One of the activities I’ve been hoping to do for a while is visit a pick-your-own farm. There are a few places not far from Sydney where you can pick fruit that you pay for by the kilo. Different fruits are available at different times of year. In Autumn, chestnuts and apples are both in season and I couldn’t decide between the two. As a compromise I planned to travel up the Bell’s Line of Road to Mt Irvine to visit a chestnut farm, and pick apples in Bilpin on the way home. In the end we found that my plan was over-ambitious and the apples won the day. By the time we got to Bilpin we’d had enough driving. Besides, the apples were looking too good to drive past. I must admit it wasn’t only the apples I wanted to stop for. I’d also spotted a sign that mentioned real fruit icecream, so driving further up the mountains would only put more distance between me and this treat.
Having decided on apples we turned in to Bilpin Springs Orchard. There were heaps of cars lined up with families hopping out of them, or returning to stash their apples in the boot. We joined the throng waiting to be lead down to the orchard. While we waited we admired the orchard dog, who had beautiful soulful eyes and very expressive eyebrows.
Down in the orchard certain rows of trees were marked with a tick to indicate that the fruit was ready to be picked. The day we visited the choice was between Red Fujis and Braeburns, but the selection varies every couple of weeks. We decided to pick Braeburn apples, mostly because we hadn’t seen them in the shops. We reasoned that if you’re picking your own you might as well get something unusual.
Since this orchard specialises in pick your own fruit I think they grow a greater range of varieties than commercial growers. This would allow the picking season to be broader, as well as offering something special to the visiting pickers. In spite of the different ripening times most of the apple trees were covered in leaves and fruit. I did spot the odd mis-timed blossom on trees that were otherwise fruiting, which made me think how beautiful the orchard would be in bloom.
As we walked down the rows there were a few interesting things to notice. There’s a lot that goes into farming fruit that you don’t see at the greengrocer. For example, I was curious to see that the fruit had been sprayed with food grade chalk for sun protection. Who would have guessed that apples get sunburnt? I also noticed fruit fly traps hanging here and there. Some of the trees were draped in cloth to protect them from hail damage and birds. On the uncovered trees you could see a few apples that the birds had been eating.
We didn’t pick too many apples – only about 2 kg. We reasoned that neither of us were big apple eaters. How silly that reasoning seems now. Less than a week has passed and there is only one apple left in the fruit bowl. Clearly with the right apples we are big apple eaters. These Braeburns were beautifully fresh and crisp. Much better than anything you get at the greengrocer. They’re also a good flavour, not too sweet or tart. I wish we’d picked twice as many!
With our loot of apples safely stowed, we moved on to Tutti Frutti. This was the place with the sign advertising the real fruit ice cream, and I was keen to try some. While we were there we also bought a big bucket of local honey. The real fruit ice cream was the star attraction though. It was made by combining vanilla ice cream with berries of your choice. I went for blueberry and James had blackberry. The girl behind the counter told me that I wasn’t the first person to take a photo starring her hands. Obviously the ice cream machine is worth a photo even for visitors who aren’t bloggers.
Outside Tutti Frutti we had our icecream in the rose garden. The roses smelt divine, and I loved the way they were massed together. Underneath them were strawberry plants. I wonder if these were the source of some of the berries for the real fruit ice cream. There was probably a bigger plot somewhere else though.
I’d recommend fruit picking as a great day out. Next time I’ll be sure to pick a more ambitious quantity of fruit and do some baking. I’m looking forward to trying stone fruit next summer too.