The fortnightly produce swap this January at the Puhoi community orchard in our river park was a chance to check the condition of some of the heritage fruit trees planted in winter last year. The small plums, pears, figs, and apples were looking healthy.
When I came to Puhoi 50 years ago, apples, peaches and figs grew on dusty roadsides and plums and quinces on riverbanks. Here and there, surrounded by gorse and grass were pears, markers of early pioneer house sites.
Among one remembered by Lenny Wenzlick was a small, very sweet pear. He called it “Hiangabirn” or “‘honey pear” in our Bohemian dialect.
Like pears, the oval, purple-skinned, yellow-fleshed plums, prized in middle Europe, and called “Zwetschgala” in our dialect, survived in Puhoi. There is one in our community orchard, preserved by the Heritage Museum Society.
The Puhoi women used the plums for their curd cake or kouch’n.
There is still debate about what our ancestors brought out from Bohemia – grape cuttings would have been easy to ship. I have a treasured vine, with very sweet small fruit, which a Karl family descendent from the Waikato believes came out with an ancestor.
And, of course, there was the fruit grown at the mouth of the Puhoi River by Chief Te Hemara Tauhia and his whanau, who we believe filled up their punts and canoes to save our 1863 Bohemian settlers from starvation in their first, tough years. What were the origins of that fruit?
A decade later, the Rauners entered the Puhoi horticulture story. In a newspaper report from 1872, a correspondent of the Southern Cross wrote: “The vineyard of Mr Martin Rauner and his wife Maria is especially deserving of notice, and where a few years ago the wild-boar grunted in all his natural ferocity, there is now a flourishing vineyard.”
When I interviewed older Puhoi people for my book, Puhoi Remembers, some of the surviving orchardists were Fred Wech, Doug Titford, Vincent, Eddie and the Schischka family. They were all still growing fruit.
Uncle Ed used to tell me of the apple slices – Speikla – dried in the hot sun, and Aunty Alma bottled peaches for most days of the year for their big family.
Today, it is it is only early January, and my still green grapes, although swollen, are showing signs of water deprivation. With the change of seasons and heating of climate over recent decades, I wonder about the future of fruit cultivation in our valley, and of the crops on which our ancestors once relied.