17 Jan 2024

How to make the most of stonefruit season

From Summer Times, 11:59 am on 17 January 2024
A woman holding a basket of peaches in an outdoor setting.

Peaches are in season now, make the most of them! Photo: Kelly Neil / Unsplash

Forget all that stuff about Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year. Anyone with any sense knows that mid-to-late summer, when New Zealand stonefruit is at its very best (and cheapest), is a time to celebrate.

Here’s how to make the most of it, whether you’re blessed with a glut or buying selectively.

A peacherine photographed in bright sunlight.

A ripe peacherine is a thing of beauty. Photo: Lucy Corry

Sniff, don't squeeze

Use your nose when buying. A ripe peach, nectarine or peacherine will smell fragrant and delectable, and they’re best bought ripe.

It’s a truth nearly universally acknowledged that it’s not ok to squeeze avocados in the shop. In the same way, it is absolutely NOT OK to manhandle stonefruit to see if it’s ripe. Sniff them, don’t squeeze them (please).

Plums and apricots ripen at room temperature, so it’s better to buy these slightly unripe. When they’re ripe, store them in the fridge, but let them come to room temperature before eating.

Cut them correctly

Sit the fruit on its side (stem end pointing to the left or right) and slice in half vertically. Give each half a gentle twist and the fruit will come freely away from the stone.

Buy local

The New Zealand stonefruit season seems to start earlier every year, but generally fruit will be at its peak now and into February. The major regions for growing are Hawke’s Bay and central Otago, but there are pockets of growers in Marlborough, Canterbury, north of Auckland and in the central North Island. If you can, buy from the orchard gate!

Eat at the peak

A really good, perfectly ripe nectarine, peach or plum needs no accompaniment. Eat those ones as they are, with the juice running down your hand. Roasting or poaching (see below) can perk up ones that aren’t at their best.

Save the surplus

Poached apricots with star anise

 Poached stonefruit is easy and brings great results. Photo: Lucy Corry

How to poach stonefruit

For 500g fruit, you’ll need ½ cup of liquid (wine, water, juice, or a combination of those things), 4 Tablespoons caster sugar.

Bring the liquid and sugar to a gentle simmer in a medium pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Halve and de-stone the fruit.

Add the fruit to the pan, turning it so it’s coated in the syrup. Cover the pan and simmer very gently over a low heat for about 10-15 minutes, until the fruit is soft when pierced with a knife. This will depend on the fruit – check it after 10 minutes. Don't let the liquid boil or you'll end up with mush. Cool and serve, or cover and chill (or freeze).