The humble apple. A lunchbox favourite, this quintessential fruit can be juiced or stewed, roasted or fermented, used in salads and desserts, cultivated and nurtured by generations afore.
In Australia, we’re familiar with the classics – Granny Smith, Royal Gala, Golden Delicious and Fuji. Each variety different in texture and flavour, but with little attention given to anything other than its colour, sheen and that all-important first-bite.
What most of us are not aware of, and which not-for-profit group Heritage Fruits Society, based in Templestowe’s Petty’s Orchard, seeks to educate its members and indeed us on, are the wonderfully diverse varieties of heritage apples that are available in Australia.
Historically thousands of different fruit and vegetable varieties were grown on a small scale for people who lived off the land. Yet with the shift towards large-scale agriculture, intensive farming focused on a small number of crop varieties. The result? Thousands of heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables becoming extinct while many others significantly declining.
Speaking with long time member of the group John Pinniger, is certainly an eye-opener and my naivety with respect to this unassuming fruit, and of course the cultivation of heritage varieties, is well and truly exposed.
“Most fruit you get from the supermarket is from new varieties. The difference in taste you get from an older variety of fruit, in comparison to the fruit you buy at the supermarket, is truly amazing. In fact, apples change flavour from week to week as they ripen,” says John.
My understanding of the diversity of the fruit is further deepened when I learn that commercially, apples are divided into cider, cooking and dessert apples. A very basic method of classifying this quite complex fruit, according to John:
“if you like eating it, it’s a dessert apple, if you cook it, it’s a cooker! It’s up to you!”
Winding back the history clock, I find that it was in 1853 that the orchard’s namesake, Thomas Petty arrived in Australia from England and selected land in the Doncaster and Templestowe area. It was Thomas Petty’s grandson, Thomas Henry, who, in 1911, first bought the property that is located at Petty’s Orchard’s current location on Homestead Road, nestled along the Yarra River.
Thomas Henry was the first of three generations of “Pettys” to work the Homestead Road orchard. The Petty Family managed the orchard until Parks Victoria purchased the property in 1981. The orchards that once covered the Doncaster and Templestowe area were fast disappearing.
“Heritage Fruits Society took over the heritage area at Petty’s Orchard to manage as a group because we were interested in the heritage trees through connections with other groups doing similar conservation work in Melbourne,” says John.
The Heritage Fruits Society, officially incorporated in May 2008, since manages and maintains the heritage fruit collection at Petty’s Orchard, with the main aim of conserving antique apple varieties and protecting them from extinction. The group conserves approximately 280 varieties of heritage apples on 350 trees.
Whilst the group is not visible as such, its presence at Petty’s Orchard, does not go unnoticed. Aside from the obvious – its conservation of heirloom fruit – Heritage Fruits Society, run by volunteers, sells the organic heritage apples and trees, including wood for grafting.
The group also runs public tastings at the Orchard. For a nominal fee (with all funds received going towards the maintenance and expansion of the collection), participants of the apple tastings can sample the seasonal flavours of the Heritage Apple Collection which currently includes 15 varieties.
“You’ll get to see for yourself, that there are some really nice varieties of apples around,” says John.
To register for the next “Heritage Apple Tasting @ Petty’s Orchard”, click here.
For more information or to become a volunteer with Heritage Fruits Society, visit https://www.heritagefruitssociety.org/.
Petty’s Orchard is now run by Yarra Organics which encompasses a café, organic produce store and kids’ playground located at Homestead Road.