in a Beloved box is run through a brix sensor [technology that measures the senses of the fruit that guarantees sweetness]."
One of the best local blood orange trees is in the grounds of the Canberra Environment Centre in
Acton. Robert Lawless, who is studying environmental science with particular interest in bees, coordinates the Work for the Dole program at the centre. He sampled a blood orange last week and said "they are not quite there yet, not 'bloody' enough!" The tree is fully netted.