Grilled nectarines with saffron and lavender syrup

Nectarines in Saffron Lavender Syrup © J Horak-Druiff 2012

When I first got to the UK in 2000, I embarked on a culinary voyage of discovery.  Suddenly, berries that had cost half a month’s salary in South Africa (or simply weren’t available) were available on every supermarket shelf – and sometimes even available for free in the hedgerows around our house!  The stuff I had always been told was spinach was finally correctly identified to me as Swiss Chard.  I caught my first glimpse of Jerusalem artichokes, Spring Greens and Brussels sprouts sold on stems (also broad beans, although I think this is more because my father refused to eat them so my mother didn’t buy them, rather than their unobtainability!).  I was in heaven.  It took a year or two for the novelty to wear off a little and to start noticing the things that weren’t there:  gem squashes, an abundance of prickly pears or guavas, hanepoot grapes, and yellow cling peaches.  Yup, it didn’t take me long to start pining for South African fruit.

Of course, Outspan oranges have long been known outside South Africa as we have been exporting them for decades.  I was slightly taken aback in 2000 (six years after the demise of Apartheid) when a friend in London told me that many people she knew were still hesitant about buying them because they had grown up in an era when boycotting Outspan was a form of protest against the Apartheid regime.  I, on the other hand, searched the citrus shelves at the supermarket and made damn sure that I bought South African citrus wherever I could. And as soon as the nice middle-class English people realised that they did not have to boycott South African oranges any more, a new reason to avoid South African fruit in England presented itself:  food miles.

The orthodoxy goes something like this:  if I buy a packet of green beans from Farmer Brown who farms on the outskirts of my town, then I am doing the planet a favour.  No carbon emissions from any aeroplane, shop or truck were generated to transport the beans to me, so therefore buying Farmer Brown’s beans is fundamentally a better choice than buying green beans imported from Kenya.  The Kenyan beans obviously had to be flown here, generating a ton of food miles and carbon emissions, meaning that to buy them is to contribute to the demise of the planet. Simple, right?  Well, actually, no.  If Farmer Brown used chemical fertiliser and the Kenyan farm used natural manure fertiliser; or if Farmer Brown used a mechanical harvester and the Kenyan farm harvested by hand; or if Farmer Brown’s beans were first trucked to a packing plant in Scotland before hitting the shop shelves – then the picture becomes far less clear, and many of the benefits of Farmer Brown’s proximity are effectively cancelled out.  In fact, we are increasingly realising that food miles are an overly simplistic measurement of which foods, on balance, harm the planet and which don’t:  you have to take a holistic view of a product’s total environmental impact, from growing it to transporting it to storing it to cooking it.  And that’s before you bring the human factor into the equation.




South Africa produces massive amounts of fruit for the (predominantly European) export market.  Being in the Southern hemisphere, it means South Africa’s summer fruits are at their best when the UK is in the depths of winter, making South Africa a popular source of fruit for UK supermarkets.  It’s also the closest southern-hemisphere port to the UK where fruit is grown on an industrial scale, so produce does not travel as far as, say, things grown in Chile.  The other big bonus is that well over 90% of South African fruit is shipped to the UK rather than air-freighted – and shipping is a far greener option.  But most importantly for me, a thriving export market for South African fruit provides considerable direct benefits to the South African fruit farming industry and the national economy.  According to a 2006 study, over one million people in rural Africa are supported by the fresh fruit and vegetable exports to the UK.  In South Africa, a third of a million people are employed in the deciduous fruit industry alone and for every farm worker there are, on average, 4 dependents that rely on the fruit industryto provide education, housing, health and social care. And because growing fruit is a very labour intensive industry that can never be totally mechanised, an increase in the demand for our fruit almost inevitably means an increase in job creation in the growing, packing and supply chain in South Africa – something which the country badly needs. And as European shoppers become more demanding about how their food was produced, this in turn places pressure on South African fruit farmers to improve ethical farming practices, particularly in relation to uplifting the working conditions and rights of farm workers.  In 2011 a number of South African producers and exporters signed up for an ethical trade programme to improve the working conditions of fruit farm labourers, and as a result of the Government’s black empowerment policies there has been some progress (albeit slow!) in providing management and ownership opportunities to previously disadvantaged members of the workforce.  So when I see a South African clementine (a good old naartjie with a fancy name!), butternut, apple or nectarine, I buy it (same as I do with green beans from Kenya).  I figure it’s a small way of investing in a country I love.




