Harvesting feral fruit between the Coast, Cooma, and Canberra is delicious and part of the region’s history

Ian Campbell 12 February 2018 13
Dozens of apple trees dot the road side between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Dozens of apple trees dot the roadside between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The drive between the Far South Coast, Cooma, and Canberra is dotted with sites that make your mind wander.

Dilapidated railway bridges, decaying wildlife, rows of rural letterboxes, and sparkling solar farms, all inspire thought and question for the mindful traveller or curious passenger.

Right now, mixed with the scenic vistas on this 240km stretch of road is a more seasonal point of interest – apple trees heaving with fruit. Red, yellow, green apples bending branches to the ground.

There are dozens of apple trees growing in the harshest of conditions parallel to the highway and old railway line. At some points in this golden landscape, this native from Central Asia is the only show of green life.

How did they get there?

Are they any good to eat?

Growing alongside the Snowy Mountains and Monaro Highways is not the managed orchard environment I thought apples needed – perhaps I’ve watched too many pruning videos on YouTube and forgotten that apples are a tree like any other with their own wild force of nature!

While apples are the dominant feral fruit, you’ll also notice peach, plum, and pear trees.

Bega Valley Permacultrulist Kathleen McCann has a few theories to explain this roadside fruit salad; one of which is that she believes some of the trees date back to the horse and cart days.

“People did grow fruit trees and plant tree shelters at some of the stops they made on their journey,” Kathleen says.

“Often you can see tree cover, lone pines, and fruit trees in the oddest places along our highways, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. These are where the horse or carriage needed to stop for lunch or for the night.

“In the days of horse and carriage, people were only able to cover 10 to 20 kms per day, depending on the weight they were transporting and the terrain they covered. Remember everything was a dirt track and ungraded in those days,” she says.

Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Apple and pear cores, plum and peach seeds, discarded by travellers are also part of the story according to Kathleen.

“You can spot fruit trees along the railway track as well. These were definitely tossed out the window as a passenger finished their prized fruit and have germinated where they fell,” she says.

“These trees have existed in the elements all on their own and are therefore very hardy.”

Our green thumb also believes birds and animals have been a factor in spreading the trees.

“Stone fruit especially could have been carried quite a distance if the seed was swallowed by a cow or horse. Apple seeds could have been carried by birds and deposited in droppings,” Kathleen says.

People throwing apples cores from their horse, train, or car are thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are there. Photo: Ian Campbell.

People throwing apple cores from a horse, train, or car is thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are here. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Weeds are spread in similar ways and are a significant problem to the region’s landholders, however, despite not being a native, the apple trees aren’t considered a pest.

“The apples certainly aren’t a problem for us,” says Brett Jones, Vegetation Management Officer, Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

“The Biosecurity Act deals with weeds which have a direct impact on the areas social, economic and environmental values, which the roadside apples certainly don’t.

“If they were identified as harbouring pests like fruit flies, then they might cause some concern but I’m not aware of any negative impact,” Brett says.

Often these apple trees are the only "green" in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Often these apple trees are the only “green” in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Far from it, it seems a whole variety of species are enjoying this wild harvest – birds, kangaroos, cattle, flying foxes, and humans.

Friends of About Regional report using the apples in all sorts of recipes.

Former Canberra girl, Renee Griffiths O’Reilly says, “They are cider apples so very tart and ideal for making cider. Juice them then add winemakers yeast or alternatively make apple pies with a lot of sugar.”

Akolele local, Deborah Taylor suggests an old-fashioned apple dessert: “Baked apples – cored and filled with a mix of currents, raisins, sultanas, zest and juice of two oranges, butter and brown sugar too if you want to be indulgent”, she writes.

“Bake until soft. Serve with yoghurt or cream. Leftovers are great for breakfast with muesli and yoghurt.”

Show winner, Fiona Scott suggests apple jelly and is generous enough to share her secrets.

“It’s a bit fiddly but a good way to use apples that aren’t perfect,” she writes on About Regional Facebook.

“Cut up 2 kilograms of apples into fours, skin, core and all. Put into a big pot, like a stock pot with 1cm of water in the bottom.

“Bring slowly to the boil and simmer the whole mess until soft. Cool, then (the vital step) pour the whole lot into a muslin lined colander over a large bowl.

“A clean old cloth is fine if you don’t have muslin, just rinse well so the detergent remnants don’t make the jelly taste like Cold Power!” Fiona suggests.

“Leave overnight for the juice to drain. DO NOT SQUEEZE the leftover apple, compost it or the jelly will be cloudy.

“Measure the juice and put into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add 40% equivalent in sugar, i.e. 1 litre of juice to 400 grams sugar.

“Stir the lovely pink mess until the sugar dissolves and continue boiling until it tests as set.

“I put a teaspoon of the juice onto a cold plate and when it is cool give it a push with my finger. Highly scientific! If wrinkles form like skin the chemistry is right for the jelly to set,” she writes.

“Pour into sterilised jars, cover with a clean cloth until cool, then cap the jars. Don’t put the lid on too soon or condensation from the cooling jam will make the jelly go mouldy.

“All that effort will give you several jars of the loveliest, clear pink and slightly wobbly apple jelly.

“Now you know all my jam making secrets,” Fiona confesses.

Sprout Eden are currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott.

Sprout Cafe in Eden is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott, Sprout Eden.

