Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Apples are cultivated around the world, but in Australia, Batlow is where best ones grow.
Batlow is an historical agricultural town in Australia that was originally discovered by Europeans for gold, but farmers then found that a variety of crops were suitable for this climate. Apples have been cultivated and traded there since 1922. My hubbie grew-up in Batlow and this is where I lived when I first moved with him in this beautiful country. It could almost feel like being in Canada sometimes, as the town is surrounded by snowy mountain views in winter, pine forest plantations and apple orchards. Not every region of Australia would be cultivating cold climate fruits like apples and berries along with stone fruit in the warmer seasons. Even if the apple season starts in April, life in Batlow has many similarities to the little town where I grew up in Québec. I also lived in the Montreal region for many years where the apple season, in September, is the perfect time to go for a drive from the island to the “pick your own apples” orchards. It is a popular activity to do on weekends and an amazing way to enjoy the sunny days of early autumn before the long winter ahead. After filling up a bag of McIntosh, you hit a hiking trail, local shops or enjoy a meal at some local cafés. Things are a bit different in Batlow and rarely orchardists would let visitors pick their own fruits, but it does happen sometimes. As a commercial enterprise, the trees are generally much younger I believe this could risk damaging the following years crop. That is fair enough, apple culture and industry around here is a little more tough, especially now.
One of the massive bushfires in Australia at the end of 2019 to early 2020 came across the region and Batlow suffered a terrible nightmare in early January. Described “un-defendable” at some point, the town survived and the scale of damage was reduced by the great work from the firefighters and volunteers. Sadly, an enormous amount of fruit crops were burnt and damages were in almost all of the orchards. That is a significant loss as the town was providing more than half percentage of the apple production in New South Wales. The Dunn’s Road fire has not only devastated orchards but many farms, property, public buildings, livestock, pine forests, wildlife and one person lost his life from a heart attack defending a mates' house. While Batlow was still recovering, came the apple picking season… and Covid-19. Social distancing measures brought a second crisis for the region in the same year and Batlow Ciderfest, the town’s street party happening in May, was cancelled. It will take years for full recovery. My husband's family farm, where his mum currently lives, survived the fires but we all have been experimenting the most stressful time of our lives during this episode. It is a sad time to think about the loss around the area, but is also a time for rebuilding.
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
On a happier note, apple varieties that I’ve discovered here and that became my favourites (Greenstar, Jonathan and Pink Ladies) were still available this season and we have been keeping on supporting local producers by buying some fruit and other products. Apples are full of antioxidants, vitamins and dietary fibres. I’ve never grown apples myself but did look after some trees when living in Batlow and few important things to monitor here is weather condition, pests and birds! In Australia, orchards are covered with netting to save the crop from hail damage but also many cheeky parrots and other wild birds would hang there to feast on the sweet fruits. Producers can store apples in a controlled atmosphere coolroom for 12 months so people can buy them all year long. Apples are best fresh but they're great in juice, deserts and so many dishes. Check out some of my apple recipes and inspirations: