The Australian joke recipe for mock fish in yesterday’s post mentioned quandongs as one of the ingredients, and I thought this native fruit deserved a little post of its own.
The quandong (Santalum acuminatum) lives in the dry inland regions of Australian states. It is semi-parasitic, and gets some or all of its water from the root systems of other plants. The small red fruit has a large stone and relatively little, very tart, flesh (in spite of which it was euphemistically referred to as the ‘native peach’ by Europeans.) The deeply pitted stone apparently has significant nutritional value too, although it appears this was not much exploited by Australian indigenous people, who did, however, very much value the flesh itself for its food and medicinal value.
Early European settlers quickly caught on to the value of the quandong too - almost anything edible being a welcome treat for pastoralists and stockmen who lived for weeks or months at a time on damper and salt beef. Ordinary householders too, came to appreciate quandongs – fresh or dried - especially during Australia’s regular droughts.
The plant is now protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, although I understand that under some circumstances, Australian Indigenous people are exempt from the prohibition against collecting the fruit. I also understand that, working away in the background, are scientists and horticulturalists who are attempting to develop a commercially viable cropping variety.
So, although most of you, even my Australian readers, will not have access to the fruit, may I give you some recipe for the quandong? First, some basic instructions on how to stew the fruit, and how to dry it for long-keeping, from The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.) of 10 October 1929.
How to Cook Quandongs.
The wild quandong should ripen in most districts in October, and no doubt many housewives know the value of this fruit and can make many a tasty dish of it, but there may be many who do not know ways of bringing forth its good qualities. The fruit is a little larger than a cherry, but its flavour is far too sharp to eat it raw. Even when cooked, if not properly treated, it is very unpalatable. The fruit should be washed and stoned, and then put on to cook with just sufficient water to cover. Cook gently until quite tender, and a rich red colour. Then, taking about 1 teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda to every 4 cups of the stewed fruit, stir the soda through, and brown froth will rise to the top, and this should all be skimmed off. Add about 2 cups of sugar to 4 cups of fruit, and boil for a few minutes longer until the sugar is dissolved; the soda takes away much of the acid flavour of the fruit. The fruit is delicious served with custard or blancmange or made into a tart and served with whipped cream. One tasty way of serving it is to stir gelatine throughout. Put about 2 oz. to 4 cups of fruit before removing it from the fire and then pour into a mould, and when set, turn it out and decorate with whipped cream. When quandongs are plentiful we always dry some and store them away. We prefer the dried fruit. As it is not nearly so tart as when fresh. To dry them the stones should be removed and the fruit spread on a cloth in the hot sun, taking the fruit in every night for several days until thoroughly dried and hard, just like chips. When treated this way quandongs will keep for years. We recently used some that were dried over four years ago and they were delicious. The dried fruit should be soaked in water over night, and stewed in the ordinary way, but it requires less soda and less sugar than the fresh fruit.
And from the Sunday Times (Perth, West Australia) of 27 January 1935, we have:-
First stone then weigh 3 lb. quandongs, wash well, put into preserving pan with 1 large cup of water. Cook until fruit is soft then add 3 lb. of sugar, boil until it jellies.
Prepare fruit as for jam. To every 3 lb. of fruit add 1 cup of water and 1 lb. sugar. Cook until fruit is soft, then add 1 small bottle of Worchestershire sauce. Boil for a few minutes. Bottle and cork.