Come Feast at our Table
I arrived at the Lookout on top of the Cardwell Range in far north Queensland to see way out over Hinchinbrook and go “Wow”. On a clear day I’d say breathtaking and on a cloudy day, awesome. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins poems’ tributes to great green country: “O let them be left, wilderness and wet: long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”. This is Cassowary country, home to our flightless bird with its possible extinction, yet ever hopeful resilience.
I live in the “Feast of the Senses“ country, near the edges of the rainforest growing down to the sea and the creeks’ remnant rainforest corridors, running off the hills of the Great Divide. I glimpse cassowaries most days. I have been thrilled beyond my wildest dreams to have them pass through our place to stay awhile and wash themselves in our local creek. I drive slowly through our patch of world heritage country, because it simply jumps out at you. Whether its wallabies jumping out of the sugar cane or cassowaries sauntering along a grassy road verge; here in the north, I can walk the wet wilderness, live amidst and see paradise before my very eyes.
It’s a land that begs me to garden.
This land of the Australian Queensland tropics smells damp and dusty, looks dark and impenetrable, is full of sounds that herald unique habitats, owns plants that touch you and make you scream and has tastes that can kill you. Beware! It pays to talk to the locals and learn the folklore.
Here we stand at the entrance to one of Australia’s huge tropical food bowls. Food that needs rain and more rain to produce its fruits of the forest: sugar, coconuts, cacao and bananas of the lowland coastal plains and milk, corn, potatoes, avocado’s and stone fruits in the rich volcanic highland soils of the Tablelands.
God’s own country the locals call this!
The tropical journey I choose has become my way of life, as I feast in this Garden of Eden. In and outside our smallish towns my family’s homemade ‘Eye-Spy’ Game begins, as we look for local food stalls on the side of the road. We too have the right to grow extra produce in our garden and so put up a stall outside our front gate and sell to passing trade. Whether a visitor or a local, this is the ‘Way to Go’ as you travel around our exotic north Queensland. It’s the groundsheet to our tropical life; farm fresh, low mileage, no spray; local fruits and veggies. We define our trips around these stalls and keep our budget to a minimum.
We get to taste, see and smell the difference!
Our local history show and tells us that in the last 40 years, local far north Queensland fruit lovers extraordinaire, have taken themselves to remote Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia, to South America, New Guinea and India. With permission and the assistance of Quarantine Australia, the intrepid travellers have posted back seeds to North Queensland’s Rare Fruits Council.
Trees from distant lands bring their difficult family names and easy nicknames with them. Names you have to learn and re-learn to recognise! These migrant fruits come to us in the strangest of unusual shapes and sizes. Many are attractive and ready to entice us with their exotic look and promise of surprise. Some fruits are completely uninviting and cover themselves in extremely sharp points, soft bumps or hairy textures. But please, don’t be deceived by their looks!
I have fallen in love with the Jakfruit.
This is the fruit of giants and a whole family can tuck in and achieve demolition in one full sweep. You can save the seeds and roast or boil them. Kitchen imaginations just stretch themselves! Choose an orange or yellow chewy crunchy Jak or a soft yellow sherbet chewing gum type of fruit. Picked green she can be stored well, cooked in curries and stews and when ripe made into wine.
My chosen seeds came from a far north Queensland Kuranda Jakfruit tree and could have arrived with Indonesians’ or Malayas’ who were pearlers up in the Torres Strait. Known as the poor man’s fruit, this tree originates in Karola, India and is the national fruit of Bangladesh. Jakfruits’ would have journeyed as valuable food on the spice trader’s boats going through Asia. Cultivated for 6 000 years, it boasts being one of the largest fruits in the world and can weigh up to a 100 pounds!
My Jakfruits are soft sweet yellow sherbets the size of two footballs. They hold workable timber trunks that only take three years to fruit! To prepare this beast, I have to heat a knife up over the gas stove until its hot and then cut through the flesh of the fruit that has a surrounding gum so sticky that it will shut you up. I then wash my oh-so-sticky hands in olive oil because soap and water won’t work to remove the tacky elastic stretching gum. But they taste yummmmmmmmmy! I have a love affair with my Jakfruit trees.
Are you ready to eat strange foods?
How adventurous are you? With your senses fine-tuned to discovery you are well on the way to a most delicious journey. Be game! “Have a go ya mug”. Go on, dare to taste it – it won’t bite you! Sometimes the ugly fruits taste just so yummy and the pretty ones make you squirm and run your tongue across the roof of your mouth going “Eeew, what was that?” It’s a good idea to encourage yourself to keep coming back for another taste try, yet its guaranteed that by the time you leave our fabulous countryside you will be an ‘extreme’ food taster!
Here in our northern tropics is one of the most unique collections of fruits in the world.
We invite you to make the most of your travels: stop at the information centres’ and fuel shop stalls in Innisfail, Tully, Silkwood, Kurramine and Wangan. Find out where and when the local markets are on. Visit the night markets at Kurramine and Mission Beach and while in Mission Beach look for the organic bananas on the corner as you drive in. Take the Old Cairns Road on the Cane Cutter Way and look for your local fresh food hotels and cafes, eat fresh chocolate, use chutneys, papaws and bananas. In between your passionate site seeing adventures drink real, locally grown coffee with Mungalli Creek milk and sip wine into the night. Buy avocados and local limes for your Wangan bread rolls. Use pepper at your picnic. Take home vanilla essence for your kitchen and yes; start playing the ‘Eye-Spy’ game of the north.
Remember; Mena Creek’s iconic José Paronella invites dreamers to dream our world anew, so the dream can continue now with you. Welcome Queenslander’s and international global visitors: “COME EAT AT OUR TABLE AND FEAST”!
STORY BY: KATE CAMPBELL-LLOYD & EDITED BY: MATILDA ELLIOT