By Paul van Reyk
There I was, at the last session of Touring Tastes: exploring histories of Australian food and culture, a seminar put on by the History Council of NSW as part of the Orange Readers’ and Writers’ Festival 2018. The speaker was discussing tourism generally in Australia, and I guess because he was in Orange, casually mentioned how in the mid to late 1800’s Sydneysiders did day trips to amble among the orangeries of Parramatta.
Being immersed in organising SAG 22 you can imagine my delight at finding out something foodwise about our symposium site that had thus far gone unknown by we SAGgers. More, it presented an opportunity to explore the SAG 22 theme ‘Out of Place’, in part a play on the current fashion for valorising food that is ‘out’ of its place, as in a product of its physical and cultural locale. I immediately thought – Parramatta sourced marmalade tartlets for morning tea.
Being the modern researcher I am I turned first to the new breed of citizen scientists: AKA my friends on Facebook. Nothing. So much for the hive mind. I retreated to the tried and true, in this case the Parramatta & District Historical Society. Gold! Gold! Gold! A packet arrived by snail mail of twenty photocopied pages from Sydney gazettes and newspapers of the late 1800s, mostly about one James Pye and his renowned orangery at Rocky Hall.
Orange trees and seeds were part of the cargo of the First Fleet, having been on-boarded at Rio de Janeiro. The early plantings were in what are now the quay ends of Phillip and Macquarie streets. The first orangery proper was planted by George Suttor at Baulkham Hills in 1802, and was producing fruit for the Sydney markets by 1807.
Pye’s orangery is described in the 1871 edition of Fuller’s Cumberland Directory, Year book and Calendar as being in the ‘in the deep rich alluvial soil deposit at the creekside [where] the Darling Mills Creek winds its course between precipitous age-darkened walls of Hawkesbury sandstone and the fertile valley converges to such an extent that the chasms is merely a stone’s throw across’.
Here, Pye not only grew oranges but also lemons, cumquats and shaddocks (pomelos). By the time of Fuller’s directory, Sydneysiders had been flocking there to marvel at orange trees nearly 50-years-old and reportedly 30 to 40-feet high with trunks 2-feet in diameter. Pye boasted that he harvested as much as 400 dozen fruit from some of them.
Pye’s was only one of the orchards in the Parramatta and Hills areas back then. But the orchards and market gardens of the district have long been given over to housing as Sydney continues its inexorable growth, and no-one, not even the members of the Historical Society could tell me where I might find oranges in Parramatta.
I had given up hope when, on a visit to the grounds of the Female Factory in Parramatta, in a fenced off corner of the grounds now being repurposed as an event hub and at which SAG 22 will be holding the Saturday night banquet, stood a single orange tree. If it was not quite the giants described on Pye’s property and its girth not so ample, it was nonetheless substantial and covered in fat golden globes.
For want of a ladder, I gathered what windfall I could: some had come to grief from ants, grubs and time. I set to the next day to turn out a batch of three-day marmalade: day one the fruit is sliced thin, seeded, put in a saucepan and just covered with water; day two the fruit and water are brought to a gentle simmer and left till the skin of the orange has softened; day three the fruit sans water is weighed, returned to the water with half the weight in sugar and boiled down till setting point.
Result: marmalade out of Parramatta for our SAG morning teas.