Jam-packed with flavour
My Sydney cousin once removed always said that New Zealand produce tasted so much better than Australian, and you know what? I think she was right. Hasty disclaimer: not always, obviously. Barbara put it down to NZ’s rich volcanic soil, and that could be part of it. Australia certainly has enormous amounts of low-nutrient, sandy stuff, but there are also vast areas of successful horticulture, stretching all the way from north to far south. But, generalising liberally, I’d say that the variety and quality of Australian produce comes tops, and that the flavour of NZ produce beats its cross-Tas competitor. No letters, please.
Nostalgia is unlikely to be colouring my judgment, because I’ve managed a lot of trips back to NZ since emigrating and this is one of the comparisons uppermost in my mind. For starters, NZ kumara and pumpkins have an intensity that Australian ones lack. But the real area of difference is fruit. NZ fruit tends to pack a powerful punch. I’ve got to say, though, that nine months a year of perfect sunripened watermelons make my husband extraordinarily happy (I even gave him a whole one — with a ribbon, mind — for Valentine’s Day, and he danced the happy watermelon dance). I, meanwhile, will find it very, very hard to move away from the country that produces luscious, perfumed kensington mangoes and then sells them to me at about $15 a tray.
Now that autumn has snuck up on us, peak fruit may have passed for the year, but what is around tends to be among the sunkissed best that any year can offer. Late peaches, ideal for tempting a cook into a bit of cooking, especially of the pie or compote variety; blackberries; the first apples; feijoas.
(Australians are only just starting to come around to the pleasures of feijoas. How only just? Two for $5, that’s how. Youch. Talk about a comedown from the supermarket bagsful my parents used to bring to my Auckland house from their trees at home.)
It’s grape season, too. I have never understood hothouse table grapes. Good for the table, yes, but no, not for the mouth. I am a fan of those crampacked sausagey bunches of little riesling grapes, which do seem to make it to NZ greengrocers, but aside from that I can only hope that more grapegrowers send grapes that taste of grapes to market once the wineries have taken all they need. All those well-heeled tourists who flood into New Zealand knowing little beyond the rolling swathes of sauvignon blanc vines must surely be gagging for a bit of decent grape action on the plate? New Zealanders must be, too. That’s my theory.
Rating a serious mention: late season red-fleshed plums; black doris and omega in particular. I can’t begin to describe how outraged I am by the Australian grocers’ practice of labelling any plum with red skin a “red plum”. Seriously? I Can See The Skin. It’s the flesh I need to know about. Before I really get going, here’s my favourite plum jam recipe, my version of one published by the late Christopher Lloyd; English gardener extraordinaire, and eminently sensible cook too.
1.5kg red-fleshed plums
Juice from ¼ lemon
100-200ml water, depending on juiciness of plums
- Halve plums over a large saucepan. Remove stones and tap 6-8 of them open using a hammer. Extract the kernels and wrap them in a muslin parcel, tied with enough string to tie on to the pan handle. Add water to pan too.
- Simmer fruit very gently until skins and pulp have broken down (up to 1 hour, depending on fruit). Stir frequently to prevent fruit from sticking. Add lemon juice.
- Heat sugar in 140C oven for 10-15 minutes. Add to pan. Bring to boil and boil for 10 minutes, stirring often and skimming a little, before testing on a chilled saucer to see if set. Keep boiling for 5 minute periods until surface of test crinkles after 60 seconds in fridge.
- Allow jam to settle in pan for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove muslin and place clean dry jars in the cooling oven. Skim jam again. Bottle and seal.