Beauty of the beast Sun packed and super-sized – late season peach delights
“What excites me about the fruit? It’s aroma, flavour, it’s so unique,” he explains.
“It’s an excellent eating peach because it’s firm and extremely sweet - we can get up to 19 brix. They’re reasonably juicy but they don’t turn to mush. The flavours and aromas are strong and seem to be ‘enhanced’. It’s nice when you place a bowl full of peaches on the kitchen table and after two hours, the whole room is filled with their aroma.
“They’re also part freestone so you can twist them off cleanly - if you’re really good. There’s a little red colouring around the stone, and the skin is thin and smoother with barely any fluff.”
Carolyn says the skin is good eating.
“I’ve never eaten peach skin before, and I always used to peel it off, but I find the Beryl Delight skin has a nice flavour as well.”
She’s also experimented with ways of cooking and preserving the fruit. Before free-flow freezing them, Carolyn dips the raw flesh in water infused with lemon juice, which stops them going off straight away.
In winter, they celebrate having summer all over again. The frozen fruit is so bright and tasty when cooked. From the freezer, they go straight into the oven, drizzled with bit of butter and honey and baked for 30 mins.
“It’s absolutely beautiful, we get fresh peaches in the middle of winter,” Mort smiles.
Carolyn also makes peach pie - leaving skin on the slices, which are used with other ‘bits and pieces’ on pastry - and again, when baked, the glorious colours warm up a winter’s day.
Tasting this fruit is an experience. Some would find hints of tropical notes, such as coconut and paw paw. The taste is subtle and refreshing, and not surprisingly, Beryl’s Delight has a niche but loyal following.
Pollination happens at the same time as any other peach type, so it’s the care and attention to detail for many months that allows the fruit cope with being so long in the elements.
Beryl’s Delight don’t taste like any other peach because of their long duration on the tree – up to six months, they couple believe. “You’ve got to remember, they’ve been on the tree since September, and they’ve had all that time and opportunity to mature and gain flavour, so by the time they’re picked – they are totally sun packed,” Mort declares.
Some people like really firm fruit, while others wait for the maturity to set in. A really big piece of fruit is a meal on its own, and half a peach is enough for dessert, says Carolyn.
There’s no denying it - Beryl’s Delight is a big peach by volume by any standard.
“Even at the pack house they struggle, often individual fruit is 100 mm round.”
The fruit has been sold commercially for 10 years, and in their best year, the small orchard achieved 120 tonne. In an average season, the volume is more around 100 tonne.
“The 2017 season has probably been the worst one we’ve ever had,” says Mort.
He cites continuous and huge volumes of rain just before and during harvest. Whereas his fellow Hawke’s Bay growers earlier in the season had a dream run of weather, it turned wet in late March.
“We had 135mm of rain in two days, and previous to that, 155mm, with easterlies in between. The pattern was ‘fine for a few days and rain, fine for a few days and rain’. It’s very hard on peaches, and we suffered a huge amount of water damage and rot crept in. When you can’t control it, can’t do much about it,” he says matter-of-factly.
Beryl’s Delight peaches attract the same pests as any other peach. They try to use beneficial sprays for insecticides.
“We use very few insecticides, if any, and only more for mites. The rest of the time we use trapping for carpophilus beetle,
All 14 actions recommended were successfully carried out in the 2014 to 2015 season, and everyone was pleased with the final outcome, says Phil.
“Brown rot losses were reduced by up to 50% in monitor tree plots in the SGF block, and overall yield and profitability were significantly improved.”
The successful implementation of the SGF programme allowed Mort and Carolyn to carry on the programme over the entire orchard. All involved are hopeful that the results will encourage other summerfruit growers with brown rot issues to implement Peter and Phil’s brown rot action plan.
All trees in the orchard are descendants off that one original tree. What exactly that tree was remains a mystery. Mort can’t recall seeing any similar peaches from around the world. The big beak on the end protrudes quite substantially – which is also quite unusual.
The ‘industry standard’ Golden Queen root stock was used – but whether this is good or not, Mort can’t say. The tree can grow water shoots 2m long in a season.
With no dwarfing root stock available at this time for peaches, there is no alternative to use. Mort would like a type that removes some of the trees’ vigour.
Being the last summerfruit variety available, Beryl’s Delight gives the Nikolaison’s a marketing advantage.
Other growers with their late peacharines “keep the shelves open for us – they generally finish at the time we start,” says Mort.
This unique harvesting time frame was also a significant factor in their decision to establish the variety on a commercial basis. They pay backpackers and picking contractors by the hour, because picking for maturity and suitability for the market is critical for the fruit’s longterm success.
“If you want to strip the trees, then pay contract rates,” he says.
For Beryl Delight’s future, the couple need customers to understand that it is a unique peach which is specifically a late-season seller.
“We’d like everyone to appreciate it’s different from other peaches; especially its character, flavour, and late harvest dates. We always harvest at the start of April, even if we have a late flowering.”
“We want people to eat Beryl’s Delight and say, ‘wow, that was really nice, I like that, I want more’ and for it to become an iconic New Zealand fruit. We feel at the moment people see it late in the season and mistakenly think it’s been sitting in a chiller – not realising it’s a freshly picked fruit.
“We have to get our name out there and communicate that our fruit is fresh, even though it is for sale in April.”
Mort and Carolyn enjoy being orchardists – even though it is not their main income earner.
For Mort, the challenges that growing a commercial crop presents is part of the enduring fascination.
“There are so many different things you’re working with to balance, in order to get a tree to the stage it produces well. It’s satisfying to get the trees growing in a good fashion to ensure excellent fruit comes off those trees.”
Now that the 2017 harvest has finished, Mort and Carolyn will reflect. There’ll be more learning and trialling but they still have one of the highlights of the orcharding year to look forward to – the Summerfruit NZ annual conference in June.