A Forager’s Life

Foraging is something we do lots of at Wild Pepper Isle.  For us there is something alluring about owning the whole process from finding, to picking, to making and selling.  I don’t think that we are alone in that.  This is the paddock to plate vision. Or as we prefer to say – bush to bowl.

In part it is about quality control – we select only the best and most flavoursome fruit.  We learn about different varieties and enjoy bringing those qualities to the forefront in our products.  It is also about being outdoors and connecting with our environment.  When we forage we feel that we are developing a relationship with the land and place.

Can you find Anna foraging plums?

But more than that foraging and our bush to bowl approach stands apart from the usual way that foods come to us – which is through a more industrial and specialized approach.  Broken into its constituent parts we see that there is much involved in producing food from growing, to harvesting, processing, manufacturing, marketing, distributing and selling.  Through this specialization our society has achieved tremendous efficiency in making food.  Yet foraging and bush to bowl production are not about efficiency. 

Corinne loves foraging so much she almost walked out of this photo!

At Wild Pepper Isle we enjoy a closer relationship with the food we produce.  We know about food quality, we know the place where it came from and the people that helped us get it to you.  Call me nostalgic but I like the old ways.  It may be less productive but I prefer our bush to bowl approach.

In something of a celebration of our “Forager’s life” we have released a new product which is a compilation of our best sweet preserves. Naturally we have called it Forager’s Four – check it out!

The Craftsman – behind the scenes

You may have noticed a couple of new products appearing on our online store in the last couple of weeks. Alternatively, it may have slipped your attention entirely! Well it is true. Our online store is now adorned with pepper grinders to sell along side our Tasmanian pepperberry products. I thought this a good opportunity to spruik both the grinders and their maker, Mervyn Eaton. So here are a few words about Merv:

Stepping inside Merv Eaton’s workshop I am immediately drawn to the crowded benches. It is a small workshop bursting at the seams with lathes, chisels, drill bits, tools, painting pots, brushes, sand paper and curiously shaped wood bits here and there – treasures in the making. My eyes dart back and forth exploring – there is scarcely a free space for me to put down my camera. The air is filled with the alluring scent of freshly cut timber, solvents and finishing oils. It is a busy and creative space, rich for the imagination.

Merv in action at the lathe

Merv is a craftsman who has been working with Tassie timbers for 30 years, he tells me. It was the hobby that got out of control! Merv ran a panel beating business for 40 years but was sidelined by a back injury. Not one to stay idle for long, he took up wood turning and never looked back!

Over the years, Merv has made a diverse range of products including bowls, knives, grinders, walking sticks and various engineered products. Merv lets his work speak for itself and has never had to advertise. Instead he relies solely on word of mouth. Merv has sold his work all over the world – as far away as Alaska! – and has supplied local clients such as Saffire and Hobart’s Crown casino.

The craftsman making our Tassie timber pepper grinders

We are excited to have Merv on board our pepperberry team! Merv has provided us with pepper grinders with an original and stylish design; which are now available in our online store.

Did I mention that these grinders are hand made using Tasmanian specialty timbers? Merv sources his timber from Island Speciality Timbers, who are AFS accredited. Handmade means that every one is a little bit different and in itself a work of art. Handmade by a Tasmanian craftsman that takes pride in his work. What better?

Pepperberry is an alternative to black pepper. Why import black pepper from Vietnam or India when we have an amazing alternative growing here on our own shores (in our own backyard)??

In search of Wara1

Last weekend Anna and I drove all the way to Waratah enduring rain, snow and mud to try and find “Wara1” – as recorded in my GPS – a single pepperberry tree that I marked in 2017.  Needless to say it is a special bush.  It stands at only 2.5m high and yielded 20kg of berries in 2017! That sort of yield is unusually high.  It would make a great addition to our future pepperberry orchard!  As it turned out, however, it was hard to find. 

Initially I thought I could locate it by memory alone. Nope. It could have been any of a dozen or so.  Not perturbed I switched on my GPS but was disappointed to find it accurate to only +/- 100m – useless! 

Chris trying hard to remember Wara1

So a couple of hours and 10mm of rain later we managed to find it.  I had constructed a small cairn under the tree which, 3 years later, was covered by moss and dirt.  We cut off a small branch for propagation.

Chris finds his cairn buried under Wara1
Anna finds more rocks to add to the cairn – will be easier to find next time!

We spent a little time hanging out in Waratah. Camping out was fun albeit bloody freezing – it even snowed!  We checked out some of the best pepper stands in Waratah – which are probably the best wild stands in Tasmania (and the world actually!)

Hanging out in Waratah – it snowed! (but didn’t settle)

We camped out at Laughing Jack lagoon en route home – proving that it is possible (but not easy) to light a fire when everything is wet – lifesaver! And then we headed home to the serious job of taking cuttings for propagation.

Propagation by cuttings – long into the night!

There you are – 1500 new cuttings to look after! Our orchard will one day help us to be less reliant on wild harvest – read on if you’re interested!

Pepperberry harvest 2020

It would be remiss of me not to mention something about our 2020 pepperberry harvest. It was not a big operation this year. Four of us went out picking for a total of around three weeks. This post is just a few random snapshots from this time. I have to say we all immensely enjoyed getting out picking this year. The ever changing beauty and immersive experience of the forest was a stark contrast to the changing outside world as the Coronavirus pandemic emerged. It was as if the forest hadn’t even noticed the unfolding drama!

Well the first random picture is of me and my old basket belt! This is a belt I lost in the forest in 2017 and found this year (thanks Adrian). Hand made by my father John, some 50 years ago – this was a special find!

