On my way home from the cheese making course in the beautiful Macdonald Valley near St Albans, I passed one of Sydney’s only certified organic pecan farms. This particular area is in a remote river valley in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range about 90 kms west of Sydney. It’s a beautiful, wild and rugged area, completely removed from the hubbub of city life, surrounded by mountains and rocky sandstone escarpments with fingers of small feeder creeks and river valleys trickling down into the Hawkesbury River.
The Region was one of Australia’s earliest settled areas where some of the first convicts were put to work along the banks of the Hawkesbury River, clearing the floodplains to grow basic crops of wheat and corn. There were no roads in those early days of course so everything was transported by ship up and down the Hawkesbury and back to Sydney via Broken Bay.
Over time small settlements were established in the Hawkesbury area and in 1827 a ferry service was started at Wiseman’s Ferry near the confluence of the Macdonald River. As you travel across the modern ferry today still in its original location it’s incredible to think that almost 200 years ago someone had the vision to put a crossing there.
Within a couple of years, a few settlers had made their way along the Macdonald River and the quaint little settlement of St Albans was established. Some ventured further making their way along hand made goat and horse tracks into the upper reaches of the Macdonald Valley and families and descendants of five of the original settlers still live and farm in the valley today.
Because of it’s remoteness and ferry access, the area has never been over settled and for this reason is often referred to as the ‘Forgotten Valley’. Small river-front communities dot the edge of the Lower Macdonald and the traditional farming community now extends to alternate lifestylers, retirees, weekenders, boutique accommodation and small venue centres and the odd Buddhist Monastery and spiritual retreat.
Our Permaculture retreat is situated along one of the remote dirt roads reaching deep into the foothills of the Upper Macdonald Valley. The road is a dead-end so it’s exquisitely quiet with no passing traffic only locals, the occasional visitor and even less frequent sightseer.
There are a few organic pecan farms along the same road and on my return home from the course I happened to pass a small stall by the front gate of a nearby property. As I shot past in a cloud of dust like any ordinary city dweller would, I thought I spied out of the corner of my eye a sign saying ‘pecans $5 a bag’. I pulled to a halt, backed up my little Golf and pulled in beside the stall. Yep, there they were, large bags, my guess was a kilo plus of fresh seasonal pecans. I decided 2 bags would be good, grabbed them, loaded them into my car along with a bottle of homemade pickles and a bag of bay leaves and smiled as I drove off knowing I’d scored a bargain.
The next day I got cracking starting with a frantic search for Bart’s Original Nut Kracker alias BONK! Of course the BONK was nowhere to be found and as my anxiety levels rose, I decided my wooden rolling pin would have to do – not quite as elegant but it did the trick.
I discovered the shells on pecans are quite a bit thinner than some nuts especially our other favourite nut, the macadamia. This made retrieving the nut relatively quick and before I knew it I was admiring a nice little pile of beautiful fresh pecans apart from the ones I slipped into my mouth. I cracked one bag’s worth and after looking into the ins and outs of pecan storage decided to freeze the other bag of nuts in their shells which apparently can be stored for up to 2 years but I doubt whether they’d last that long at my place.
After pricing Australian pecans at $29.00 a kilo and considerably more for certified organic, I figured the $10 I’d paid for 2 kilos was an absolute bargain. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I head up to the retreat again and I’ll be sure to grab another couple of bags if they’re still available.
There are so many adventures ahead including tales from the cheese workshop but I hope you’ll stay tuned for my next post when I show you our latest investment.