Willabrand Figs at Houghton


In this month’s SALife magazine I’ve written an article on Mediterranean fruit trees and for mine, the fig is number 1. It’s sensational and you know if you’ve never picked a juicy one off the tree, had a chocolate covered one, a glace one, well there’s a place in the Adelaide Hills and I guarantee that if you visit you’ll have a new found fondness for figs.

This really is a touch of Tuscany in our own backyard. The Glen Ewin Estate at Houghton dates back to the 1840’s. For more than a century this property was famous for its fruit and jam production. These days the historic homestead and rolling fields are home to the Wauchope Family, with son Willa the driving force behind local success story Willabrand Figs.

Michael: I’ve got one fig at home that I treasure, and the figs are just marvellous, how many trees have you got here?

Willa: Well we’ve got 12,000 on this property and a couple of thousand on another, so 14,000 in total and it keeps us pretty busy. The significant thing for the fig orchard is that the figs are 150 years old and we’ve been nurturing them for the last 20 years since we’ve been part of this property.

Michael: Now a lot of people would be looking at these fig trees saying “Hang on mine’s about ten times as big?” These are quite small!

Willa: In my opinion the easiest way, cut the trees down, they’re as tough as old boots.

Michael: You cut them right back?

Willa: Absolutely. We cut them back every year.

Michael: I’ve got a ‘White Adriatic’ and it’s a fabulous fig but what would you recommend as a bit of an all-rounder here in South Australia?

Willa: My recommendation undoubtedly would be ‘Brown Turkey’. It’s got a fantastic structure for cooking it holds up really well, you can even freeze it and re use it, and it’s magnificent as a fresh fruit.

Michael: Now here’s the 64 million dollar question – how long do you have to wait after you’ve planted it before getting that beautiful fruit? Willa: You can plant a tree this year and if you’ve looked after it properly you will get a small bit of fruit the second year but my recommendation is to knock that fruit off let it grow for the second year and the third year you’ll have beautiful fruit.

Michael: That’s hard! But we’ll do it! What are the signs the fruit is ripe?

Willa: Two key things… Firstly the colour, on ‘Brown Turkey’ they’ve got ridges on them, then secondly the texture, so they ripen up from the eye first towards the stem. When the fruit is soft by the stem it’s soft all the way through.

Michael: It’s no good picking ½ dozen of them and keeping some for the next day is it?

Willa: No, you’ve got to eat them fresh, eat them when they’re perfectly ripe. The reason for that is once you’ve picked them they do not sweeten up all they do is just get softer and begin to deteriorate.

Michael: Well there’s only so much fresh fruit that can go to the fresh marketplace what else do you do with them?

Willa: We’ve got a range of products, we store our figs and throughout the year we manufacture glace figs, chocolate enrobed glace figs which is a bit of a signature product, jams, chutneys, little baby figs in pear and saffron syrup and we’re beginning to do more glace fruit in general.

Michael: Glen Ewin Estate has beautiful trees, lovely lawns, plenty of water… what’s the best way to get up here?

Willa: We are just off Main North East road. So we are 25 kilometres from the CBD, you go past Newman’s Nursery and we’re the next on the left. Given that we’re in harvest at the moment we have a fantastic ‘pick your own’ we love to see people come up here enjoying the property getting outside, getting their hands dirty and coming back with a smile and a few figs. The other thing is we’ve got a beautiful cellar door, local food, local wines, I think at the moment we’re representing 10 Adelaide Hills brands , and that’s open Thursday through to Sunday, and people can walk around on the lawns, lovely pond, beautiful scenery, it’s a fantastic experience.

Michael: Well what a beautiful destination place for a weekend drive and while you’re here you may as well get your fresh fig fix as well.
Now if you’ve got a gardening question you’d like answered, or if you have a beautiful garden or a different garden I’d love to know about it. Simply go to our website follow the link to ‘Ask Michael’ and certainly I’ll be able to answer the question for some of you and you know with your garden I may even pop in and have a look at it.

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