At the peak of summer the fruit bottling would begin. Stone fruits, picked from the trees or packed in cases bought from country road stalls, would take over the laundry, to be kept as cool as possible. Agee jars were sterilised by boiling in water and drying in the oven.
Kilos (in those days pounds) of sugar were bought, ready for the steamy, sticky, hot production line that would take over the kitchen for a few days. You had to move fast to beat the fruit spoiling in the heat.
I can see why bottling has become a thing of the past.
The end result was that the topmost shelves of the kitchen cupboards were full of bottled peaches, apricots and plums ready for the coming year.
This was important, not only as a way of preserving produce from the garden, but also because every night you had to come up with a pudding. Bottled fruits were made into pies, crumbles, tarts, sponges or eaten with homemade ice cream, jellies and other luscious cold summer puddings.
In my house these days we rarely have pudding, unless we have guests for dinner. Even then it is something quite simple because I'm not great at making or baking sweet things. I usually take the easy way out with some good ice cream served with fresh, poached or roasted fruits, a crumble, or some cheese. My best solution is to accept the offer of "What can I bring? "and say "Dessert."
When stone fruits are in season I poach them in a syrup, leave them to cool and serve them with the reduced poaching liquid.
A simple poaching syrup can be made by simmering equal parts of sugar and water till the sugar is dissolved. I add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to help prevent the fruit discolouring. Make sure you have enough liquid to cover the fruit or it will darken. Covering the poaching fruit with some baking paper to keep it below the liquid also helps.
You can poach on the top of the stove in a pan, or in a baking dish in an oven set at about 160C.
The liquid should not be allowed to boil.
The syrup can be made with any kind of sugar (palm sugar gives a caramel touch), honey or other sugar substitutes you use if you have special dietary requirements.
You can infuse it with a cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla pods, citrus zest, fresh ginger, lemon verbena leaves, scented geranium petals and even some of the herbs we consider more savoury. A little basil goes well with peaches, as does rosemary with plums. Be cautious though, as these aromatics should only be a hint, the fruit flavour should dominate.
You can poach the fruit whole with the skin on and stone in. You can skin the fruit by plunging it in boiling water for a minute or so till the skin splits, then into cold water. The skin should then slip off. Cut around the fruit to halve it and remove the stone. Some stone fruits are "free stone" and this will happen easily. Others are a not and you will have to carefully cut around the stone with a small knife to remove it.
Once the fruits have poached, remove them from the liquid with a slotted spoon and reduce the syrup to intensify the flavours.
Allow to cool, pour back over the fruit and serve with ice cream, mascarpone or a mix of whipped cream (unsweetened) and plain yoghurt.
Below are some simple silky-textured pudding ideas to serve with your poached fruit.
* Grant Allen, a former restaurateur, runs an Auckland bespoke catering service called COOK. Visit Grant's Facebook page for more tips.