As summer approaches, my mind turns to the wonderfully toothsome New Zealand produce that will become available as the months roll by.
The organic asparagus that appears in honesty boxes at Marahau is the first of the spring crops to kick my taste buds into gear, if I’m in the Nelson region. Commercial asparagus was in good supply this year and very tasty indeed. Chopped raw into a salad or lightly steamed and dressed with a bit of garlic and parmesan, it’s hard to beat.
The hass and hayes avocadoes have been in good supply lately, unlike last year’s crop. Avocado on toast with shavings of tomato and a crackling of pepper is a breakfast favourite, while chicken and avocado sandwiches make a refreshing lunchtime snack. Firm avocado gives a great lift to a salad, and there’s always guacamole dip which can be whipped up in a jiffy for unexpected guests.
Looking ahead, jersey benne potatoes from Oamaru make great potato salad to accompany the Christmas holiday barbecues. Chopped fresh green-skinned onions add real zing to the recipe which demands some of that tasty Nelson mustard. The banquet can then be finished with lip-smacking black cherries which are grown, along with the later red varieties, in both the North and South Island.
Gisborne’s juicy tomatoes such as the beefsteak variety are a welcome accompaniment to summer steaks, and look great snuggled up against a steaming fillet dressed with a sliver of a light blue cheese. Then there’s the little taste bombs – the cherry tomatoes – that explode as you crunch on them.
Early in the New Year the tree-ripened summer fruit starts arriving – sweet apricots, juicy nectarines, peaches and grapes. A nice summer treat is frozen grapes straight from the freezer that can be sucked like sweets on a hot day.
Not to forget peas, scooped out of the pod, still warm from the sun if you’re lucky enough to know someone who grows them.
The news of Gisborne’s second flood in just over a month made me wonder how things were going for crop growers around the country. It’s a mixed bag – some are smiling, some are facing ruin – owing to the southerly conditions that dropped temperatures, hurled hailstones in some places and dumped 200 mm of rain on Gisborne’s hastily replanted crops.
Despite the rain and large hailstones that fell north of Auckland and piled up like snow on November 26th, part of Northland is experiencing a drought, as is Taranaki. Cooler temperatures have slowed the onion crops in the upper North Island, but there’s still hope that warmer weather will move things along.
Many of Gisborne’s crops have suffered, and tomato, squash and maize were hardest hit. Many crop growers worked frantically to clear silt from the Labour Weekend floods and replanted, but the downpour on November 28th destroyed the replanted crops. There is now insufficient time to prepare the land again, then plant and harvest another crop this season. Expect tomatoes and tomato-based products to be more expensive and less available this summer.
Hawkes Bay got a swipe from the weather with lower temperatures slowing grape crops and hail damaged some of the early cherry fruit. No news yet on the grape set, but fingers are crossed for a good vintage – especially in Gimblett Road where John and Brigid Forrest grow their cabernet for their tasty Cornerstone. Further south, Wairarapa is dry which is encouraging for some of the wine grapes.
Locals in Horowhenua tell me they escaped most of the chilly weather at the end of November, so I’m hoping that the market gardens around Otaki will be churning out great lettuce and capsicum crops soon.
News from Nelson and Marlborough is generally positive, the only sour note was a slowing of the grape crops while cherries and other pip fruit seem to be doing well. I’m hoping that Forrest Estate’s chardonnay crop in Marlborough is on target. Talk is of a drought this summer, so irrigation will be at a premium. The region is also well-known for its olives, and growers with irrigation will be looking forward to a long hot summer. Some of the oils produced have nearly as much flavour as the locally produced wines, and many wineries sell lip-smacking marinated olives by the jar and with lunch.
The biggest delight last year was a chance call at Stafford Lane winery near Nelson which featured a large range of local produce. Their lively sauvignon blanc and rich chardonnay were instantly added to the cellar (where they didn’t last very long) as were several jars of their marinated olives. Further along the road the well-established Seifried Estate run by Hermann and Agnes Seifried had a surprise in store too. The Seifrieds have pioneered many different grapes and wine styles since they started in the 1970s, from the long-lamented Refosca to the innovative ice wines. Last year their Sylvia was a star addition to their range of reds.
Irrigation has been an issue in Canterbury in recent months, with drier rivers and hints that authorities are tightening up irrigation permits. Oddly enough the issue is with moisture at deeper levels, which is allowing crops to develop for the moment. The South Island, in general, has concerns over this year’s low run-off from snow-melt, which raises concerns over low river levels for irrigation and low lake levels for hydro storage. It seems that electricity might be a winter “crop” in short supply.
Otago is dry, so I’m hoping that Sue and Verdun Burgess at Blackridge can anticipate good grape growth this year. That also bodes well for Felton Road Pinot Noir which is a champion in my book, as is Peregrine’s.
But back to food to accompany the tipple, warmer soils in the south fill me with hope for Oamaru’s jersey benne crop. C’mon guys, grow, grow! The Christmas potato salads beckon.