In 2014 Annabel Crabb interviewed former prime minister Bob Hawke and Blanche d'Alpuget on Kitchen Cabinet and Bob said eating a tin of black cherries every day kept him free of arthritis. He then wiggled his fingers on screen to show they were flexible with no gnarled knuckles.
So, a short time later, I headed off to buy black cherries. Every supermarket shelf was bare of tinned and bottled cherries.
During lockdown Canberra residents have been ordering takeaway and home delivered food from our cafes and restaurants. A number of people told me that they were enjoying the three-course meal provided by Les BIstronomes in Campbell. The highlight was an ingredient in the charcuterie entree course.
Duck liver parfait was served with pickled cherry compote. Executive chef and owner of Les Bistronomes, Clement Chauvin told me he pickles the whole cherries in vinegar and spices and turns it into a gelee. He said the tart/sweet taste would also go well with daikon, celeriac, roasted root vegetables and white fleshed fish. If adding it to roast turkey or roast pork it would have to be at the table as the jelly would melt in contact with hot food.
As the cherry season has ended locally, I bought a tin of Italian cherries and my neighbour and I have been experimenting. There are recipes online, though none seem as tantalising as Clement's. Served atop steamed cauliflower my neighbour said pickled cherries were delicious and the vegetable turned bright pink but our favourite combo, in each house, was with a Frenched rack of lamb.
In Campbell, I checked the ginkgo trees lining Watt Street. No sign of fruit. Professor Richard Clough, of NCDC landscape fame, told me years ago that on a trip to Japan, dry fresh ginkgo nuts were sauteed in oil in a hot pan causing the shells to open. The kernels are edible but limit to five per day due to toxicity and do not feed to children. The apricot-hued fruit stinks, so wear disposable gloves when harvesting and preparing to cook.
Canberra's most impressive ginkgo trees are in the courtyard at University House but the master, professor Peter Kanowski told me the house was locked up. He offered to check the trees in the forestry department's John Banks Courtyard at the ANU where he is professor of forestry in the Fenner School of Environment and Society. There is no fruit on the trees and some small remnants of fruit on the ground. Peter thinks it has either been a bad year for flowering/fruiting or, with human exclusion from campus, we may have missed them, even if the bats didn't.
Senior lecturer Dr Matthew Brookhouse says he noticed the familiar smell of ginkgo fruit just as the campus-wide shutdown was commencing (when he began working from home). However the ANU grounds staff are normally diligent in raking the courtyard free of fruit on a weekly basis.
Chris Shanahan is well known to readers of The Canberra Times as the former wine writer in these pages. He introduced me to pinot noir, which he drinks at 15C max, as the wine loses so much flavour as it warms up.
Chris emailed to say since a bumper feijoa crop a few years ago there has not been a similar bounty until this most unlikely autumn which has produced a 2020 cornucopia. The three feijoa trees, planted c 1960 by the original owners of the house in Campbell, were well established when the Shanahans bought the house 31 years ago. They cop the full blast of western sun. Chris wonders if it is the Chateau Shanahan unique terroir?
Dr Mark O'Connor, of O'Connor, reports that in their home garden it has been a poorish season for feijoas and, although they flowered, the heat seemed to stop fruiting. Their kitchen table is well covered with feijoas which perfume the air with a delicious smell. The Large Oval' variety, found in Melbourne and available from Daley's nursery (online) remains the main producer. It has been giving up to two kilograms a day and Mark eats them with skin on for chewiness and a trace of sharpness.
Pialligo orchardist Dr Jonathan Banks confirmed that a gardener in Griffith who had flowers and fruit on his Granny Smith apple tree was seeing a phenomenon where blackberries were flowering in March, apples, pears and plums too, all of the Roseaceae family. He said some years ago the crab apples near the Australian War Memorial flowered after defoliation in summer fires.