When is an apple not an apple?

When it’s feral of course!

Apples are nothing short of amazing. To us at Little Field Mice, there is nothing nicer than a freshly picked, tree ripened apple. But did you know that most apples cannot produce fruit on their own? Or that the seed from your favourite apple, when planted, will grow into a tree that produces fruit which is totally different in flavour to its parent? This is because, to produce fruit, nearly all varieties need to cross-pollinate.

Drive down nearly any Australian highway or main road, and unless a new suburb has been recently “installed”, you will find apple trees growing wonderfully on their own. These guys are called “Feral Apple Trees” They won’t look pretty, nor will they necessarily be nice to eat … but they are there and they are all extremely diverse. Sweet, tart, astringent, juicy … there are numerous ways to describe the flavour of apples. But in our heart, feral apples are a hidden gem.

Every year, for the past four years, we have travelled up and down the highways and roads sampling mother natures’ version of an apple. We’ve collected several hundred kilos in our exploits, cataloguing a little over 400 trees and their attributes; some are inedible, others great eaten fresh, some great for cooking while others we have juiced into cider. The humble apple is seriously misunderstood by the average Australian.

This time of year (mid December), there are no fresh apples available commercially. What you are getting in supermarkets are last years’ harvest. The earliest apples will be available on shelves is early January; and only if you are lucky enough to have an orchard nearby that grows heirloom fruit. This is because some apples, while great in flavour, do not store well. Your average store bought apple is mid to late season ripening (March to June) and is picked before being completely ripened on the tree to ensure that it stores better and longer.

We are so impassioned about apples, that we have started a small orchard of heirloom and feral apples. We have reached 126 different varieties this year with some trees surprising us by fruiting earlier than expected! So keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for some special fruit.

Here is one of our Jonathan apple trees in flower a couple months ago. This tree was salvaged from a nursery which was throwing her out along with 11 other apples trees. She has since gone on to produce some excellent offspring (via grafting) and is heavy with fruit ATM. We have had to tighten the orchard trellis to ensure that the branches are secure and don’t break! Bring on apple season!