Two apricot trees were the very first things I planted on our land in Wanaka. I put them up behind the cabin, on a rough bank that had been earthworked for the building site and the newly formed road — the only cleared land on the block. The bank was all peat, which in this harsh arid environment seemed quite remarkable, and I figured this moisture-holding medium would be just perfect for my little trees. And so the holes were dug and my little trees — one a traditional Moorpark and the other an early variety called Newcastle — carefully planted.
So much of a garden is about romance and beauty. Gardening, on the other hand, is about thinking and planning and a whole lot of hard work — but with a sense of beauty and joy in the doing of it and a feeling of working with something bigger than yourself. As it is whenever you work with the natural world, you may have plans but nature will always be the ultimate arbiter.
The first year the apricots fruited, I remember discovering the fruit and then sitting down under the tree, scoffing one after another, lost in a reverie of sweet, tangy memories conjured up by their taste. I recalled my own childhood holidays in this magnificent part of the world — the steely, shimmering heat of the Clyde Valley in summer, the extraordinary aquamarine water of its legendary river (deep, swift waters that totally terrified us city kids), rickety orchards with their offerings of spotty, ugly fruit that for all its lack of cosmetic appeal tasted so so heavenly, competitions to see who could spit the pips the furthest.
Back it all came, flooding me with a wonderful sense of summer freedom. No wonder I had wanted to grow apricots — in the quixotic notion of my own childhood, this was a deeply woven thread that I wanted my own children to experience. And, via the act of planting and growing my own apricot trees, it was so simple to achieve.
Certainly there is nothing like the taste of a fruit picked ripe from the tree but beyond taste there is also a whole idea of getting to know the flavour of fruit from one tree or another. At the supermarket we buy fruit — be it apples, feijoas, nectarines, apricots, cherries, et al — without having any real sense of varietal flavour. When you have your own trees you get to savour the nuance, the particular aroma and sweet juiciness of one nectarine type compared to another; or the sugary crunch or dense, sweet-sour taste of different apples.
I also love the shape of fruit trees in the garden. They are worth growing not just for their fruit but for their form and good looks, so it's a bonus to have homegrown fruit to enjoy and to give to friends and family. Now, as the stonefruit comes into the full swing of its season, it's worth checking out farmers' markets and roadside stalls for varieties that you often won't find at the supermarket. The flavours are amazing.
Summer Fruit Salad with Five-Spice Syrup
Ready in 15 mins
1.2kg mixed stonefruit, such as nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums or cherries
¼ cup pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped, to serve (optional)
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
½ tsp five-spice powder
To make five-spice syrup, combine all ingredients in a small pot and heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Allow to simmer, then remove from heat and cool. Chill until needed — it will keep in the fridge indefinitely. Remove stones from fruit and slice flesh into wedges. Arrange in a serving bowl or on a platter, scatter with pistachio nuts, if using, drizzle with syrup and serve within an hour.
Annabel says: I have flavoured this syrup with ginger and star anise but you might also like to try a couple of sticks of cinnamon and 4-5 whole cloves as a different flavour profile. It's a fabulous way to liven up a fresh fruit salad.
Ready in 15 mins + freezing
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup lime juice
150–200ml white rum or vodka
Halve plums, remove pits and place on a tray to freeze for at least 4 hours. (Frozen plums can be bagged for easy free-flow use. They will keep for months.) While plums are freezing, heat sugar and water, stirring until dissolved. Simmer for 5 minutes. Chill. To serve, blend frozen plums and sugar syrup with lime juice until slushy. Add white rum or vodka and blend again to combine. Divide between 4–6 glasses and serve at once.
Annabel says: If you love frozen daiquiris, then check out this plum version. Plums are such a rich, tangy fruit and their amazing colour gives this cocktail a real "wow" factor. Leave out the alcohol for a kids' version. I often freeze a bag of pitted plums to use in cocktails as well as for baking. They hold their shape well when frozen and have a great flavour.
Apricots with Macaroon Topping
Ready in 45 mins
6 large or 8-10 small apricots
1 cup cream
1 cup sugar
3 cups shredded coconut
½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake and line a baking dish with baking paper for easy clean-up. Halve apricots and remove stones. Pack closely in a single layer in the baking dish, cut-side up. Place cream and sugar in a medium pot and heat, stirring, until the cream boils and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and mix in coconut and vanilla. Divide over the apricots. Bake until topping is golden and crispy and apricots are soft (about 40 minutes). If macaroon browns too rapidly, cover with foil until apricots are cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Annabel says: This coconut topping can be baked over any ripe stonefruit and also used as a topping for slices or tarts. Make it in bulk and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.