France Meyer, the youngest of seven daughters, was born in France while her parents were on holiday, and raised in their home in Agadir, Morocco. From 18, she was a student in France, Egypt and Syria and 28 years ago she moved to Australia. She returns each year to her home town.
Meyer's mother was a pharmacist, trained in France, and she had wide knowledge of plants, edible or medicinal. On walks in the Moroccan or French countryside she could give medicinal characteristics of the plants they encountered, which Meyer says was inspirational. Her father was a doctor specialising in tropical illnesses, and lived in central Africa for many years. He loved his garden and planted unusual trees and shrubs, and, while the house was a shack, the garden in Agadir was, and still is, a delight, she says.
While Meyer was studying Arabic in Egypt she met her former partner (she is a translator of modern Arabic literature into French). In 1992 they bought a house in Barton to be close to Telopea school. There was just one magnificent oak tree in the garden and her initial plantings were trial and error, based on the plants in the garden in Morocco. She says the climate in Canberra is similar to Aix en Provence, where she studied, except for their icy mistral wind.
In the Barton garden she has olive trees, including sevillana and other frost-resistant varieties, which bear heavy crops. She picks them green, red or black to cure.
A pomegranate flowers and fruits well, but the king parrots eat the fruit before it ripens. Her black Turkey fig tree is netted to protect the crop, and Meyer has a lemon, greengage and Angelina plums, rhubarb, rosemary and lemon-scented verbena, pumpkins, artichokes and strawberries. She relies on rain to water the plants. Roses do well, and she uses an unnamed rose from the country to make rose petal jam. Driving through Hoskinstown a decade ago she noticed a vivacious, pink rambling rose under a wrought-iron fence surrounding a tomb in the cemetery. It had a captivating perfume. Meyer thought the person who lay in the anonymous grave would be happy to know that someone was enjoying the rose and thinking of them. Her recipe comes from Sufi Cuisine, by Nevin Halici (2005, saqibooks.com).
Rose petal jam
125g fresh, fragrant, pink, ever-blooming rose petals
juice of two lemons
1kg granulated sugar
Remove the white edges of the rose petals with a pair of scissors. Place the petals in a large glass or porcelain bowl. Add the lemon juice and rub it in by hand for 10 minutes, then set aside for 20 minutes.
Place 600ml of water and the sugar in a heavy pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and boil for two minutes. Add the petals and cook for another two minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the jam into a glass or porcelain bowl. Cover with gauze.
Place the bowl in sunlight during the day, to bring the jam to the correct consistency. It is ready when the jam becomes ''stringy'' when stretched between finger and thumb. Transfer into sterilised jars and store in a cool place.