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Recently, I was invited by fruit distributors Tru-Cape to visit their orchards to see what it takes to get those juicy apples and pears into your fruit bowl.
My first stop was at Derek Corder’s picturesque farm, Beaulieu, in Grabouw, where picking was in full swing and apples were being handpicked from trees laden with ripe fruit.
Each tree can produce up to 3 500 pieces of fruit, Corder told me. When they get old, young branches are grafted on to them so they can continue producing good quality fruit.
He said farmers are always on the lookout for trees producing unusually good quality or good coloured apples so their branches can be grafted on to established trees.
The scorching sun is a big problem for farmers as up to 40 percent of a crop is sunburnt and so suitable only for juicing.
The pear orchards looked very different, as branches of these trees are trained to grow sideways to facilitate picking.
Derek pointed out a new variety of pear in SA, the Abate Fetel, which will be available in supermarkets this winter. It is a beautifully crisp and juicy pear with a long neck.
The next stop on the fruit tour was the Two-a-Day packing plant where marketing manager Conrad Fick showed me how the fruit is washed, sorted and packed.
One section of the plant packed little pears for Tesco’s in the UK; another packaged large pears for the Middle East.
I aked Fick if the cream of the crop was exported, leaving the rest for the local market.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There is no special crop or part of a crop that gets exclusively exported. (But) through market research we find that people in the Middle East will buy the very large pears, which are not so popular in SA.”
Tru-Cape MD Charles Hughes disclosed that their orchards produce 131 million tons of apples and pears a year.
I asked how it was possible for consumers to buy them all year. “Apples and pears picked before their optimal ripeness can be stored for many months in a controlled atmosphere environment,” he explained.
“Because of the lack of oxygen, the fruit is put into a deep sleep which keeps them fresh for much longer.
“This means consumers can, at any time of the year, get apples and pears that are as fresh as if they had just come off a tree during harvest in March and April.”
CHOCOLATE PEAR CAKE
250 g butter, softened
250ml castor sugar
10ml vanilla essence
10ml baking powder
125ml cocoa powder
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced
50g skinned hazelnuts, chopped
100g dark chocolate
extra hazelnuts for decorating
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Beat in the vanilla essence.
Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa and add to the creamed mixture.
Add the buttermilk and mix to form a thick batter.
Fold in the pears and hazelnuts.
Spoon the mixture into a well-greased 23cm ring pan and bake at 180°C for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Remove and cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out.
When cool, pour over the chocolate icing and decorate with extra hazelnuts.
Icing: In a bowl, combine chocolate and cream and melt in the microwave on 50% power for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth and cool.
PORK ROAST WITH PEARS AND PRUNES (Serves 6)
15ml chopped garlic
grated rind of 1 lemon
10ml ground coriander
15ml fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
1kg smoked pork loin roast
10 pitted prunes
2 red onions, sliced into wedges
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
160ml chicken stock
3 - 4 pears, quartered and cored
Combine the garlic, lemon, coriander, thyme, seasoning and verjuice and mix.
Put the pork into a non-metallic dish, add the prunes, pour over the verjuice and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Remove the pork and place it in a roasting pan. Add the marinade and prunes as well as the onions, carrots and stock. Roast at 180°C for an hour.
Remove from the oven, add the pears and return to the oven for another 30 minutes until pears are soft.
Remove and rest the meat, covered with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with the vegetables and prunes and the pan juices.
EVE’S APPLE AND COCONUT PUDDING (Serves 6)
3 small apples, peeled and cored
30ml lemon juice
45ml castor sugar
150g butter, softened
125ml castor sugar
5ml vanilla essence
375ml self raising flour
125ml toasted desiccated coconut
custard for serving
Cut each apple in half. Slice each half into wedges and place them into a ramekin.
Do the same with the remaining apples.
Add a little lemon juice to each apple and sprinkle each with some castor sugar.
To prepare the batter, cream the butter and castor sugar well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in the vanilla.
Mix in the flour and milk and, lastly, mix in the coconut.
Divide the mixture between the apple-filled ramekins and bake at 180°C for 20-25 minutes until the batter is cooked.
Remove and serve with custard.
CIDER CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND CRANBERRIES (Serves 4)
10ml dried thyme
salt and pepper
4 chicken breast fillets
30ml olive oil
2 red apples, cored and sliced into wedges
1 red onion, sliced into wedges
330ml dry cider
250ml dried cranberries
Combine half the thyme with some salt and pepper and rub into the chicken breasts.
Heat the oil and fry the chicken until nicely browned. Remove and set aside.
Add the apples and onions to the pan and fry for 2 minutes. Sprinkle over the flour. Add the remaining thyme, cider and cranberries and bring to a simmer.
Return the chicken to the pan and simmer for 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
Serve with rice or mashed potato.
GOAT’S CHEESECAKE WITH PEARS (Serves 8-10)
200g packet of digestive biscuits, crushed
80g butter, melted
250g thick cream cheese
2x100g rolls of chevin goat’s cheese
125ml castor sugar
10ml grated lemon rind
30ml lemon juice
4 pears, peeled and quartered lengthwise
15ml lemon juice
30ml maple syrup
45ml castor sugar
250ml cranberry apple juice
2 sprigs of rosemary, stripped
Combine the biscuits and butter and mix well. Press into the base of a 20cm spring form pan. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Combine the filling ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture on to the biscuit crust.
Wrap the spring form pan in a double layer of tin foil. Place into a deep roasting pan and fill the pan with hot water to come halfway up the side of the pan. Bake at 160°C for 30 minutes until just set. Remove and cool.
Refrigerate for a few hours until chilled. Unmould from the pan and place on a serving plate. Decorate the top with sliced pears and drizzle with syrup.
Pears: Place the pears in a roasting pan. Add the butter, lemon juice, maple syrup, castor sugar, juice and rosemary. Roast at 200°C for 15 minutes until soft. Remove the pears and pour the remaining liquid into a small pot. Boil until reduced and syrupy. Cool.