It has been a long time between posts…. But this one I promise is a well worth the wait!
One of my close friends have been kindly hassling me (which is normally my job!) to continue with my blog, as they are just as passionate about the topics that I am…. As some of you know I have been extremely busy with my job as a food stylist of late, so I have teamed up with Rochelle Seator to continue to share these inspiring stories with you and continue with my blog…. Or shall I say OUR blog!
Passion in a Punnet….
Photography By Rochelle Seator
Moondarra Organic blueberries is owned and run by Mal Deveson and his son Joel and daughter Kate. Mal started the business more than 30 years ago, Joel now manages the farm and his daughter Kate works the administration side of the business. Mal tells of the third generation, his granddaughter, playing on the floor of the packing room during harvest: It seems blueberries are well and truly in the veins of their family.
Mal is Passion in a Punnet! We met Mal early on a Saturday morning at the Vege out St Kilda farmers market, for a quick interview… after some three hours of engaging conversation, great storytelling and deeply interesting history lessons, we left inspired by his passion, his generosity, knowledge and honest love for this modest but punch packing little beauty of a fruit.
For 10 years now, Mal and his family have been regulars at farmers markets all over Melbourne. Kingston Farmers’ Market, Collingwood Farmers’ Market, Boroondara Farmers’ Market, Gasworks Farmers’ Market, Abbotsford Farmers’ Market, as well as many local fruiters.
Despite the early hour there was an unrelenting stream of customers, Mal seems to know most of his customers by first name and has genuine interest in their well-being. This is the kind of person that Mal is; intensely and genuinely interested in the well-being of his clients. He is honestly concerned about the earth and nature and therefore supplies his clients, his friends, with the best product he possibly can-this means an organic product.
Mal’s farming philosophy begins from the soil and moves upwards. He speaks of the complete process of farming: from companion planting, mulching to understanding your microclimate, knowing and caring for soil structure, allowing the development of beneficial fungi in the soil and of matching particular blueberry varieties accordingly. All of which minimises potential environmental issues for the plants that would otherwise cause a conventional farmer to contemplate chemical solutions. Mal despairs at the conventional and industrial farming methods because he knows they are not necessary: “If you properly assess the local conditions, manage the soil, select breeds suited to their climate and problem solve with natural solutions first in mind then organic farms will not only be possible, but are in fact far more profitable and successful than conventional industrially intensive methods”. This philosophy has led Mal to breed and propagate blueberries that do particularly well in Australian conditions.
When looking at Moondarra blueberries, you are first struck by the size of the blueberries, they seem almost grape size, then secondly by the fact that these blueberries aren’t in fact blue but silvery grey due to the dusting of “bloom” on the outside of the berries. Bloom is a highly sought after characteristic of blueberries that cultivators and growers strive for. Mals’ Moondarra Blueberries, has Bloom in abundance.
Picking the blueberries at the right time is critical: Mal shows us two blueberries, one is the size of the what you and I would consider blueberries to usually be and the other is the size of a grape, bigger than any blueberry that I have ever seen.
“The small one should have been left on the bush another week or two and it’d turn up to that size, and if you eat that one it wont be fully ripe, it’ll be tart. If you leave them hanging, the starches turn to sugar, they start to sweeten up and they gain flavor. Once they’re picked they wont ripen any further.”
Mal picks about a ton of fruit a week through harvest (between November until May) and has one of the longest harvesting seasons in the industry. This is due to his careful selection of different varieties (about 20 under production totaling 8000 bushes) that ripen in a rolling season that lasts six months.
The queues at the markets speak for themselves, punters claiming that these blueberries are fresher, larger, tastier that any others available. And no wonder: Moondarra blueberries are picked straight into the punnet to minimize handling, labelled and sold to the punter within 2 to 3 days. The product is as fresh as it can possibly be, as ripe as it can possibly be and grown as well as it can possibly be! In comparison conventional commercially grown blueberries that can sit for up to 8 weeks in specially designed storage wraps before hitting the shelves of your supermarket or fruiter!
The care that Mal takes with the production of growing his blueberries is evident in the fact that the very first row of blueberry bushes Mal planted in 1978 are still in production! Some 30 years on!
Mal invited us to the farm for a blueberry tasting tour.…what a extraordinarily privileged experience! We walked around the serene setting with Mal as our tour guide and tried different varieties of the sweet, juicy goodness. We were all completely blown away with the difference in varieties. Some had perfumery undertones, subtle flavours, some more intense, different textures, some had more seeds than others, different thickness of skins, some tasting of lemonade and others of bubblegum! Incredible !
We ate so many blueberries that day we all left with blue teeth and tongues. Seriously I kid you not! Rather hilarious!
I really wanted to try and make sugar free jam as I didn’t feel the blueberries needed to be any sweeter and I didn’t want to take away from their natural flavour, but as the pectin levels in blueberries are quite low I had to add some, but I drastically cut the sugar down and added some rice malt syrup also.
Moondarra Organic Blueberry Jam
500 g blueberries
1/2 cup rice malt syrup
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
Bring all to the boil in a saucepan , reduce the heat and cook on a gentle rolling boil for 25-20 minutes, until the soft ball stage approx. 110°C on a sugar thermometer.
Pour into a sterilised Jar and keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
Photography by Rochelle Seator
Recipe and Styling by Lee Blaylock