Big, fat, juicy cherries. With their deep ruby hue and tight, shiny skins, these sweet beauties always capture my heart over summer. They're somehow indulgent and essential in heralding the arrival of the festive season.
The orchardists, who spend all year fighting frosts, pruning, feeding and lovingly tending their precious rows of cherry trees, call them the "stallion of the fruit" because they're the last of the summer fruits to blossom, but first to fruit.
With variety names such as Sweetheart, Stardust and Stella, we adore the romance that surrounds this wondrous fruit, but mostly we love how versatile they are.
Serve them pitted and torn open with plenty of crisped pancetta and baby cos leaves for a wickedly full-flavoured salad, or roast handfuls of them on the barbecue with venison steaks and rosemary-rubbed lamb chops.
For a quick dessert, warm them in a pan with a cinnamon stick and slosh of brandy, then serve them warm with clouds of whipped cream - every mouthful tastes like Christmas.
The luscious cherries in store now are from Hawkes Bay and, next week, Central Otago cherries hit the shelves. Some orchards now offer an efficient delivery service direct from their orchard to your door - Viva recipe editor Angela Casley uses orchardfresh.co.nz, ph 0800 665 963, or try my favourite, McIntosh Orchard, mcintosh-fruit.co.nz or Facebook.com/mcintoshfruit.