The previous owner of our wee farm was a big tree planter! He and his dad (an arborist) planted a grove of walnut trees (which were burnt down shortly after by a neighbour’s out of control grass fire!), a grove of native hardwoods which cover the hillside in front of the cottage, and a superb windbreak that encircles the cottage and its garden.
They planted the windbreak with natives so as to encourage the local birdlife – immensely successful! – and in one of the top corners is a cluster of lilly pillies. This tree belongs to the myrtle family, grows very tall, has vibrant, waxy green leaves, and produces thousands of little pinky red berries which the local wildlife love.
Like most Australians, I have grown up with lilly pillies and yet have been woefully ignorant about the edibility of their berries! It wasn’t until this year, whilst watching Tilba River Cottage, that I realised how delightfully useful they could be! Cordials! Champagne! Ice cream! Jams! And such a pretty pink :-)
So my first harvest at Wombat Hill Farm – lilly pilly berries. Collected with dear little friends that came over to help celebrate our first weekend at the farm. In a rope basket of course! Unfortunately most of the berries were so high up we had no hope of gathering them. But enough were picked for one little jar of home grown goodness …
I followed the recipe and instructions from the Forster State School in New South Wales – which just so happens to be around the corner from where my grandparents lived by the sea in the Manning Valley – meant to be I say :-)
Added the juice from one of Mum’s lemons …
Honestly, I’ve never had jam set like it! I don’t know whether Mum’s lemons are especially high in pectin – or perhaps lilly pillies are?
But it was obvious this lilly pilly jam – jelly! – was not going to be dolloped. By the time it had cooled in the jar, it could be sliced like quince paste and possessed such an intense flavour that it was best served in small amounts.
In fact, our lilly pilly jelly tastes brilliant with Erica’s divine 3 year vintage cheddar cheese from South Coast Cheese at Tilba – they were made for each other. Perfect!
So now, I reckon we need to plant more lilly pillies – luckily, they are very fast growing – and work out how to gather all those up high berries so as not to waste them. Unlike Paul from Tilba River Cottage, I will NOT be climbing our lilly pillies with ropes and safety gear and shaking the berries down into waiting sheets.
But I do want many many more jars of this lovely stuff, that’s for sure!