“Where do fruits come from?”
“They grow in supermarkets, where else?”
After overhearing this conversation between my 3 and 5-year-old kids, it did not take long for us to decide where our next trip should be to a farm, of course.
As I searched online for farms that allow visitors, I noticed that plenty of them offer an opportunity to pick your own fruit too. For someone like me, who can’t even keep a cactus alive, let alone a fruit-bearing plant, the idea of picking the fruit fresh from the tree was enticing.
Being autumn, stone fruit picking season has almost finished. However, many orchards are still open for those who like to pick apples, like the ones in lower Blue Mountains.
You can pick berries in Hawkesbury valley. But I went for persimmons, a fruit that’s become my favourite ever since I migrated to Australia.
“You are a bit too ambitious to even wonder about the possibility of picking persimmons. Forget picking, you won’t even get the fruit in the major supermarkets,” said a couple of friends when I asked them.
They were right. I had only seen this fruit in some Asian grocery stores – an orange yellow specimen that looks like a cross between peach, apple and tomato. The colour always captured my attention, and the first time I tried it, it lived up to my expectations of being a typical ‘sweet’ fruit. Tastes a bit tannin-like when raw, but it will happily sit in your fruit bowl to ripen into a beautiful fall orange colour, and a crisp sweet taste.
To cut a long story short, I did manage to find an orchard that allows persimmon picking, around Sydney. Cedar Creek Orchard in Thirlmere, some 90 minutes from Sydney CBD, opened a new world to us all.
Started in the 1940s, the farm currently has about 23,000 trees in it, the plantings consisting of apples, peaches, nectarines and persimmons. About 7000 trees are persimmon, including both Jiro and Fiyu varieties.
Having booked the time and date online, we turned up on a Saturday morning, and were driven in a trailer named ‘Persimmon Express’ to the orchard. (The kids loved the bumpy ride). Ripe persimmons welcomed us, and it was a gorgeous sight to see bunches of the orange fruit on the trees with the hills behind setting a perfect background.
We were allowed to eat the fruit in the orchard but had to hand over the peels to the owners to keep the flies and trash away.
Ninety nine percent of our fellow travellers were Mandarin, Cantonese or Korean speaking Asians.
“Koreans located our orchard some eight years back,” Mark Slim, one of the farm owners, explained to us. “After that, we kept getting requests from people who wanted to pick their own fruit. We were a bit skeptical about the idea to start with, but the demand just kept going up, so we gave in. And we haven’t looked back since.”
But doesn’t fruit picking damage the fruit or the trees? We are, after all, no experts. “Not at all,” said Mark, adding, “Moreover, it is more profitable for us to allow fruit picking than sell it to the vendors. This saves time and money – we don’t have to pick, pack or transport.”
Mark used to export the fruit outside Australia but with the changing demographics of Sydney, the demand for persimmon within Australia has increased considerably. Just as it is good for the farmers, it is great for the people who come fruit picking too, as was apparent from the numerous families who’d joined us, enjoying picnics underneath the trees.
The entry fee is $10 and the fruit you pick costs about $7 a kg. Fresh apple juice pressed at the farm was another interesting find – something that will weigh quite a bit against the store-bought preservative-laden apple juices in the grocery shops.
While it is a ‘fruitful’ exercise for the old, I was delighted that I could get my kids to feel closer to nature.