Of all the seasonal fruit and vegetables which ripen in summer, arguably none of them say ‘summer is here’ more than the colour, flavour, aroma of local stone fruit. Cherries are the first to ripen at the beginning of summer, followed over the season by peaches, apricots, plums and nectarines, all of which have fantastic potential in a seasonal menu.
Most stone fruits won't ripen after being harvested, which is why local in season fruit taste far superior to any imported fruit. Picked at their peak and only good for a small window of time, make the most of local stone fruit while they are in season! The ‘stone’ in the centre of stone fruit is actually a drupe, which is a hard shell protecting a seed. While in New Zealand we associate peaches, plums and nectarines as stone fruit, mangos, almonds and dates also fall into this category.
Cherries from Hawke’s Bay are usually the first to market at the beginning of summer. As the season progresses, the main crop from Central Otago ripens. As an export market, cherries are New Zealand’s most valuable stone fruit crop with three quarters being exported.
Their vibrant crimson red colour makes for a dramatic granita or sorbet, while their sweet and sour flavour pairs well with game, like venison.
A quintessential Central Otago cherry available before Christmas with small, sweet, juicy burgundy fruit.
Large, sweet, delicious heart- shaped cherries with red flesh.
Considered one of the best, this mid-season variety is a large deep red to mahogany cherry with a crisp and sweet flesh.
An exceptionally crunchy cherry with a large heart-shaped dark red flesh. This late season variety also has a long shelf life, making it a winner.
Plums have a thin, smooth skin and super juicy flesh. Toss plums in salads or bake them to really bring out their flavour. Red, black, or yellow—plums come in a variety of colours and are available from December through to March. Plums pair well with nuts, ginger, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar and black pepper. When cooked, plums increase in acidity which is why they go so well with richer proteins like pork and duck. Try pairing pork belly slices with a fruit and nut laden salad and a tangy plum sauce for a seasonal summer main.
One of the first plums of the season, available in mid-December, they have a dark red skin and flesh with a sweet flavour.
A huge, round, bright garnet red plum with aromatic amber flesh. These sweet and juicy plums are available from January.
A medium size plum with deep purple-black skin and dark red sweet, juicy flesh. Makes the best flavoured jams and is available late January through to February.
This old-fashioned variety has succulent, sweet, smaller fruit with delicious flavour and is available late summer.
Medium sized, red speckled skin and red juicy flesh is one of the later season plums.
With a variety of peaches available they begin to hit the market in mid-January and continue until early autumn.
Bake peaches with cinnamon and sugar be it in a pie, crumble or cobbler. Or add a dash of whisky or brandy and set their flavours alight. Peach puree is classically added to Prosecco or champagne to make a bellini and this match can extend to a buttery chardonnay.
Pair with peppery salad leaves like roquette and endive or thinly sliced fennel. Make a salsa with summer herbs like basil or tarragon. Perfect for grilled pork, chicken or seafood.
Large, round fruit with light pink coloured skin and white flesh. Available late January.
With a beautiful port wine skin and red melting flesh, these medium-sized fruit are available in February.
This classic variety needs no introduction. Originates from 1908—New Zealand. A true favourite for bottling and an excellent eater. Firm, deep orange flesh and deep yellow- orange skin. Available late February.
Grown in Central Otago exclusively by Clyde Orchards, Flattos™ have very little peach fuzz and a small stone, making them super easy to prepare and better yield than some other varieties.
Similar to peaches, just without the fuzzy skin. In fact, peaches and nectarines are part of the same species (Prunis persica) and originated from China. The two main differences in nectarine varieties is the colour of their flesh—yellow or white. Both have a beautiful tangy, juicy flavour. While nectarine flesh is a little firmer than peaches, you can use them interchangeably—grill, bake, add to salads. Try them with lime, summer berries, pepper or ginger to set their distinct flavours alive. Don’t forget nuts. The creaminess of macadamias and almonds work especially well with tart nectarines.
Yellow flesh varieties include Red and Rose Diamond with brilliant red skin and juicy flesh.
Nectarines soften as they ripen. Popular varieties include Pearl, available from January–February with a sweet low acid flesh.
A modern breed like Hunny© are low acid, sweet varieties that can be both yellow and white flesh and have been designed to appeal to young and old.
Apricots resemble peaches and nectarines but tend to be smaller in size. Their flavour is tart, but their texture is rich and creamy. Apricots ripen from the inside out, making them very fragile! Since they’re naturally high in pectin, apricots are an excellent choice for drying or jam making.
The tartness of apricots is often balanced by creamy or buttery flavours, think a classic Danish pastry with custard and apricot or a buttery tart with apricots and frangipane. Grill them to intensify their flavour and serve on rich toasted brioche or bake into sweet friands. Or be inspired by Middle Eastern flavours adding fresh apricots in savoury dishes for the ultimate sweet and sour taste.
Available December–January, a juicy, bright orange apricot with no blush.
Specifically developed for New Zealand’s environment, Clutha apricots are a cross between Sundrop and Moorpark. The medium- large fruit has a golden colour and red blush.
Heritage varieties available mid January to February from specialist growers. Delicious and juicy fresh as well as being a favourite for bottling and jam.
NZ has around 280 stone fruit growers with a total of 1,808 hectares of orchards. The main growing areas are Central Otago (61%) and Hawke's Bay (32%).
Don't be afraid of a few bruises as this indicates a ripe, tasty fruit that may actually be better than a hard, spotless one. If you want to test the ripeness of a stone fruit without squeezing (and bruising) them, their smell is a great indicator of the ripeness - the more aromatic the better.