Chris finds his old belt – lost in 2017

The next pic is of the picking crew. Pedro, Adrian and myself, all out picked by Anna! Obviously the boys were too busy posing for photos while Anna did the work. But hey, wouldn’t this make a great cover shot for our first album…. should we ever form a band! Corinne is not pictured here but played a heavy hand in cleaning the berries and holding the fort back at Pepper Isle headquarters – someone had to!

Chris, Pedro, Adrian and Anna

More evidence of gratuitous posing. This next photo is actually a really good one! Such a beautiful place. Captures a good moment.

High moment – Adrian and Pedro taking in the sunset after a big day picking

The next photo ain’t that great but it tells a little story. Did you know that it is possible to eat pepperberry every day?? We tested the theory out. It is true. You can eat pepperberry every day. We even had a camp side kitchen bush that no one was allowed to pick! Try fire roasted spuds with butter, garlic and pepperberry. Oh that purple colour!

Roast spuds with pepperberry!

Finally, I simply had to include a picture of the biggest mushrooms I ever did see! Oh oh, and of course some pepperberries – it was a pepperberry harvest trip afterall!

The biggest mushrooms you ever did see… and pepperberries!

Follow this link to know more about our wild harvest operations.

Female Tasmanian Pepper plants need a mate!

So you got yourself a female Tasmanian pepper plant and are looking forward to harvesting berries from her in the coming years.
Sorry to tell you that you will be waiting a while!

Whilst true that the female produces berries she still needs a male plant to pollinate her flowers. Without a male her berries will be small, if any at all, and sterile (unable to reproduce)

So if you want bountiful bunches of black berries you need to make sure you have both a male and a female plant!

So how do you sex a Tasmanian pepper plant?

Well the obvious would be wait to see if it produces berries. However if you have bought one plant and need to find out the sex then another way would be to inspect the flowers.

A female Tasmanian pepper has smaller flowers and fewer petals than the male , but the main difference is that it has one fat superior carpel right in the middle of the flower

Female Tasmanian pepper
Female Tasmanian pepper

The male Tasmanian pepper has larger flowers with more petals and several long skinny stamen coming out the middle.

Male Tasmanian Pepper flower
Male Tasmanian Pepper

They get lonely by themselves, so plant them in pairs in a sheltered shady spot out of direct sunlight and plenty of moisture!

Once you have your bountiful harvest then check out our Recipe page on the things you can do with pepperberry

Tasmanian Bushranger’s former orchard re-established with native plants

Tasmanian Bushranger Martin Cash's Orchard is being re-established with native plants

Did you know that our Pepperberry farm was formerly owned by Tasmanian bushranger Martin Cash?

Martin Cash was Van Diemen land’s most notorious and charismatic bushrangers of the nineteenth century . This famous Irish convict was first to escape Port Arthur penal colony by swimming across the shark infested waters of Eaglehawk Neck! TWICE!!!
He lead an adventurous life of crime as an outlaw bushranger. He was on the run, evading capture for years until he was finally caught and trialled for murder. However, his Irish charm saved him from execution and instead served out a lengthy sentence on Norfolk island.
His 1870 autobiography The Adventures of Martin Cash, ghostwritten by James Lester Burke, a former convict, became a best seller in Australia. Highly recommend it!

The retired Tasmanian bushranger married and lived out his days peacefully on a small farm north of Hobart until his death in 1877.
The orchard has a few very old pear trees remaining that have been verified as over 100 years old. So it is possible that Cash himself planted these!

We are re-establishing the old orchard and planting a native Tasmanian pepperberry orchard as well.

You can read the full article and interview with Sally Dakis here. http://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-09-15/pepperberries-growing-on-former-bushrangers-farm/8863980

Heritage orchard restored in Montrose

We are feeling a tiny bit famous after making page 3 of the Saturday Mercury (01/07/18)! 
We are in the early stages of restoring a heritage orchard on our property in Montrose, which once belonged to Tasmanian bushranger Martin Cash.  Read all about Martin Cash here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Cash .

We also named out Slatherin Sauce after him!

We had an apple tree ring counted by an arborist and he put them at over $100 years old.
That means there is a small possibility that some of the ancient fruit trees still standing may be the remnants of the old heritage orchard planted by Martin Cash himself! 
That would make them 140 years old!

Article on our Heritage Orchard:

“DEDICATION: Corinne Ooms and Chris Chapman, who run Wild Pepper Isle, are restoring the 140-year old orchard once owned by bushranger Martin Cash.
An innovative couple is growing a native produce business and rediscovering a colonial orchard once owned by a bushranger. Chris Chapman and Corinne Ooms run Wild Pepper Isle, where they forage and harvest raw materials through to delivery of their award winning products to market.
The couple has bought a four hectare property in Montrose, Hobart, once owned by colonial bushranger and Irish convict Martin Cash, and they are setting out to restore what remains of the 140-year-old orchard.
They supply a range of Australian native bush food products including spices Tasmanian mountain pepper (berry and leaf), kunzea, wattle seed, lemon myrtle and aniseed myrtle.
They value add these native foods into a range of artisan products such as sauces, syrups and tea.
Over the years the couple noticed a decline in pepperberry in some rural areas where they pick.
They aim to plant out a minimum of 1000 plants next year on farms where they wild harvest as part of Wild Pepper Isle’s farm enrichment program.
By restoring colonial bushranger Martin Cash’s old orchard the couple also hopes to build on Glenorchy’s orcharding heritage – from around 1860 to 1930 Glenorchy was a thriving orchard area.
While exploring the property they discovered several old, withered large fruit trees, choked out by hawthorn and consumed by pear slug (sawfly) which they hope to save.