Meet the family growing deliciously sweet apricots
Succulent apricots are one of summer’s sweetest pleasures. Meet the family growing some of the best in New Zealand.
Rob and Catherine Nichol are completely immersed in orchard life. The couple live on-site at their orchard in Bay View, just north of Napier, with their two young children, Sophie, 9, and Austin, 5. The orchard has no permanent employees so Rob does most of the work himself, with help from Catherine, who also works for the Napier Kindergarten Association.
Their business, HR Horticulture, is known for its beautiful apricots (their varieties are ‘Royal Rosa’, ‘Sundrop’ and ‘Clutha Gold’). Climate is critical for stone fruit, and Bay View’s microclimate means the apricots grown there are ready before the rest of the country’s.
HR Horticulture’s apricots are sold through Countdown supermarkets under the Robalan brand, an amalgamation of Rob’s parents’ names, Robyn and Alan, who were the original owners of the orchard. They bought it in 1992, developing the swampy site with help from Rob and his sister Barbara. Rob has not missed a harvest since, although he continued with other work, too. He took over the orchard in 2013 but, sadly, his father passed away the following year.
Rob first worked in orchards as a college student and later harvested wheat in Western Australia. More recently, he helped to run his father’s topdressing business and worked as a cropping manager for an export squash company.
While apricots are the Nichols’ main crop, a small amount of peaches and nectarines have been added to the orchard in recent years, and cattle are grazed on a paddock next door.
During harvesting season, around 35 seasonal workers help pick fruit, and Rob’s role changes to a supervisory one, “to ensure the pickers are picking the correct fruit and that we get fruit to the supermarkets on time”.
Along with being his own boss, working outside in the beautiful Hawke’s Bay and enjoying a less intense period of work over winter, one of Rob’s favourite parts of the job is being a producer. “We love producing a product that people enjoy eating,” he says. “One of the most rewarding things is seeing the apricots all packed up and being dispatched, as it is the fruition of a lot of hard work.”
Rob and Catherine’s apricot tips
- Don’t squeeze the fruit. Mature apricots should have a smooth, velvety texture, which you can feel. Colour is also an indicator of ripeness: the earlier varieties go a honey-yellow colour and later varieties are orange.
- Shop frequently for small amounts, rather than buying large quantities less often, to ensure you get the best apricots.
- Markings from branch rub can be mistaken for rot. Branch rub is cosmetic and can be eaten. Fruit rot is usually wet and will give under pressure if you touch it; stay away from this fruit.
- Store apricots in the fridge initially, preferably in a plastic bag. After a day or two, remove and store in a fruit bowl away from direct sunlight.
- Don’t wash apricots until ready to be eaten.
- To freeze excess fruit, halve apricots and remove stones, then place in a pot with 1-1½ cups of water per kilogram of fruit. Gently boil until fruit goes slightly pulpy but has not broken down completely. Drain and allow to cool, then place in a container in the freezer. Do not add sugar as this can be added later if required.
- Apricots are delicious in fruit crumbles or can be added to a basic muffin recipe.
Robyn’s apricot sauce
Great with any white meat.
1.5kg pitted apricots, chopped
2 medium onions, sliced
1 Tbsp salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground pepper
2 cups white sugar
2 cups white or cider vinegar
- Place fruit, onions and salt in saucepan and simmer until juice runs from fruit.
- Add spices, pepper, sugar and 1 cup of the vinegar. Cook until fruit is mushy.
- Purée mixture in a blender.
- Return to pan, add remaining vinegar and simmer until mixture reaches the consistency of pouring cream.
- Store in sterilised bottles.
Photography by: Florence Charvin.