We’re halfway into a week at Kynjarmen Farm, in the Waikato, a central region on the north island of New Zealand. It’s the home of Stellar Violets founding members, Jen and Mark Eyers.
Jen is mother of four grown boys. Skills and essential survival attributes that got her this far include: sense of humour, jeweller, woodworker, carpenter, gardener, cook, food preserver, B&B manager, farmhand, darjit sculptor, soap-maker, and ukelele player. Forget TV, rockstar, actor-model idols. I’m all about Jen.
Now, imagine yourself actually taking part within a Dr Seuss story. This is what having a conversation with Jen’s husband is like. Mark is better known as Morepork, after the owl he resembles. Since getting married in 1979, Morepork spent season after season of hours alone on tractors sowing maize crops (until he later became a beekeeper). All this solitary time may have something to do with Morepork’s unusually active imagination. We’re not sure. But such is his talent for telling tales, and so bright is the twinkle in his eye, you never quite know if he’s talking up a tall story or not.
Morepork said quite solemnly on our way home from the airport that one should never squeeze a pumpkin. He proceeded, unprompted, to explain this seemingly random adage, which is actually a homestead preserving recipe. maybe. Anyway it’s as follows:
Cut the top off a pumpkin and scoop the seeds out.
Then, fill it with sugar and replace the top.
Put the pumpkin into some panyhose, and hang it in the wardrobe with a bucket underneath.
After a few weeks a very fine liquid will start to drip into the bucket.
Don’t squeeze it, or the liquid will go cloudy.
Pumkpin mead? I wonder if it was a recipe for anything other than a laugh. You never quite know with Morepork.
This week he has taken his two youngest boys, Kowan and Isaac, on their special yearly deer-hunting trip deep in the NZ bush. Back at the homestead, we have a pumpkin… and a strange plan I’m willing to try, even if he did make it all up!
Pumpkins aside, I’m quite taken by the apple tree, growing just by the house. On one side, it’s laden with bright red fruits ripe for the picking. On the other, fully formed green apples hang about the branches. What appeared at first glance to be one tree, is actually two.
“That was the boys, they would’ve thrown the apple cores into the garden one day,” Jen says.
“At least that’s what I think would’ve happened.”
Without a second thought, into the garden went the cores, and when the right conditions came together, seeds sprouted and trees grew. Left to do their own thing, the two trees are now metres high, quite unlike the carefully manicured and managed trees from Dad’s orchards back home.
There’s something whimsical and romantic about a wild orchard tree, its form left to follow nature’s way. While trees like these may not bear as much fruit as their carefully managed counterparts in industrial orchards, I think they more than compensate with beauty and romance.
The added bonus of this carefree attitude to gardening is that it furthers biodiversity. No apple seed is ever the same, a different tree always grows, with unique traits of its own. Commercial orchardists typically graft budwood in order to replicate dominant global varieties like the Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Fuji. There’s a number of reason why they do this, and many implications, some of them grave. You can go just about anywhere in the world and buy a Pink Lady these days. They’ve replaced local varieties, types adapted to local climates, or with special taste traits.
For me, one of the joys of travel is to discover different things. In diversity there is ecological health, and great richness. I was inspired to grow heritage varieties of apples after the 2010 international Slow Food convention, Terra Madre. Yet here, is another way. Throw away your core and create a unique apple. Just be aware, it may not turn out to be delicious to eat. Even so, it’s worth a try, and surely if not great for human tastes, there’s still a place for them.
Jen picks up the apples that have fallen to the ground and fills a wheelbarrow. Perfect pig feed, she smiles.
seedling apple tree at Kynjarmen farm, Waikato, New Zealand
Jen and Morepork, when they had it all ahead of them back in 1979