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Plum crazy for juicy goodness

Food & Drink
Plums, peaches and nectarines are ripe for the picking (and cooking or baking) during the summer months and found on our doorstep, yet we are not extracting its juicy goodness.

While on a tour of the Goosen Orchards at Jagerskraal in Prince Alfred Hamlet, it was clear the overseas markets have a stronger love affair with our home-grown fruit.

Hortgro the umbrella body for the stone fruit producers, estimates South Africans eat six stone fruit a year, compared to the nearly 50 that a European citizen is using to cook with, bake and eat.

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DELICIOUS: SA-grown peaches are popular overseas.DELICIOUS: SA-grown peaches are popular overseas.DELICIOUS: SA-grown peaches are popular overseas.DELICIOUS: SA-grown peaches are popular overseas.

Jacques du Preez, the Hortgro general manager: Trade & Markets says: “Now imagine if each South African just bought one more plum, nectarine or peach a year, what that would mean to the economy.”

Plums, nectarines and peaches have various cultivars which are harvested at certain times of the year. It’s a good thing to know if you want to get the best out of the fruit you’re using in your kitchen.

There is 54347 hectares of pome and stone fruit planted in South Africa and dozens of cultivars to choose from, whichhave the same characteristics and are summer fruit, perishable but susceptible to decay.

As you would choose a golden delicious apple over a red delicious you should be doing the same with stone fruit.

And there is no shortage of stone fruit to choose from. In South Africa there are 925 producers who grow and distribute fruit all year round.

This is evident in the way the farms operate because they have very few seasonal workers. The majority of the people working in the orchards and in the packing facilities are permanent staff.

Flavour is uppermost in the mind, from farm to shelf.

The fruit is harvested and processed with scientific precision which includes weighing the stone fruit before it’s delivered to retailers or exported.

A red skin plum is going to give you a different flavour, aroma and taste as opposed to a black skin one, and this subtle difference means you can get the most out of the fruit, especially if you’re baking with stone fruit and putting it into the oven.

There is a common misconception that the best grade of fruit is shipped overseas, but once you walk through the orchards in Prince Alfred Hamlet you soon realise all fruit comes from the same tree.

The harvesting and storage of the fruit is universal - the only difference is that local retailers are more heavy handed with the fruit when it reaches their shelves than the fruit which is offloaded from the containers in Europe.

Europeans do get slightly larger and brighter coloured fruit in certain instances, but this is often chalked up to the fact that when the fruit is being shipped overseas, it ripens more than if it was being transported to a retailer down the road.

The appetite for stone fruit beyond South Africa's borders grows annually and the statistics prove this.

Fifty eight percent of nectarines exported from SA goes to the UK and 46% of plums shipped, go to Europe.

Cling peaches are a favourite for local stone fruit farmers and a Hortgro census shows that in 2015 there was 4.9million cling peach trees in South Africa.

The Oom Sarel and Kakamas cling peaches are also the most popular cultivars with our farmers and should be on top of your shopping list next time you’re looking to buy a ripe peach.

Another positive for the stone fruit lover is that the industry has been consistently commended for the quality of fruit it producers and sells.

In the 2015 Hortgro annual report, the SA Stone Fruit Producers noted that: “There was a diversification of product range to extend the South African stone fruit market offering such as white and yellow flesh peaches and nectarines and different plum colours (yellow, red, black) harvested at different intervals to ensure a more balanced supply throughout the season.”

The result is that there is a juicy basket of stone fruit available and one small change to a dish, like using a white flesh nectarine in a leafy salad or yellow skin plum in your plum pudding will give you a new flavour.

Next time you’re in the fruit and veg section, have a look at the stone fruit on offer and get inspired by the many cultivars there are right on your doorstep.

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