I will spare you the details, but studying law was never very gratifying for the soul. Judgments, statutes, commentaries...Your Brennans and your Dixons and your Dennings and your Wilberforces, and your courageous little Kirbys, disagreeing with the whole bloody lot. Law: the last remaining bastion of fricking fine print. Alas, soul has definitely been lacking and Canberra is the last place I thought i'd ever find it again, but anything is possible, especially when you have a friend called Rowan.
Rowan is more worthy of being deemed an enigma than life itself is. An amazingly good natured Griffith raised Ph totin' chess playing, Chemist-Physicist who has a penchant for doing Wheelies on his motorbike, being refreshingly welcoming to life and all its possibilities, while either flying planes, or missing them. R is for Rowan, and R is also for Random. A cross between Christ and Kramer. One of Danny's best pals, Rowan is like an endearing mushroom of a person that pops up in life every now and again, the results are almost always fun, and very rarely fungal. He lives in Canberra, and when Dan and I headed down for the weekend, we were a little suspicious about Rowan's spontaneous offer to take us to a little apple orchard just outside of Canberra city, not the least of which because it sounded a bit first date-ish. Rowan has a very laisse faire attitude to life, plans and timing. Normal concerns about space and time are all completely anathema to this man: what road map? so imagine our surprise when Rowan's haphazard directions actually landed us at Loriendale Orchard, where, under a waning sun, we spent the afternoon remembering how to forget ourselves.
The aimiably named Owen Pidgeon has lovingly tolled this tiny apple farm into a boutique operation that now boasts over 110 varieties of apples, can you honestly imagine? Rowan discovered this fanciful patch of green on Loriendale's annual Apple Day, which draws hundreds of people in from all over the land. The intention was to stop by for a moment and pick up a few apples, but after watching Owen for a few minutes I knew there was a story that wanted telling. Owen is one of a dying breed of old schoolers, among my favourite kind of people, they appear serious, firm, resolute, but underneath it all there's a cheeky and half-hidden playfulness that if you tease out in just the right way, beautifully betrays the expanse of a truly giving and happy nature. Owen is my kind of foodie, too, he's excited about what he's doing and he wants you to be excited too...after all, it is all about the apples.
Unlike most other fruit, it's hard to find an organic apple that isn't decent. I am a bit batty about Granny Smiths, sour and tart in a good way (like Dylan Moran), a good face scrunching sourdoursmartintartbitesinkcrunchitycrunch Granny is up there with my most hallowed of food experiences. Now, I don't mean to brag, but I just might have gotten buying the perfect Granny Smith down to an almost infallible art. It's a bit of a formula that can be extended to other members of the Clan Apple, and if you promise to keep it on the down low, i'll let you in:
Firstly, I only buy small apples, not only are small apples usually organic, but they give you a more even skin to flesh ratio which is texture heaven on fussy molars, if you have too much flesh and not enough skin it can get a little bit too sweet and soft, the skin gives an otherwise innocent fruit that little bit of rock n roll, think Doris Day in spiked leather with a pierced tongue. The next thing I look for is a skin that isn't too smooth or shiny, you want an unwaxed green that has little white dots on it and a generally uneven texture, if you can see the markings and textures, it's usually the result of more authentic growing. Green apples especially should have a slightly dull skin, if they're too bright then you're allowed to make the same conclusion as we all do about Sly Stallone, if it looks that big and shiny, it can't possibly be real! On the road to the Perfect Apple there is only one more step: look over both shoulders, not once, twice, check if the Evil Fruit Shop Man is watching (trust me on this, I got abused once), and if you get the all clear, place a plump little ball of potential appleish delight into your shifty little paw and ...squeeze, just a little, not a lot, and if it's firm, it's sold. If Owen's Granny Smiths were a Nicole Kidman movie, they'd be To Die For. I devoured six in the first hour. They remind you why crunch is an example of onomatopoeia.
Listening to Owen talk apples though, drove home how little I actually know (even though this is a general point of which Danny is at constant pains to remind me). With his sources coming from over 20 countries, I was delighted to sample some kind of French Golden variety that was so subtly sweet and elegant, almost like a not sickly honeyed taste with a bit of spice. He spoke as well of a lovely Hungarian variety, sweet and spicy. Beauty of Bath, Summer Strawberry, Lodi, Red Free, Summer Red, Gravenstein, Earligold, Ginger Gold, Royal Gala, Galaxy, Summerdel, Spartan, Cox's Orange Pippin, New Gold, Hi Early Red Delicious, Pomme De Neige, Belle de Boskoop, Smoothee. Sounds like a Melbourne Cup line up, but, no, those are all apples! Cheeses Christ. I think I have to visit 'Linc UK' one day though, if those kids actually christened an apple 'Peasgood Nonsuch', then it is my new life's purpose to wander among whatever kind of madness it is that dwells in those quirky old Linc UK minds...Adam would've definitely given Old Eden the boot if he ever got wind of Loriendale.
And it's not just apples. By a replica wooden antique juice press, Danny and Rowan laboriously picked and cored apples (while I kicked back munching and watching) to feed the old turning wheels of this amazing juicing contraption, I think it was only $2 a liter for the best apple juice I have ever tasted in my 29 years. Not too sweet, fresh, and with undertones you just can't find in commercial juice. It was beautiful and cloudy, begging to be mixed with some hacked Mint and Ginger.
Now, I am so sad to say that I didn't get to try, in the cosy impromptu afternoon tea that was gorgeously whipped up for us at the last minute in the solar powered farm house, the Famed Loriendale Apple Pie. They were all out of pies when we came, Rowan swears these are maddeningly good, he got to try one at Pie Day. Can you imagine, the cruelty... the degradation of hearing about the existence of perhaps the world's most wholesomely luscious Pie brimming with steamed spice Loriendale Apples...and not a crumb of it in sight to try. My strategy when I was three and stuff like this happened was to chuck a major tantrum, but you just can't pull that kind of thing off if you're cankle stage is more than 5 years behind you, so alas, I pretended to take this news with good grace. Make sure if you ever visit this orchard, you make it your yummy business to procure for yourself one of these coveted beauties. They are apparently so good that Canberra foodies put them up there with the tart and cake range being cranked out from the Stunning Silo Bakery.
Apples, Juice and Pies not enough for you? Come at the right time of the year and there are nectarines and the sweetest strawberries I have ever had, they are so small and so, so red, like little perfect exclamation points of sweetsharp taste love. Jams in CherryPumPeachFigEtc, Relishes and Chutneys are available all year round, as are other pie varieties. I even bought a copy of the Fruits of The Orchard Recipe book, flicking through it has just made my fingers itch to be away from law notes and into the cinnamoned embrace of some cosy baking mittens. There's a crumble recipe that is begging me to make it in maple syrup.
Come, Talk, Eat, Pick your own apples, Make juice... If you can handle what is sure to be apple overload, get in for apple day.
Loriendale Orchard, along the Barton Highway North of Canberra, turn right at Spring Range road, (2k's north of the NSW border), or alternatively, discard directions and have Rowan lead you haphazardly, but fruitfully, toward this little patch of organic heaven. The website is here.
Thankyou Owen and family, for the time and the talk and the tea and the apples. Thanks Rowan, for being Rowan and for reminding us that fun is always waiting to be had.
2010 Apple Day will be the 27th March, it's always a fundraising activity, even with a Commerce degree behind him, Owen is all about the giving!
*airsickness bags are stored in the pocket beneath your tray table.