Pineapple producer Chris Fullerton takes a knife fit for Mick Dundee and in several strokes, relieves the pineapple of its skin like a champagne master de-corking with a sabre.
Pineapple juice drips to the sandy ground and breakfast for his visitors is served straight from the fruit itself: al fresco, seconds after harvest. The ultimate finger food. It doesn’t get any better than this.
THE PRODUCER’S PASSION
“I have a real passion for growing this fruit and I am proud to be able to supply the consumer with a great product, knowing that I’ve done my best to produce it,” Chris says.
It’s 5.45am and the sun is yawning and stretching over the Glasshouse Mountains inland from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast as the pineapple pickers take their places behind the conveyer belt.
The baby pineapples waiting their turn are surprisingly pretty – shades of coral pink and yellow, deep purple and olive green – but it is the ripe fruit that is the star of the show.
Two varieties are ready for picking this week at Fullerton Farms – Smooth Cayenne for canning and Variety 73-50 (marketed as Pure Gold) for the fresh pineapple market.
Fullerton Farms was established in 1914. The Fullertons are largescale producers, producing 6-7000 tonnes of pineapples per year. The business includes a macadamia nut operation, and is run by brothers Chris, Scott and Ken, together with their cousin Robert. They are fourth generation farmers.
Chris’s forebears were involved in establishing the Golden Circle cannery – a solution to surplus supply in a then infant pineapple industry. In post-war Australia, the fresh-canned fruit became a pantry staple and indeed the CWA cookbook lists pineapple recipes from marshmallow tarts to puddings.
Today fresh pineapple is available year-round from distributers such Tropical Pines where the Fullerton fruit goes (they are the biggest suppliers and Chris is the current Chair). Pineapples picked at Fullerton Farms on Monday are likely to be available in Sydney and Melbourne markets by Wednesday morning.
Among the pickers is Chris and Helen Fullerton’s son, Sam, who finished Year 12 last year and is saving for gap year travel adventures.
“He’s not sure what he’ll do yet but he’ll work that out in time,” Chris says, but a fifth generation of pineapple-producing Fullertons is not out of the question.
CONSISTENT SUPPLY TOP-OF-MIND
Supply of consistent, top quality fruit is always front-of-mind for Chris.
The plant produces its first crop within two years of planting in south east Queensland and then produces the ratoon, or second crop, about 18 months later, Chris says.
“The variety and month of harvest determines if the fruit is canned or sent to the fresh fruit market.”
During the hot summer months, sunburn is an issue for pineapple production and a clay-based protective coating is applied on canning varieties, which is removed with the skin. The clay isn’t used on product bound for fruit shops and supermarkets.
“Pure Gold is the predominate fresh variety. It’s the one you see in the major retailers with the tops cut off,” Chris says.
“The aim of Pure Gold is to provide a good, consistent eating experience for the consumer all year round.
“The taste and texture of Pure Gold doesn’t differ as much as the Smooth Cayenne which will change as we go into the winter months because of the sugar:acid ratio.”
The sugar:acid ratio, or brix:acid ratio as it is known, is the most reliable indicator of quality, including juiciness, taste, texture, sweetness, acidity, and volatiles, the compounds responsible for the characteristic flavour and aroma of a fruit.
“The Pure Gold are consistent year-round because of the higher brix:acid ratio.”
BEING KIND TO THE SOIL
The on-farm practices are focused on soil health and land sustainability, and hinge on combatting the soil-borne root rot fungus, Phytophthora, which can compromise root systems, and sunburn which spoils the fruit.
“We plant on a raised bed as the soil needs to be very well drained and we monitor the pH of the soil constantly until planting time,” Chris says.
“Pineapples are different from many other plants in that they can thrive in a relatively low pH environment and the Phytophthora doesn’t like a low pH so we try to keep it low.”
He says soil health is extremely important to the production system and the Fullertons’ approach to farming.
“At the end of a cycle there may be up to 150 tonnes per acre of green leafy matter that we turn straight back into the soil.
“Then there is a spelling period for that green matter to be able to compost down. We may also plant a cover crop of sorghum that doesn’t host soil nematodes which can also be a problem for the root system.”
READY TO EAT
When it comes to eating the product, Chris says there is no need to wait for store-bought pineapples to ripen.
“There is a perception that pineapples with little or no orange colour aren’t ready to eat but generally speaking once it’s broken off the bush on the farm it is ready to eat,” he said.
“It might look better in the fruit bowl because the skin colour might start to change but it won’t get any better internally and the best time to eat that fruit is within seven to 10 days of harvesting.”
Chris recommends chilling the fruit, cutting it up and storing it in an airtight container in the fridge. And his favourite way to eat pineapple?
“First thing, early in the morning, I grab one straight off the bush. After a cool night they are nice and cold and we cut them up and eat them straight away.”