Well as we enter the month of March that’s it for Summer! As the weather starts to turn we thought we’d take a look at the fruit trees at Rouse Hill House, and a quick recipe for enjoying a harvest of figs. Enjoy!
The first fruit trees recorded at Rouse Hill House were oranges, part of a commercial orchard planted by Richard Rouse shortly after the land was granted to him by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. This ca.1860 view by Thomas Wingate shows fruit trees being tended by family members. The trees had been planted in an extension to the original garden which had been laid out in a simple geometric grid common to the early colonial period. You can see what is likely a loquat tree with its large dark leaves to the left:
Citrus were a common sight along the Windsor Road throughout the 19th century, with substantial orchards sending their produce to market in Sydney and Parramatta. Nearby Bella Vista farm, which you may remember from last weeks post on Bunya pines, was a notable producer.
Today only two senescent trees remain in the main Rouse Hill garden. At the southern end of the property however, beside the 1860s overseer’s cottage, several remain and these fruit actively: an apple, peach and a fig tree, with grape vines growing thickly in front of the slim verandah and providing welcome summer shade. A substantial kitchen garden once stood in front of the cottage, when it was tenanted by the Sherwood family in the early 1900s. It would have contained fruit trees as well, though no trace of that garden or its contents survive today.
Next to the bathroom annex, built for the family of 5th generation Gerald and Peggy Terry when they lived at the cottage, is a peach tree. We find the stones at considerable distances to the tree, dragged away by rodents.
…and of course figs!
The fig tree grows on the south side of the annex. It produces a considerable crop – though scale insects and birds are a trial…
And a tasty treat:
At this time of year hand-made signs pop up outside many of the acreages near Rouse Hill: “Fresh figs and prickly pear!”
A quick way with figs is to slice them in half and pop them in a frypan or – as I’ve been known to do in the staff kitchen – simply on the flat of a non-stick sandwich press. First give the figs a quick scorch for a bit of colour and to caramelize the flavours, then add a really good drizzle of honey and gently cook the figs through. We use the honey from our own bee hive which has been up and running for almost 3 years now (but more of that in a future post).
Serve with a good dollop of Greek yoghurt and a drizzle of extra honey, and remember that life is good.
If you’re not from Australia you may be wondering why summer seems to have packed up and gone a month early. The answer is that our seasons are deemed to ‘start’ a month earlier than in the northern hemisphere. Summer begins not in January but at the beginning of December, meaning the early colonial military could switch out of their heavy, winter uniforms as the temperature began to rise. Very practical.