Stone crazy

Bay of Plenty Times - - OPINION - Jan Bil­ton

Yum! It is the sea­son of the plum. And our lo­cal trees are laden with tempt­ing red fruits. How­ever, I’ll have to wait a lit­tle longer for my favourite green­gage plums.

There is much con­tro­versy re­gard­ing the ori­gin of the plum. Some botanists claim it is na­tive to China then be­came pop­u­lar in Ja­pan. But the plum from which our most com­mon va­ri­eties orig­i­nated is Euro­pean.

Peaches had some­thing of a cult fol­low­ing in China — its orig­i­nal habi­tat — where for poets, sculp­tors and painters it was a sym­bol of im­mor­tal­ity. This despite the fact that it grows on a short-lived tree.

The peach is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with ice­cream be­cause when the great Aus­tralian opera singer Dame Nel­lie Melba gave a party at the Lon­don Savoy, Chef Es­coffier cre­ated the fa­mous Peˆ che Melba in her hon­our — a swan carved of ice set in the cen­tre of poached peaches on a base of vanilla ice­cream.

The apri­cot also orig­i­nated in China but be­came es­tab­lished in Iran and Iraq where it is of­ten served with lamb. But there’s noth­ing bet­ter than a ripe apri­cot straight from the tree.

Un­for­tu­nately, most stone fruit of­fered by fruiter­ers and su­per­mar­kets are picked slightly green to pre­vent bruis­ing while trav­el­ling. Ripen them at room tem­per­a­ture, then re­frig­er­ate.

STIR-FRIED PEACHES, NEC­TARINES, AS­PARA­GUS & BABY LEEKS

Ex­cel­lent served with grills. Spring onions could re­place the leeks but add them with the fruit.

In­gre­di­ents

■ 4 baby leeks

■ 8 stalks as­para­gus

■ 2 peaches, halved, stoned and peeled

■ 2 nec­tarines, halved and stoned

■ 1 Tbsp canola oil

■ 2 tsp grated root gin­ger

■ 3 Tbs[ maple syrup

■ 1-2 tsp chilli sauce and se­same oil or to taste

Method

Trim the baby leeks leav­ing about 3cm of the green leaves. Trim the as­para­gus then cut the stalks into 2-3cm lengths. Blanch un­til crisp­ten­der. Drain, re­fresh in icy wa­ter, drain again and pat dry. This can be done ahead, if pre­ferred.

Slice the fruit into quar­ters. Heat the oil in a wok. Stir-fry the leeks for 1 minute. Add the as­para­gus and gin­ger and stir-fry for 30 sec­onds. Add the fruit and stir-fry un­til be­gin­ning to soften. Stir in the maple syrup, chilli sauce and se­same oil. Serves 4.

CHICKEN WITH SUM­MER FRUITS

Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.

In­gre­di­ents

■ 2 small skinned and boned chicken breasts

■ 50g camem­bert

■ 2 sprigs fresh thyme

■ 1 each: nec­tarine, apri­cot, halved, stoned and thinly sliced

■ 3⁄4 cup gin­ger wine

■ 1 Tbsp honey

■ 3 Tbsp good onion mar­malade

Method

Pre­heat the oven to 150C.

With the point of a sharp knife, slit the side of each chicken breast and make a pocket. In­sert a slice of camem­bert and a sprig of thyme into each cav­ity.

Seal the chicken by cook­ing for 1 minute on each side in a hot fry­ing pan. Place in the oven and bake for 10 min­utes or un­til cooked.

Mean­while, place the nec­tarine, apri­cot, gin­ger wine and honey in a saucepan and sim­mer on medium heat, un­til the fruit is ten­der, about 3 min­utes. Add the onion mar­malade and heat through. Serve over the chicken. Serves 2.

GLUTEN-FREE APRI­COT CRUM­BLE CAKE

A tangy de­light.

In­gre­di­ents

■ Crum­ble: 1⁄4 cup gluten-free flour

■ 1 tsp ground cin­na­mon

■ 3 Tbsp caster sugar

■ 25g cold but­ter, cubed

■ Cake: 1 cup gluten-free flour

■ 1 tsp bak­ing pow­der

■ 1⁄4 cup sugar

■ 1 tsp ground cin­na­mon

■ 2 eggs

■ 3 Tbsp milk

■ 1 tsp vanilla essence

■ 75g but­ter, melted

■ 5-7 ripe apri­cots

Method

Pre­heat the oven to 180C.

Grease and line the base and sides of a 20cm round spring­form cake pan.

Place the dry crum­ble in­gre­di­ents in a large bowl. Rub the but­ter in with your fin­ger­tips un­til the mix­ture re­sem­bles coarse bread­crumbs. Place aside.

To make the cake, place the flour, bak­ing pow­der, ground cin­na­mon and sugar in a large bowl. Mix well.

Whisk to­gether the eggs, milk, vanilla and melted but­ter in a small mix­ing bowl. Gen­tly stir into the dry in­gre­di­ents un­til just moist­ened. Spoon into the pre­pared cake pan.

Halve and stone the apri­cots. Ar­range on top of the cake mix­ture cut-side up. Sprin­kle evenly with the crum­ble.

Bake for 35-40 min­utes, or un­til the crum­ble is lightly golden and a skewer in­serted in the cen­tre comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room tem­per­a­ture with cream or yo­ghurt.

PLUM & PRE­SERVED LE­MON CHUT­NEY

You only eat the skin of pre­served lemons.

In­gre­di­ents

■ 350g red onions, diced

■ 350ml red wine vine­gar

■ 1 cup sugar

■ 1kg red plums

■ 70g pre­served lemons (skin only), diced

■ 1 Tbsp each: ground mixed spice, grated root gin­ger

Method

Place the onions, vine­gar and sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and sim­mer for about 15 min­utes or un­til the onions are soft.

Mean­while, halve, stone and chop the plums. Add to the saucepan with the diced le­mon skins, mixed spice and gin­ger. Sim­mer on low heat for about 40 min­utes, un­til thick.

Pour into hot ster­ilised jars right to the top. Seal while hot. Makes about 5 cups.

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