Fig Tree Gully

Sadly Fig Tree Gully ceased trading on July 29th, 2013.

The Greenough Caper story began 5½ years ago when TV, tuned to the ABC’s Landline, beamed the tale of a caper plant cultivar into a certain living room in Beachlands, Geraldton.

Landline told the story of Brian Noone, a South Australian who studied the whys and wherefores of the caper plant in Italy, Spain and Morocco. Back home in South Australia he applied the knowledge and stock gleaned from his travels to develop a cultivar suitable for Australian conditions.

In Beachlands ears pricked, eyes brightened and a long and thoughtful period of research ensued.

To Anthony Rogers and his wife Kiah, the advantages of the caper plant as a commercial crop became clear. The plant is pest free, requires no water after the first year and needs no fertilizer. It is thornless, high yield and capable of producing for 30 years or more. In a health sense the capers and berries are high in anti-oxidants and can be grown free of nasty chemicals. In a commercial sense, the capers occupy virgin territory in the WA grown gourmet product zone.

Anthony enlisted friends Craig and Jenny Allen who had some spare land on a block at the end of the Greenough Flats and they ordered their first 100 plants from South Australia. The plants, registered under the Plant Breeder’s Rights legislation as the Capparis spinosa rupestris Eureka arrived from quarantine, and the planting began.

It took several years before they started producing commercial quantities and during this time, under a pall of deadly secrecy, the caper crew trialled the processing of buds and berries. Without breaking any confidences we can tell you that rock salt, water, vinegar, many plastic tubs with lids and time are involved.

On the ground, a hundred caper plants look like row after row of discarded green dresses slumped in the grey sand. The pea-sized capers are the flower buds before they unfurl, and the olive-sized caper berries are what develops after the flower dies. Ants crawl all over the plants but leave the pickers alone: the crew are convinced there is a strange symbiotic relationship between ant and plant that leaves the ants in a curiously dazed state.

Once the plants are in full production they need to be picked consistently so buds and berries are caught at the right eating stage. It takes 2 hours to hand-pick just over a kilo of the caper bubs, less time for the berries.

Anthony and Craig pick every week from October to April — or until their backs give out— and have a few months off in winter. In May they cut the plants right back to the knobbly trunks and the cycle begins again.

At the moment it is a case of ‘don’t give up your day job’. Both men can see the labour intensive nature of the work placing limits on production. To maintain supply they have struck a deal with another local grower who has bought and planted 200 of the Eureka plant. In 2½ years they will be able to buy his produce and in that way secure future supplies.

The Geraldton public got their first taste of the new products at the first G-G Farmers Market in April 2009. From these small beginnings there has been a steady ripple effect throughout the community. Note: a property on the Greenough Flats is advertised as being ‘perfect caper country’. Note: jars of caper berries appeared mysteriously on a supermarket shelf in town (needless to say an inferior imported brand).

The biggest ripple effect has been created by those who tasted these first pickings and have raved about the taste and quality ever since.

In Geraldton, Fig Tree Gully products can be sourced at the Roma Gift Shop, the G-G Visitors Centre and Lavender Farm in Chapman Valley. The first jars were sent down to the Kitchen Shed in the Fremantle Markets in March where they are expected to be shown to a cast of thousands. Fig Tree Gully is launched.

[from Jam Online]