The South African summer only truly starts when you take a bite of your first peach of the season. That juicy sweetness holds all the promise of the bright sunny days, warm nights, and carefree holidays up ahead. It also signals a shift in our eating habits as we focus more on lighter meals and snacks that match the freshness of our outdoorsy summer lifestyle.
We’re exceptionally lucky that our country produces an abundance of summer fruit, and the best of these are stone fruit – peaches, nectarines, and plums. South Africa is one of world’s leading producers of stone fruit with a reputation for great tasting, quality fruit. Stone fruit are mostly grown in the Mediterranean climate of the Western Cape, although there are some significant orchards in the Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces. Our local stone fruit industry is not just important as a global exporter, it also provides our Mzansi nation with a generous, best-in-class bounty of peaches, nectarines and plums all the way from October through to April.
An extravaganza of South African peaches
Peaches, with their endearingly fuzzy, soft skin may be clingstone or freestone varieties. The latter are often labelled in-store as ‘dessert’ peaches and feature soft juicy flesh, either white or yellow, that easily falls away from the pit or stone.
You will notice the early-season varieties of local peaches making their appearances on the shelves and at food markets during October. Popular varieties of dessert peaches grown in South Africa include Temptation, Spring Princess, Sweet Henry, Amber Crest and Brittaney Lane. Each variety is distinctive, for instance the Amber Crest variety is an early-season, large-sized dessert peach with a full red finish and succulent yellow flesh.
The intoxicating aromas and full peachy flavours of cling peaches are synonymous with the South African summer. It’s no surprise that some of the most popular varieties like Kakamas, also known as Oom Sarel, is a proudly South African heirloom variety. When you bite into a ripe cling peach, you’ll notice the firm, velvety flesh that clings to the pit. The texture is slightly denser compared to freestone peaches. These firm peaches travel well and are excellent additions to lunchboxes and picnic fare during the summer months.
A smooth selection of South African nectarines
Like peaches, nectarines are the fruits of the tree Prunus persica which is a species in the Rose family. South African stone fruit growers produce a range of high-quality nectarines of both white and yellow flesh varieties such as Alpine, August Red, Boreal, Tifanny, Super Star, Royal Ruby, Luciana and Summer Fire.
Nectarines are prized for their smooth skins, and you’ll notice subtle differences in size, colour, texture, taste and scent between the different varieties. Taking a bite of a ripe white flesh nectarine is a delight to your senses. The juicy flesh is incredibly tender and has a silky mouthfeel evoking a sense of lightness and elegance. They are exceptionally sweet with undertones of honey and blossoms, and the floral aromas are delicate and refreshing.
Yellow flesh nectarine varieties offer somewhat bolder, peachy flavours. These fruits are firm and sleek with a juicy mouth feel. The tastes and aromas are a vibrant, sunny celebration of sweetness with fresh, tangy and slightly tropical notes.
A parade of South African plums
Angeleno, Ruby Star, African Delight, African Rose, Laetitia and Fortune are some of the redolent names of South Africa’s most popular plums. These smaller stone fruit with glossy, smooth skins in rich shades of reds and purples are often likened to jewels. Throughout the stone fruit season, South Africans can find a range of plum varieties with stunning purple, red and orange-yellow flesh.
Plum varieties have firm and succulent textures and offer complex, full-bodied flavours that pair wonderfully with both sweet and savoury tasting profiles. You can notice subtle differences between different plum varieties:
Purple flesh plums have a balance of sweet and tart notes with a rich flavour that is reminiscent of dark, ripe berries. Their indulgent scent is alluring, slightly sweet and faintly musky with a hint of ripe cherry.
Red flesh plums are a touch sweeter with gentle tangy notes and bright, lively flavours. Their fragrance is a blend of floral and fruity notes that is full of freshness and vitality.
Yellow flesh plums tend to be the sweetest of plums with just a hint of characteristic plum tartness. Their flavours and perfumes evoke the goodness and cheerfulness of golden, sun-ripened fruits and offer a sunny taste experience that is both refreshing and uplifting.
South African peaches, nectarines and plums are all remarkably versatile, and are relished in many ways over the stone fruit season. Enjoy these stone fruit fresh, whole or sliced and diced. Add them to cheeseboards, fruit salads, pavlovas, ice-creams, milkshakes and smoothies, as well as to a wide range of side salads for any occasion. Stone fruit also cook up well and can be baked, grilled, steamed and boiled. They are the heroes of delicious pies and cobblers and used for crafting homemade jams, jellies, preserves, chutneys and sauces.