A million years ago, my friend Miri and I spent six days rambling all over the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. We had packed six days worth of chocolate, but ate it all on day one, and ended up trading our sanitary pads for the chocolate-covered coffee beans of some German hikers. Priorities. We'd also brought six dinners' worth of what I had thought (while packing) would be the best hiking meal ever: red lentils, couscous, a packet per night of dehydrated beans/peas/carrots, and a packet of Continental Cup-a-Soup. You could put all this in a billy with water, bring it to the boil, then take the billy off the flame, wrap it in a woolly jumper, and all the ingredients would keep absorbing water without any additional heat source. "What's for dinner?" Miri had asked on day 3. "Lentil surprise!" I'd said, but Miri was not surprised. (We were both quite farty by this stage, by the way, because pulses really need a good soak before they're cooked, but I guess we had the whole of Tasmania to make smells into, and a brisk breeze chopping in from the Pacific, so farty-schmarty.)
On day 4, we scrambled down a mountain onto a beach from before the Fall. White sand, gargantuan tresses of kelp washed up out of a grey ocean, and little blobs of bright green seaweed sitting on the sand like cos lettuces. Lentil, couscous, Cup-a-Soup, and reconstituted peas had gotten pretty old by now, so we decided to gussy up our dinner that night with some salty old cos-of-the-sea. I won't say that this was the moment that turned me into a card-carrying forager (because, even before the seaweed-lentil-a-bleu event of 2001, I had spent a lot of my life fantasising about being left behind at our holiday house so I could subsist on bracken shoots, blackberries, and rabbit dung), but it was certainly a formative moment.
I love a walk. I love walking pace and its sensible, intuitive uniting of distance travelled and time. I like having conversations on the hoof. And I do so like eating my environment.
Team Lalor ambled up to the parental estate in Bright last weekend. The forests around Mum's house are particularly excellent for their abundance of feral fruit, and, around Easter, for their abundance of apples. Some of these forest apple trees were perhaps planted on purpose, once upon a time, but some of them are clearly natives, rogue trees with the sort of nuggety fruit noone would deliberately propagate. We have a bit of an Easter tradition afoot, of pillaging the wild apples, more than we could possibly eat before they turn into mush, and making all the apple things: apple and ginger jam, dehydrated apple slices, apple pies, and, as of last year, cider.
Cider is traditionally made not with sweet dessert apples like Jonathans and Galas, but with bittersweet and bittersharp apples, apples with a degree of acidity and tannininess that make them, as apples, not particularly tasty. The cider apples have names like Improved Foxwhelp, Brown Snout, and Yarlington Mill, names which are, in their own right, perfectly darling. We don't have access to any named varieties of cider apple (though we're growing a Granny Smith, who gives suitably acidic apples), but we found last year that a goodly variety of apples and crabapples from the forests around Bright results in a pretty perfect cider.
So, we walked and we plundered the trees - as high as we could reach, which still left acres of fruit for the parrots - and, as you can see, we not only found apples, but also chestnuts and a few walnuts and a few hazelnuts. The nuts are footpath nuts; the apples are forest apples.
The apples are home now, mellowing, which should make them easier to crush and press when the time comes.
Besides apples and nuts, the forests are teeming with green things. Bakers' Gully Creek is infested with watercress, which I barely restrained myself from harvesting and adding to the latest iteration of lentil surprise. Behind the shopping centre in Bright there is a rampaging hop bine in bloom, pretty much murdering a camellia.
We've been trying to coax hop flowers from a hop bine in our garden for two years now. We bought it as a dormant rhizome on ebay a couple of years ago, and lo, it did verily burst from the earth in Spring, but it hasn't grown like topsy, as hops are fabled to do, and it hasn't blossomed yet. It might be that it's still getting into its stride. I've seen hops flowering at CERES, just down the road, so there's no serious climatic reason why we ain't got no hopping action. Anyway, given the brewing that takes place in this house and our own lack of hop production, there was quite a lot of excitement at the sight of the masses and masses of hops dripping over the pavement. We pressed the flowers between our fingers and they left behind an oily smear - just the stuff a brewer wants - so we stuffed a couple of handfuls into a bag, and now they too are mellowing (or rather, sitting in the freezer) waiting to aromify a beery tribute to easter in Bright.
Speaking of hops, and, erm, therefore speaking of kangaroos, this paddock next door to the Harlot estate is a gigantic kangaroo dinner-table-cum-loo. Technically it belongs to some guy, but in fact it belongs to the Eastern Greys, who turn up nightly for a nibble and a poo. The guy seems to understand this, and has left the paddock be for yonkers.
Mum had shown me an ad in a gardening magazine for wombat poo. In fact, you can buy it online - "that special manure for that special person's special pot plant".* I'm not proud of myself for this, but I'm mentioning it in the spirit of confession: I was moved by the combination of wombat-poo-for-sale and the fact that I'd seen WilburHund eating the roo poo the day before and the fact that I am really a bit of a thief to go into the roo paddock one morning and fill a plastic bag with the freshest of macropod droppings. It's now mellowing on one of the bathtub gardens on our driveway.
So, walking. Not only is it good for the soul, it also results in apples, hops, poo, and possibly seaweed in your lentils.
* It's my birthday in a month. Just saying.