Apricots Otago's summer taste

Photos by Fiona Andersen.
Photos by Fiona Andersen.
In Otago, it is hard to imagine a summer without enjoying a bowl or two of fantastic local apricots.

Sun and apricots just seem to go hand in hand, and in Central Otago you can stop at any one of the many roadside stalls to stock up on fruit, both for the table and the cupboard. Apricots, I'm proud to say, are one fruit that we are truly better at growing than the rest of the country. (A point not lost when it comes to repaying favours to friends who have generously sent citrus and feijoas down over the winter months.)

Recollections of childhood and scorching summers laced with lush, ripe apricots leave me more than a little nostalgic as I sample my favourite varieties at their peak right now.

Moorparks, with their sweetness and full flavour, are perfect for a roast apricot jam tart and Clutha Gold's intense tangy flesh makes for fabulous apricot chutney. In the sensational weather we have been experiencing of late, celebrate with a scoop of fresh homemade apricot ice cream and enjoy Otago's very own taste of summer.

Roast apricot jam tart
Serves 10

Tart base
125g unsalted butter
120g caster sugar
220g plain flour

Apricot topping
200g caster sugar
¼ cup of water
1kg ripe apricots, halved and stones removed
juice of half an orange
2 Tbsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 200Cdeg.

Line with baking paper the base and sides of a 28cm cake tin with a removable base.

To make the base place butter, sugar and flour into a small bowl and mix together until a soft dough is formed. Press dough evenly into the bottom of the lined cake tin until 4mm thick with a 1cm-high lip of pastry around the edge. Place into oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

In a large heavy-based frying pan, place caster sugar and a quarter of a cup of water. Bring to the boil over a high heat until the water has evaporated and sugar is boiling in thick bubbles without colour. Add apricots, reduce heat slightly and cook for 3 minutes or until apricots just start to become tender but still retain their shape. Mix orange juice, cornflour and vanilla essence together and add to the apricots. Toss together carefully and continue to cook for a further minute until the cornflour thickens the apricots slightly. Spread apricots over the cooked tart base and return to oven and cook for a further 25 to 30 minutes until apricot topping is thick and golden and jam-like. Remove from oven and allow tart to cool for 30 minutes before removing cake ring.

Serve with pure cream or vanilla bean ice cream.

Apricot and date chutney
Makes 15 x 300ml jars

4.5kg apricots, halved with stones removed
1kg brown onions, peeled and chopped
2 cups mixed peel
1 cup crystallised ginger, finely sliced
4 cups soft brown sugar
2 Tbsp table salt
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3½ cups malt vinegar
3 cups dates, chopped

Place apricots into a food processor and briefly pulse until roughly chopped. Place apricots, onions, mixed peel, ginger, sugar, salt, curry powder, cayenne pepper and vinegar into a large heavy-based pot and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. Add dates and continue to simmer until dates are soft and chutney has thickened. Remove from heat and spoon into sterilised jars. Keeps for up to one year.

Fresh apricot ice cream
Makes 1 litre

500g really ripe apricots
½ cup water
½ cup caster sugar
250ml cream
juice of quarter of a small lemon
2-3 drops almond extract

Halve apricots and remove stones. Roughly chop then place into a small non-reactive stainless steel pot with the water. Heat apricots over a medium heat until very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool before placing apricots into a blender and pureeing until smooth. Stir in cream, lemon juice and almond extract. Chill in the refrigerator until completely cold before churning in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Bevan and Monique Smith own the award-winning Riverstone Kitchen, on State Highway 1 in North Otago, just south of the Waitaki bridge. Riverstone Kitchen is open Thursday-Monday from 9am-5pm, and also from 6pm from Thursday to Sunday, but closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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