Discovering Passionberry

The Passionberry story is based on a plant (Solanum species) that was close to extinction when found.

This low, ground hugging plant, has evolved to rely on Kangaroo and Emu for germination. When the small fruit is ripe, the smell of rich banana / smoky caramel travels on the hot breeze, particularly to attract indigenous animals (Emu etc), who - when they eat the fruit - scarify the hard case of the seed. The prepared seed popped out in fertilizer, ready to grow with the next hot summer rains. The animals brought to Australia (cattle, sheep, camels etc) are just as attracted to the fruit but have double stomachs and destroy the seed, so with over grazing, Passionberry was almost gone!

Mike & Gayle travelled many times up and down the Oodnadatta Track and into the centre of Australia, looking for this rare plant. The old people often spoke of it, and Mike & Gayle followed directions to where it was last seen. Finally, three plants were found and old fruit carefully germinated. The first few plants grown from this were put in a plot in Alice Springs with instructions to Glen, the Aboriginal plot manager, to send the very first fruit from these precious plants to Reedy Creek.

It was a hot day in Alice Springs, at least 45 C, when Glen put a handful of Passionberries into a plastic bag and posted it. A week later, there was a phone call from an irate Post Office Manager in Kingston (the closet town to Reedy Creek), who said it was illegal to send alcohol in unsecured packaging!

Mike travelled to town and was shown all the local mail covered in a rich, sticky ,yellow fluid , smelling like wine. The Passionberries had fermented in the heat, due to high levels of natural sugar and yeast, and burst the plastic bag, leaking through all the letters. The small town of Kingston had no idea how precious this fruit was... this gave Mike an idea about the potential of this rare fruit. A boutique brewery in Sydney - Barons Brewery - now produces a porter beer called 'Desert Berry Beer' and has won brewing awards in England over the last two years with this product.

There are now thousands of these plants in the ground and many have been re-planted on communities, where the fruit is eaten with great joy. The Outback Pride sweet sauce Desert Passion Syrup and the Passionberry & Fig Jam are made from this rare fruit. Gayle still gets a thrill from smelling this fruit on a hot breeze, knowing it will not be lost.

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Mike and Gayle Quarmby

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