A couple of years ago while walking with the missus in Bannockburn we came across the ruins of a few cottages above an old sluicing works, grandly named Stewartown. Whoever had lived there during the goldrush was thinking long-term because they planted heaps of fruit trees: apricots, peaches/nectarines, plums and pears. Since then I’ve been back twice every year, once for the stonefruit (I always miss the first few trees of maybe peaches and curse the carpet of stones left behind by the rotted/eaten fruit underneath the tree) and then a month later for the pears.
Previously I’ve gone on foot with plenty of bags, but having found a bike-friendly route up, this time I rode it in a fraction of the time on my mountain bike (aka the Forager 3000) with my extra-large rucksack. It’s hot work in the desert-like environment but it’s both fast and fun. Plums were still too hard and bitter to pick but the apricot trees were perfect. It was a beautiful day to be high above the Bannockburn vineyards grabbing delicious fruit (growing happily without any human interference, a perfect reflection of its environment) and calling it work.
Having got my haul of fruit back down the hill, it was time to decide what to do with it. I wanted their natural flavour and soft texture to shine through, so cooking them was out. Thinking about it on the way back to Queenstown, I drove past Goodies From the Gorge, who grow the best boysenberries in the world, and Gibbston Valley Cheesery, who do great sheep and goat milk cheeses. I was getting ideas.
After some playing around and tasting in the kitchen, we ended up serving the apricots with Tony’s rocket, Gibbston Valley goats’ milk gouda, GFTG boysenberry & Cairnmuir olive oil (also from Bannockburn) dressing, and toasted pine nuts. It’s a fresh summery dish which we’re running as a special at Eichardts until the apricots run out.
This is how I like my food, almost all ingredients from within a 30-minute drive and a bit of an adventure involved. Get in quick while it’s still available, otherwise you’ll have to wait for the pears to ripen to get the taste of Stewartown!
– by Will Eaglesfield