On my must-do list for autumn weekends – a drive up the Bells Line of Road to Bilpin for fresh apples. As a bonus, the car, stuffed with apples, smells fantastic all the way home.
Bilpin is now a relatively small apple-producing region and much of the fruit grown here is sold at the farm gate – or actually, from the shed. There are a handful of orchards open through autumn, some offer picked and washed fruit, others are pick-your-own. Hawkesbury Harvest has details.
Adopt an apple
A new take on pick your own is being offered by Bilpin Fruit Bowl, an orchard and shop which has been owned by the Tadrosse family for about 30 years. They’ll allow you to a adopt a tree of your own. For $150 a year you can ‘own’ an apple or peach tree of your choice (pink ladys are pricier at $210 a year). The Tadrosses care for the tree all year and in the autumn you harvest your fruit. You can expect about 60kg of fruit from a tree, and if that sounds like too much to fit in your fridge(!) or even the fridges of everyone you know, the Tadrosses will sell whatever you don’t want from their shop and give all the profits to the Healthy Kids Association. This sounds like an intriguing version of the community-supported agriculture(CSA) arrangements making small scale market gardening possible around US cities. I’m thinking… braeburn – or pink lady?
My usual pick is at Shields Orchard, where Bill and Julie Shields grow apples, pears and persimmons. Shields is one of the oldest orchards in the district. Apples have been sold from the shed here every year since 1955 – and bar a fresh coat of paint, the shed doesn’t look like it’s changed in all that time!) Bill (who is like an orchardist from a children’s storybook – bushy grey beard, twinkling eyes, propensity to have a chat) took over the orchard from his dad in 1982. He still grows some of the older varieties like Cox’s orange pippin and bramley, though you have to be quick to get them, as well as more modern favourites.
That’s Bill with fallen Julies and just a few left on the trees. Julie is a new apple that appeared spontaneously in the orchard. Bill was impressed by its great red colour, the size of the fruit, and its apparent hardiness to hot weather and the usual pests and diseases. He grew a few rows of them to see if all that was just a fluke. Turns out Julie could be Bill’s superannuation!
Julie is now being tested by growers in Huonville, Tasmania, and in the Adelaide Hills. Growers love that Julie ripens all at once so the tree only needs to be picked the one time, and that a hit of 40+ days in a row doesn’t send it reeling. Apple lovers don’t care much about those things, we just want to know how it tastes. It’s terrific – sweet, juicy, crisp, and full-flavoured. Bill expects the apple he named after his wife to be on sale in shops in a couple of years.
And here is the woman herself with her eponymous apple. (Note the long grass – Bill mows the rows he wants people to use and uses long grass and the subsequent fear of snakes to keep people out of rows he doesn’t!)
With a box of apples scenting the car, our next stop is Pearce’s Pass where there’s an easy (but amazingly unknown!) walk out to the most awe-inspiring view of the Grose Valley. The walk there and back will take you a bit over an hour, depending on whether you stop to photography every tree and gasp at every change in colour and cloud or whether you put on a turn of pace. Take a picnic, or at least an apple, cause you won’t want to leave this view.
On other Sundays we’ve continued on to Blackheath and to lunch at Vulcan, or stayed closer and eaten at Apple Bar (make sure you book at both of these) but last week’s picnic on a wet rock following a drenching rain shower was hard to beat.
Roses with apples
We make a final stop on the way home at Tutti Frutti for a couple of bunches of fieldgrown, fragrant roses – and they mix with the perfume of the apples so that even if the traffic is snarly on Windsor Road, it’s a a perfect Sunday.
We’ll be going again at the end of April for pink ladys, sundowers and lady williams.