Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lerp, with a touch of Metro train.

Yesterday, my wild food gleaning career careened to ecstatic triumph, when I stumbled upon a fully-wrapped peppermint chocolate Aero Bar (Linky McLink for those not up on the intricacies of this particular confection) – on the footpath by Thornbury station. That would be Thornbury Station, aka Arcadia of Nature's Bounty, and Aero Bar, aka "the forager's friend".

People who buy chocolate bars only to leave them on footpaths are, frankly, the nineteenth wonder of the universe, but this post is not to be about that strange and delightful breed. It is, rather, about lerp – very like an Aero Bar, only for people who prefer licking eucalyptus leaves. At any rate, almost as sweet as an Aero Bar and kind of bubbly, and currently in glorious oversupply on the gum trees near Thomastown Station, which means that today I was able to replicate yesterday's railway-based gleaned sugar experience. Thank you, lerp. Thank you, Thomastown Station eucalypts.

This, the white icing-sugary blobby stuff on the leaves, is lerp, best explained by Cheryll Williams, whose Medicinal Plants in Australia, Vol. 1, Bush Pharmacy happens to be temporarily kicking about the Lalorium: "Lerp is produced by small scale insects from the Psyllidae ... . They feed on tree saps, which contain proteins essential for their growth. These 'leaf-manna' or lerp insects make exceptionally clever use of the leftover sugars they secrete, which are ingeniously forged into a protective shield over the little animal."

So, sweet eucalyptus-via-psyllid exudate. Scrumpipoos. (Actually, not bad. Definitely sweet. Slightly waxy.)

There are about a dozen youngish eucalypts lined up along the Thomastown Station carpark and festooned with lerp. There's enough lerp, then, to fill a couple of cups, if (a) anyone could be bothered, and (b) the sort of person who could be bothered didn't scruple about removing the protective shields from the wee little psyllids on such a scale. I am both bothered and unscrupled to the extent that I nibbled two gumleaves' worth, and not bothered and quite scrupled, to the extent that I stopped with the two leaves, despite the fact that two leaves' worth of lerp hadn't gotten me anywhere close to the calorificity of yesterday's Aero Bar. Also, it's possible that I ate a psyllid or two. Sorry, psyllids. So much for my much-vaunted twenty years of vegetarianosity.

I've been thinking a bit about suburbia-appropriate micro-livestock lately, what with the Victory Women (i.e., the No. 1 Lalor Worker-Bees' Collective), our happy wormfarm, and the snails that vorage so voraciously across our vegetable growing attempts (snails, surely, that we should think about eating, or at least feeding to chickens, rather than squashing wastefully or drowning in experimental beer). Are psyllids livestockable? Or are they the sort of creature that a gumtree can only support for so long, before it needs aforesaid psyllid to sod off and let aforesaid gumtree recuperate? I'd enjoy telling people I'm a backyard lerp farmer, is all.

R to L: lerp-tree, Sidekick Tim retreating from the lerp harvest, and Thomastown mosque in background (it has solar panels, btw – which is a good thing in a north-facing religious building)