When you’re in a jam...

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

When you live in the wops, it pays to keep your friends close and your lo­cal con­trac­tors even closer, for when things go wrong – when the tank runs dry or the wifi won’t work – who ya gonna call?

As a city slicker, I kept my favourite Thai restau­rant, ke­bab shop, and In­dian take­away on speed dial. But since es­cap­ing to the coun­try, my emer­gency con­tacts list has mor­phed into a man­i­festo of ru­ral cri­sis man­age­ment and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. From the vol­un­teer fire brigade to the wa­ter de­liv­ery guy, the lo­cal win­ery (they do a fine four-cheese pizza), to the fella who cuts road­side bar­berry hedges like he’s slic­ing a cream layer cake, help is only a phone call away.

At the top of the list? The ru­ral postie. For­get Post­man Pat and his black and white cat; our postie Bernie has a soft spot for our black and white dog, while her col­league Dar­ryl, on the next ru­ral de­liv­ery route over, has been known to stop in on his way home, armed with hedge clip­pers, to prune my top­i­ary buxus balls into per­fect spheres.

Bernie is a bona-fide, salt-of-theearth sweet­heart. Though it must try her pa­tience de­liv­er­ing bulky boxes of pre­serv­ing jars, fruit trees, flower bulbs, and sacks of seed spuds to my door, her smile never slips. Our dog loves her even more than I do, for not only does she know the name of ev­ery RD3 mutt, she’s never too busy to give them a pat and a hand­ful of bis­cuits.

A fort­night ago, in a fit of pre­serv­ing en­thu­si­asm, I or­dered a 10kg box of gor­geous ‘Clutha Gold’ apri­cots from a fam­ily or­chard in Cromwell. I or­dered them on Mon­day. They were shipped on Tues­day, on an overnight courier. Wed­nes­day came and went (as I ex­pected it to, for overnight in citys­peak trans­lates to some­time this week in the sticks), but there was still no sign of my apri­cots on Thurs­day.

Bernie sent me a text: ‘‘No fruit,’’ it said.

‘‘Any fruit?’’ I asked on Fri­day. ‘‘No fruit,’’ she con­firmed.

‘‘If they ar­rive on Satur­day,’’ I sighed, ‘‘can you bung them in your fridge over the long week­end?’’

They did and, bless her, she did. Then on Tues­day morn­ing, she turned up at our door with a box of the finest, blush­ing red and gold, plump-cheeked ‘Clutha Gold’ apri­cots, still in pris­tine con­di­tion, de­spite their dawdling pil­grim­age across our fair is­lands.

I can’t grow apri­cots here. I’ve planted seven sup­pos­edly low-chill grafted trees, but each is as use­less as the next, so ev­ery sum­mer I splurge on a big box of Cromwell beau­ties for bot­tling and jam.

Bot­tled apri­cots are a main­stay of A&P show ta­bles. They look so good, all those cupped can­taloupe cres­cents stacked top-to-tail in quart jars of sugar syrup, and they taste even bet­ter. To open an Agee jar of home-bot­tled apri­cot halves in win­ter is to un­leash a ray of sum­mer sun­shine on your por­ridge. Quite frankly, the canned ones sold in su­per­mar­kets are a slan­der­ous abom­i­na­tion.

Any apri­cots that are slightly soft turn to mush when bot­tled, so they’re bet­ter sliced into the pre­serv­ing pan to make jam. How­ever, be­cause apri­cots are low in pectin, apri­cot jam is no­to­ri­ously tricky to set, as well as be­ing sickly sweet, but adding a lit­tle cit­rus helps on both fronts.

Slice 1kg of apri­cots into 1cm chunks. Place in a large pot with the juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange. Add a lit­tle wa­ter to stop the fruit stick­ing and heat slowly un­til the fruit is gen­tly sim­mer­ing. Add 1kg pecti­nen­riched jam-set­ting sugar, stir un­til dis­solved, then boil hard for five min­utes. Pour into jars and seal.

You could make your own de­li­ciously aro­matic apri­cot jam this week­end but let me save you the bother. If you come along to the Heroic Gar­den Party at Ayr­lies Gar­den in Whit­ford, Auck­land, next Fri­day, and make a $5 do­na­tion to Mercy Hos­pice Auck­land, I’ll give you a jar of mine in­stead.

The Heroic Gar­den Party, hosted by Lynda Hal­li­nan, is held at Ayr­lies Gar­den of In­ter­na­tional Sig­nif­i­cance in Potts Rd, Whit­ford, on Fri­day, Fe­bru­ary 17, from 10am to 4pm. This gar­den­ers’ day out in­cludes spe­cial­ist plant stalls, a bou­tique gift mar­ket, fash­ion, food, and ex­pert speak­ers. Tick­ets are $10 at the gate or from hero­ic­gar­dens.org.nz


A spe­cial de­liv­ery of the finest ‘Clutha Gold’ apri­cots from Cen­tral Otago.

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