An Aboriginal-owned enterprise near Alice Springs is pioneering the cultivation of one of the world’s most ancient wild foods with help from an unlikely source : a Chinese university.
Desert Garden Produce’s Max Emery is anticipating a record harvest of as much as one a half tonnes of kutjera, which will be exported to Melbourne and end as part of the recipe of a mass-produced gourmet sausage.
After interviewing Max in 2010 about the Rainbow Valley farm, which is owned and operated by local Aboriginal people, I was interested to see him turn up on the ABC Rural site today, reporting further rapid progress.
Max told Caddie Brain the farm’s 40 centimetre high plants were yielding an average of five kilograms per plant, with plants fruiting weekly and maintaining the same size fruit.
In co-operation with the Chinese University, which has been involved with the farm for 20 years, he’s developed a “carbon-booster” concoction which has turned the humble kutjera, which relies on a mixture of fire and rain to regenerate in the wild, into a super-plant.
The concoction consists of bacterium, organics, trace elements and carbon, and is helping create vigorous disease-free plants.
“What it’s actually doing is strengthening the plant itself, tidying up all the root structures and getting rid off all the alkalines around the plants regenerates the self-defence mechanism in the plant, which is able to grow much healthier,” says Max.
He reports that the usual pests such as white fly, caterpillar, and beetles have failed to show up this year, with welcome ladybirds the only obvious insect presence. And the fruit have resisted fungal problems created by wet soil.
“The fruit are fine even if they’ve been submerged in mud for about a week,” says Max.
It will be interesting to see what sort of a year wild harvesters are having, with a fair bit of rain and a large amount of fire.
There has historically been a bit of tension with wild harvesters about the cultivation of the bush tomato, but when I last spoke to Max, he felt there was enough demand to meet the supply from both sources.
Personally, I haven’t tried the sausages and would like to see more promotion of this wonderful little fruit as a more of a stand-out ingredient. I regularly buy wild-harvested bush tomatoes at Afghan Traders in Alice Spring, and use them in casseroles, sauces and even on my brekkie instead of sultanas. As Max has pointed out they also go really well with dark chocolate,
For what it’s worth. I think it might be an idea for marketers to focus on their Aboriginal name, which would not only acknowledge their long tradition as a beloved and highly nutritious food for Aboriginal people, but also distinguish them from there more common cousin in the solanum family.
If you search for bush tomato on the net, it’s quite a while before you get any kutjera turning up!