Stone fruits arrive early this year

By Teage Ezard

With spring upon us and summer rapidly approaching, it is the perfect time to try some of the offerings that the warmer season brings. Locally-grown stone fruits are one of my favorites. 

The early season bounty is nearly upon us with peaches and nectarines from Queensland and northwestern Australia hitting the market shelves in November. This will be followed by an abundance of quality produce from right here in Victoria, with growers in the Goulburn district, Robinvale, Mildura, Renmark and Shepparton areas expecting good crops.

A tip when selecting your stone fruit is to firstly look for deeply and fully-colored fruit, with an al dente feel and a sweet, fragrant aroma.  Also look at the labeling to ensure that it is local, rather than imported, and to ensure that they have not been atmospherically controlled in any way or form.

As we approach peak season, some fruit can be picked earlier than desirable, then stored to ripen ­– to extend their shelf life. However, this often destroys the flavour and juices that come with sun-drenched, fully-ripened fruit.

If you’re thinking about using stone fruit for a salad, fresh puree or tart topping, purchase the freestone variety as it is much easier to release the flesh from the stone or kernel, as its name suggests. Clingstones are ideal for poaching the fruit whole and peeling afterwards.

The sweeter and riper the fruit, the less creative one should be. Fruit plucked straight from the tree should be eaten on the spot in the backyard or orchard. If you’re not so lucky, poach stone fruit in a mix of cassis, sugar, water and citrus peel with the option of some cinnamon bark for spice or alternatively a small measure of orange blossom water for fragrance.

When cooking stone fruit always use stainless steel or enamel cookware, as they have high ascorbic acid content.

When making a stone fruit crumble, flavour a crème patissiere or custard with a liqueur such as kirsch or sauternes, or for a something different a mixture of grenadine, pomegranate juice and rosewater.

When making a relish or chutney from stone fruit, choose firm fruit, as they will be more resilient during cooking than soft fruit.

Lightly spice the recipe with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves for spice and use a sweet or fruit-based vinegar to assist the flavour development.

Your best chance of sourcing high quality stone fruit would be to venture down to
the Queen Victoria Market, where they are
in abundance.

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