Sprout Cafe in Eden builds its weekly menu around what is seasonal and what is local, and the first apples are starting to come in from growers.

Elaine O’Rourke in the kitchen at Sprout is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake, and has shared the recipes with us!

Vegan Apple Loaf (Gluten Free)

1 ½ cups gluten free self raising flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple sauce
½ cup Nutlex
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp Vanilla
½ cup almond milk
2 apples – peeled, cored and diced

Beat Nutlex and 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar until creamy, add apple sauce, vanilla and milk.
Mix in flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir until well combined.

Mix the remaining 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar with the apple sauce and stir half the apples into the mixture.

Pour into a loaf tin approx 23cm x 13cm
Sprinkle the remaining apples on top.

Bake at 180 degrees for 20 – 35 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Apple Crumble Cake (Gluten Free)

1 ¼ cups gluten free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g butter
½ cup caster sugar

Apple Filling:
5 apples – peeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp butter
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

100g butter
½ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 cup gluten free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Make crumble by mixing flour, baking powder and sugar together and rubbing in the butter.

Make the filling by cooking the apples until soft and cooling.

Make base by whipping butter and sugar together, adding the egg, flour, baking powder and milk.

Spread base into a lined pan or tray, top with filling mixture and sprinkle topping over.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 – 50 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.


Like the weather-beaten shearing sheds and chimneys without a house that dot the Snowy-Monaro countryside, the apple trees that grow in this soil are also a throwback to another time.

These tough local specimens of one of the world’s favourite fruits will be ready for harvest come late February – early March. Find a safe spot to pull over, grab a bag, and be a part of their ongoing connection with travellers.

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13 Responses to Harvesting feral fruit between the Coast, Cooma, and Canberra is delicious and part of the region’s history
Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:40 pm 15 Feb 18

If your jam, etc goes mouldy, your preparation has not been good enough. As soon as the jam is placed in the jar seal. DO NOT leave the lid loose or you are asking for contamination. Some people recommend otherwise, but by not sealing immediately, while very hot, it allows spores, etc to enter and survive. Jam and bottled produce will last for years on the shelf if prepared properly. I use pop down lids, so I know if the seal has taken properly. If they don't pop down don't store them, but use the contents immediately, or freeze the contents. I have seen home made jams for sale in crafty type shops that have not been prepared correctly, as the lids have not popped down. Chances are they are okay because of the preservation factor of the sugar or vinegar, but I won't take the risk and buy them. For bottling fruit I use hot bottling rather than cold, as when the jars are packed hottish - they don't have to be scorching hot as the sealed jars will be placed in boiling bath of water for the preparation - the lids are more likely to pop down. With the cold method, the lids don't always pop down, leaving me unsure how good the seal is. I have never had any bottled produce go off. (I also dry some food too, but that's another story.)

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:30 pm 15 Feb 18

I have been picking feral fruit for many years. I eat them fresh, bottle them, make jam, sauce etc. Abandoned orchards, of which I know of several, are the best. These are for others to discover; not for me to reveal their location. Rarely do I find codling moth in the wild apples; although that depends on where you find them. Plus you know they haven't been sprayed. Apples, blackberries and plums are very common and easy to find. An interesting feature of plums is that when in the wild, over the generations they become thorny, which indicates to me that the ancestors were thorny. Other fruits are not as common, but they exist. I know where to find several apricot trees for instance. Last time I was down in Causeway I spotted a fruit laden tree, not ripe then. I think it might have been quince. I am mentioning this one, because I don't like quinces. Go for them :)

You can eat the plums off the street trees too. They are not always brilliant to eat, although the trees vary, (except in very wet years when they plump up more), but they make great jam and sauces. I also have a shelf of them bottled.

I am amazed that more people don't utilise this free resource.

Sue Taylor Sue Taylor 12:06 am 14 Feb 18

Vicky, Graham, have you heard of this? X

Melanie Akhurst Melanie Akhurst 9:02 pm 13 Feb 18

Had some blackberries tonight but not feral, they have a home here

andre88 andre88 8:39 am 13 Feb 18

This is fantastic, I’ve always seen the trees and wondered if it was okay to pull over and pick them. Now I’m going to make cider with them.

Gary Poile Gary Poile 7:48 am 13 Feb 18

And how good are the blackberries? My great grandfather planted blackberries on our farm in the 1880’s and they are still growing well despite all our efforts to get rid of them.

    About Regional About Regional 9:22 am 13 Feb 18

    The blackberries! Very tempting, find myself slowing down to see if they are ripe! Thanks Gary. Ian

Vanessa Olifent Vanessa Olifent 8:49 pm 12 Feb 18

Julia we werent the first people to discover them 🙁

Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:17 am 12 Feb 18

There are also many quince trees off our regional roads. These were probably planted by our pioneers. It’s hard to beat quinces stewed with cloves or made into paste to eat with cheese and crackers.

I get a few good feeds of mulberries every year from an old homestead site in Canberra.

    Ian Campbell Ian Campbell 11:31 am 12 Feb 18

    Such a fuggly looking fruit quince, there are cheap eats right under our nose. We should put all these spots on a map!

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:18 pm 12 Feb 18

    That’s a bit harsh.

    Covan Creek Road via Lake Bathurst is henceforth nominated as a “spot on the map”.

    Ian Campbell Ian Campbell 9:07 pm 12 Feb 18

    Perhaps “character filled” is kinder. Thanks for the directions!

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