Dandenong Ranges, Victoria: Silvan Estate Raspberries

By Michael Harden
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There are some well-travelled chefs in some of Melbourne’s best restaurants that reckon the raspberries from Silvan Estate are amongst the sweetest and tastiest in the world. So around 4.30 every morning of the summer raspberry season, the Silvan Estate truck pulls onto Hollis Road in Silvan, on a delivery run to city restaurants like Circa, ezard at adelphi and Fenix whose quality-mad chefs wouldn’t have any other raspberries on their menus.

Tasting a Silvan Estate raspberry the acclaim is easy to understand. What is surprising, however, is that Silvan Estate’s owners Pam Vroland and Jeremy Tisdall have been growing raspberries for less than seven years and started their farm “knowing nothing about raspberries except that we liked them”.

Jeremy’s corporate background and Pam’s career in the arts and the rag trade were perhaps not the ideal backgrounds for raspberry growers but they did their homework and decided that the red soil and mild climate of Silvan, an area with an established fruit and flower growing history, would be a good place to pursue the perfect berry.

It has been something of a trial and error journey for them. Jeremy says that there is not much hard knowledge on how to grow a great tasting raspberry and “why one farm can produce flavoursome fruit and another can’t is still something of a mystery”. Some of the things they have learnt in seven years – that the chillier the winter, the better the flavour and that “a good splash of rain seems to be the final step in the ripening process” – still seem to be more like theories than hard and fast rules.

Part of the success of Silvan Estate must come from the fact that their fruit is completely mollycoddled. Even before they go into the ground, some of the canes are refrigerated to emulate a good winter chill. Once planted, the canes are well-pruned, watered with care (too much water and the flavour is diluted), the fruit is picked by hand when it is perfectly ripe (to ensure perfect sugar levels) and then immediately packed, lidded and refrigerated so that it remains in top condition when it is delivered by Jeremy the next day. Fruit that is damaged by rain or bruised during the picking process is frozen and sold when the raspberries are out of season or to businesses for use in things like jam and ice cream. It is a point of pride for Pam and Jeremy that the fresh berries they sell are always in perfect condition whether they are delivered to the city or sold at their farm gate.

In addition to the three hectares of raspberries – Chilliwack, Tulameen, Serpell’s Williamette varieties among them – Silvan Estate also grows red currants, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, tayberries and youngberries. International students or backpackers do much of the picking and Pam notes that pickers from some countries seem to have a natural affiliation with certain of the berries. French girls, she says, “are the best at picking red currants”; an untapped marketing angle if ever there was one.

Silvan Estate doesn’t offer a pick your own experience but purchase a punnet from the packing shed, pop a sweet juicy morsel in your mouth and see how quickly a truly mollycoddled raspberry can put a smile back on your face and make you glad the work has already been done.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Silvan Estate Raspberries is located 1 hour’s drive east of Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges at 70 Hollis Road, Silvan South.

Regions

  • Yarra Valley, Dandenongs and the Ranges (VIC)

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