By: The Food Coach
Chins and arms across the nation are set to be drenched in rich, succulent summer stonefruit juice as Aussies prepare their taste buds for a bumper harvest of delicious local peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. The smell of summer is in the air as the first trucks carrying aromatic Australian summer stonefruit begin to make their way from sub-tropical Queensland and northern areas of Western Australia and New South Wales to greengrocers and supermarkets nationwide.Around 800 growers in 26 regions spread across the country produce more than 100,000 tonnes of peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots from October to April each year.
Industry Chairman, Mark Wilkinson, said early indications are that it is going to be a great summer of stonefruit, thanks to our hardworking farmers and near-ideal growing conditions which have set the stage for an abundance of some of the world's most loved fruit this season. "It's a case of so far, so good. We've had a cold winter and lots of water for irrigation with a forecast of a hot and dry summer, allowing trees to grow well and fruit to develop flavour to its fullest," Mr Wilkinson said. "Orchardists, particularly in cooler areas of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, are now relying on the warm, dry days of summer to perfect the harvest while growers on the west coast are hoping for a bit of rain to sustain orchards in the next few months," he said. "As the weather warms up, consumers can expect an excellent crop of stonefruit with harvest tonnages on par with last season and high quality produce bursting with juice and flavour, making them a memorable treat this summer."
Mr Wilkinson said Australian stonefruit is truly one of the joys of summer and 100 dribbilicous. "Juicy peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots add a sweet surprise to any meal whether it's a Christmas feast or Australia Day picnic or barbeque. They also make the perfect snack on the beach or park on a hot summer's day," he said.
When purchasing ready-to-eat stonefruit, look out for fruit that is fragrant and yields gently to palm pressure. The stem end of the fruit should be plump with no dark green in the cavity. Peaches bruise easily so look for smooth, unblemished fruit and handle them with care. When ripe, they should produce a delectable full-bodied aroma and will start to lose their brightness.
Nectarines tend to be a little easier to select and will give slightly when they are soft and juicy. A good sign of how sweet they are is the presence of white freckles on the top half. When selecting plums, make sure you go for the ones that are plump and full-coloured while apricots should be deep yellow, well-formed and firm.
Mr Wilkinson said stonefruit only ripens at room temperature and is best eaten as soon as it is ripe. "Stonefruit should only be stored in the fridge at peak ripeness," he said. "Refrigerating fruit stops the ripening process and will cause it to be dry and flavourless. To enjoy the fullest flavour, remove ripe stonefruit from the fridge an hour before consumption and eat at room temperature," he said.
Around 800 growers in 26 regions spread around the country produce more than 100,000 tonnes of nectarines, plums, apricots and peaches from October to April each year. The season starts in sub-tropical Queensland and production kicks in down-country as the sun heads south for summer. The northern areas of Western Australia and New South Wales spring into action before Victoria and South Australia come on-stream, rounded off by Tasmanian harvests from mid-January.
How to pick ripe stone fruit
The peach originated in China where it has been cultivated for thousands of years and is regarded as the 'tree of life'. Known as Persian Apples by the Romans and introduced to America by Columbus, the fruit has been produced in Australia since the 19th Century. Peaches bruise easily so look for smooth, unblemished fruit and handle them with care. When ripe, a peach should produce a delectable fullbodied aroma from the stem and start to lose its brightness. A good sign of how sweet they are is the presence of white freckles on the top half. White peaches, like white nectarines, can be eaten sweet and crunchy. Peaches are a fantastic any-time snack and great sliced up in fruit or vegetable salads, pies, flans or on top of cheesecakes and pavlovas. They are also brilliant for jams and chutneys and go well with chicken, pork and fish.
Nectarines, or 'nectar of the Gods', are a variety of peach with a smooth yellow, orange or red skin and either white or yellow flesh. Originating in China some 4000 years ago, they are ready to eat when they start going a little dull and you can smell a sweet fragrance coming from the fruit. Yellow nectarines are great soft and juicy and will yield slightly to gentle palm pressure and be both sweet and tart. They usually start off with a slightly acidic flavour while their white counterparts have low acidic levels meaning they're sweet even when they're firm and crunchy. Both varieties get sweeter and juicer as they soften and white speckles near the stem of the fruit are the best indicator of this. Sliced nectarines are excellent in salads and on cheese and fruit platters.
Plums are far more diverse than their summer stonefruit relatives coming in a wider range of shapes, sizes, skin colours and tastes which vary from extremely sweet to quite tart. Some plum varieties are specifically bred so they can be dried and still retain their sweetness and these are used for prunes. When selecting, go for plump, full-coloured plums. They generally become dull just before they are ready to eat. Plums add a sweet surprise to hot and cold desserts, stewed, grilled or baked, and in fruit salads or pies. They also make tasty sauces for various meats or ice-cream and can also be preserved in jams.
In Latin, apricot means 'precious', a label earned because it ripens more quickly than other summer fruit. Originally from China, cuttings of this golden fruit made their way across the Persian Empire to the Mediterranean where they flourished. Spanish explorers introduced the fruit to California and in 1792 the first major production of apricots was recorded. Apricots should be deep yellow or yellow/orange, plump, well-formed and fairly firm. Their characteristic flavour and sweetness develops on the tree. Delicious fresh, they are also fabulous in desserts, poached, stewed or pureed, and in chutneys, pickles, compotes, salads and sorbets. They also pair up well with meats and poultry.
Early season's bounty comes from sub-tropical Queensland and northern areas of Western Australia and New South Wales and are followed by crops from areas in mid to southern New South Wales and Western Australia, parts of Victoria like Swan Hill and the Riverland of South Australia. Fruit from cooler climates are last to market.
Renmark, Swan Hill and Goulburn Valley(Shepparton and Cobram) constitute more than 50% of production.
Tasmania produces all home-grown apricots harvested in mid January to February.
Supply of summer stonefruit is based on a staggered flow of different varieties, each lasting only a week or two which means there is a fresh, new variety at green grocers and supermarkets each week.
Summer stonefruit is rich in vitamins A, C and E and a great source of dietary fibre and potassium.
More than 9,000 tonnes of Australian summer stonefruit valued at more than $25 million was exported over the last 12 months.
The majority of the exports were nectarines and peaches (65 per cent), followed by plums (32 per cent) and apricots (3 per cent).
The three key markets are Hong Kong, Middle East and Singapore.
Storage and handling
Correct storing and handling is important in maintaining good quality Australian summer stonefruit. The ideal storage temperature is 0o to 2o celsius.Fruit will ripen most effectively between 8o to 25o celsius.
Under no circumstances should summer stonefruit be stored for any length of time 2° to 8°celsius. At this temperature the fruit will cease to ripen naturally and may exhibit browning of the flesh and a loss of juice. Fruit stored above 25°C will ripen rapidly and become over-ripe within 48 hours.
Fruit should not be stored beyond its normal storage life of between two and six weeks, depending on variety, maturity and storage conditions.
For more on stonefruit visit: Summerfruit Australia
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