Article by: Hari Yellina
The saffron season is in full swing on the few farms in Victoria that grow the labour-intensive spice. Gamila MacRury, who has been cultivating saffron in Beechworth for 13 years, said the next four weeks would be the busiest of the year. “In the peak flushes, we have to collect up to three times a day because we need to collect them before the blooms open,” Ms MacRury explained. “It’s also a hit with the bees.” It’s a purple flower with a pleasant scent that aids sleep. “As a result, we have to pick many times during the day to ensure that the bees are content and the saffron at its best.” The saffron harvest, according to Ms MacRury, was uncertain because the peak period for picking was so close together.
“For instance, we thought today would be a leisure day, but when we came out, there were loads of little purple blossoms, so we had to get rid of them,” she explained. Rosemary Pamic, who resides in the central Victorian township of Dunolly, spends her autumn days gathering saffron flowers by hand. “Each corm will yield three to four blooms. The flowers are not completely open in the morning and have a tulip shape. That is the most effective method of selecting them. “You don’t want them to be overly sun-exposed,” Ms Pamic explained. “I’ll gather the flowers and stigma in my drying shed, then separate the petals from the stigmas.” “I’ll dehydrate the stigmas and then age them for a month.”
Ms Pamic stated that she had seen a shift in her harvesting methods this season, maybe as a result of the weather. “In the last two weather patterns, we’ve observed a difference. Last season, I had a brief burst of flowers, followed by a brief pause before another burst. When it comes to the corms I planted this year, there is a slight delay compared to past years.” Ninety percent of the world’s saffron is produced in Iran, leaving a limited but growing market in Australia. Ms. MacRury stated that she did not compete with the Iranian market, but rather tried to set herself apart. “My saffron sells for $240 per gramme, which is a good price, and I can sell all I make,” Ms MacRury added. Ms. MacRury also plants and harvests table olives at the same time. She claims the two go well together since saffron is so unpredictable.