AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS BLOG, ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2014
ERNIE APPLE TREE SENIOR
In 1953 my parents moved to the Tasmanian farm I grew up on. It was four miles from the coastal town of Ulverstone
In the back garden was an old apple tree. Unfortunately it’s out of view in the B/W photo at left.. Strangely enough I don’t remember climbing it. I think my siblings and I realized how precious it was even then
The tree produced an enormous crop of cooking apples. Its name of ‘Ernie’ derived from Ernie Townsend, the elderly batchelor who owned the property before us.
The fruit had a squat, ‘big bottom’ shape and we assumed the tree was an English Bramley. The apples were wonderful keepers and my mother used them all winter; in apple sponges, apple and blackberry pies and in baked apples stuffed with raisins and brown sugar. When baked, the cooked pulp foamed up over the skins.
My sister Robbie was famous for eating the apples raw, but naturally they are a bit sour. After my brother’s children came up one day we found dozens of them in the adjoining paddock with a bite taken from each one. The kids had thrown them away in disgust.
Our favourite apple dessert was steamed Southport Pudding. My mother’s recipe came from the old Central Cookbook, used in Tasmanian schools for generations. I once wrote to Southport in the UK about its origins, but nobody had heard of it…has obviously been lost in the mists of time!
The earliest mention I could find of Southport Pudding was in a Tasmanian newspaper dated 1927. It was a good depression era pudding, as every larder contained the necessary ingredients.
Tassie has always been famous for its apples; hence being dubbed The Apple Isle. Sadly, most orchards in the Huon Valley and Spreyton have disappeared; freight charges across Bass Strait to the mainland simply became too much. We used to attend the annual apple festival at nearby Spreyton, where they had case making and packing competitions etc. When I was a child in the fifties everyone had a tree in the backyard as well.
My only dolls’ house was an upturned apple case and no doubt they were used for countless other purposes, even split up as kindling for the fire.
Here is the steamed pudding recipe;
6 ozs fresh breadcrumbs
6 ozs cooking apples
6 oz sugar
1 gill milk
1 dessertspoon light brown sugar
3ozs shredded suet or butter
2ozs candied peel or raisins
2 small teaspoons baking powder
Grease a pudding basin and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Peel, core and cut apples into small pieces. Place in a bowl with candied peel (or raisins), sugar, baking powder, suet (or melted butter) and breadcrumbs. Add well beaten eggs and milk. Mix well. Place in padding basin and cover with greased paper. Steam two to two and a half hours. Serve with cream and boiled custard.
Delicious and comforting in a chilly Tasmanian winter!
My mother also made a simple dish by laying scone mixture over stewed apple in a saucepan. The lid was put on and the dough steamed and swelled. Even I can make this!
THE NEXT GENERATION
My brother took over the remains of the original farm and a few years ago he took some grafts from the apple tree, then over a hundred years old. Co-incidently, the farm was owned much earlier by my great-great-aunt, Maryanne Eastley, who may well have planted it. In late winter 2005 my brother kindly posted my little tree to the Blue Mountains, bare rooted. He had wrapped the roots in damp sponges, encased the whole tree in cardboard then bound the parcel with so much packing tape it resembled a small Egyptian mummy. It was delivered Express Post early one morning and my husband Rob brought it into the bedroom with my cup of tea and toast.
It has grown quite a bit since then.
A year or two later my little tee was in blossom and produced a dozen pea sized apples. A friend advised me remove them until the tree was bigger but I couldn’t bring myself to (nature intervened and they fell off anyway). I have since had a small, but ‘proper’ crop.
The tree is a bit too big to move now. It will break my heart to leave it if we ever sell up in the Mountains.
****UPDATE……August 2015. Oh dear, we suddenly have to move the tree. This will be a challenge. It’s winter, but there are already buds forming.
By the way, there is another lovely thing about apple trees. They are a favourite place for beautiful little European goldfinches to nest in. These birds were introduced to Australia in the 19th century; originally as caged songbirds I think. A family used to build a nest in our tree every year. The collective name for them is a ‘charm’ of goldfinches…how appropriate.
Our own apple tree is a favourite perching spot for Eastern yellow robins. We successfully moved the tree today, and the little birds don’t seem to mind.
A decent crop this season, there must be at least 50 little green apples. I’ll have to work out how to protect them from my dear bowerbirds and parrots.
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