South African Fruit recently (and very kindly!) sent me a South African stone fruit hamper containing a number of Alpine nectarines and Flavor King plums, both of which are currently on sale in leading UK supermarkets (in fact, I saw no fewer than three different varieties of plums in our local Sainsbury’s last weekend!).  The fruit arrived in perfect condition, cosseted in a bed of shredded paper.  The first thing that struck me as I opened the lid was the scent.  As  child, I remember watching my mom choose her fruit almost entirely by smell – and of course I thought she was crazy!  But now I catch myself doing the same, standing in the fruit aisle with a dreamy expression on my face sniffing cantaloupes for a whiff of ripeness; or clementines for the first whiff of citrussy decay (which means at least one of them has a hidden bruise and will dissolve in a mass of mildew in my fruit bowl in a matter of days!).  Most supermarket fruit, though, smells of nothing – but not these babies!  The nectarines were positively perfumed.  I was already in love.  Most of the plums, I ate raw before I could stop myself.  Flavor Kings are actually pluots – a hybrid between an apricot and a plum, with firm yellow flesh that darkens to pink and red as it ripens – and they have a sweet, intense flavour.  Delicious.  The nectarines were similarly firm and not spongy or tastless as they can sometimes be.  Nick declined to have his any other way but raw – but I had other plans for mine.  I still have some of the culinary lavender from Delices du Luberons that was sent to me by the Vaucluse Tourist Board  in Provence, and I had been wanting to make something with a saffron syrup ever since my saffron epiphany at Restaurang Familjen in Gothenburg last year – and this was my chance.  The recipe is super-easy and quite breathtakingly delicious.  Because it is verjuice-based the syrup is not nearly as sweet as you think.  In fact, if you have a sweet tooth, I would say make it as I did with half water, half vinegar/verjuice, or add extra sugar.  It’s a perfect standby for an impromptu dessert when you are too lazy to do anything fancy, it’s naturally gluten-free – and it looks gorgeous! A plate of South African sunshine on a grey London evening.




DISCLOSURE:  The nectarines were free samples provided by South African Fruit; and the lavender flowers were a free sample provided by the Vaucluse Tourisn Board in Provence. 




P2P_badge-SomersetAnd finally, are you a writer or photographer who feels stuck in a creative rut?  Want to take your writing and photographs to the next level but need some extra inspiration?  Then sign up now for the last couple of places on Plate to Page, the hands-on weekend workshop that MeetaIlva and Jamie and I are running in the gorgeous Somerset countryside on 18-21 May! Here is what participants said about our previous workshop. If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, sign up here!



Grilled nectarines with saffron and lavender syrup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This unusual dessert is easy to prepare and packed with flavour and colour.
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 4
  • ½ cup verjuice (I substituted ¼ cup apricot vinegar mixed with ¼ cup water)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • a  generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp dried culinary lavender flowers (i.e. no pesticides on them)
  • 4 nectarines, halved and pitted (mine were Alpine variety)
  • a knob of butter
  • Whipped cream or creme fraiche to serve
  1. Combine verjuice (or vinegar/water mix), sugar, saffron and lavender flowers in a small saucepan.  Bring to the boil and then lower the heat so that the mixture simmers and starts to reduce and become more syrupy (about 10 minutes).  Remove from the heat, strain through a sieve, then pick out and return a few of the saffron strands to the syrup.  Keep warm.
  2. Heat the butter in a non-stick pan (use a griddle pan with ridges if you like).  When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the nectarines to the pan cut side down.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5-10 minutes.  When the cut sides have developed a good colour, turn and cook on the skin side for 5 mins.  Fruit should remain a little firm, but heated through.
  3. Arrange two nectarine halves on each plate, pour the syrup over, and add a dollop of whilled cream or creme fraiche to the nectarine hollows if desired.  Serve immediately.
The TASTE magazine recipe that I adapted can be found here:

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Rate this recipe:  

  1. says

    Agree completely that considering only airmiles is far too simplistic.
    As well as the issues of fertiliser (not only what type is used but the environmental impact of making and transporting it too), and the fuel used to harvest the crop, one might consider whether fuel has also been used to artificially light and heat the greenhouses, when it is too dark and cold to rely on the sun, here in Northern Europe. And as you said, whether something is shipped or flown.
    In all honesty, it’s almost impossible.
    So my solution is to buy those fruits which are quintissentially British when they are properly in season here.
    The rest, those things which we either don’t grow well or aren’t particularly well suited to our climate, I am happy to buy from origins farther afield. I do wish more information was provided, including whether produce was shipped or flown.
    I do buy fruit and veg from South Africa, not only because I’ve visited the country and loved it, but also because it is indeed less of a distance than South America and quality always seems good.
    If South African Fruit fancy treating any more bloggers with some fruit, much of which I’d not heard of, let alone tried, before your post, do feel free to point them at Kavey Eats! Heheh!

  2. says

    I had the most delicious fruits of my life during holidays in SA. I love this recipe; I can almost smell it by looking at that gorgeous picture and what a great idea to combine saffron and lavender!

  3. says

    This is spring / summer heaven! They look so good and tender. The flavor combo is just divine. We try to get the locally grown and seasonal. Texas being a warm place produces a lot! and we are lucky. Planting some fruit trees at home this year and crossing my toes and fingers that they survive.. Home grown!

  4. says

    So funny how you miss what you don’t have. I loved the berries in the UK as well but pined for Australian mangoes (the ones you get in the UK are so hard) now I am back here and have all the mango I want, guess what I am missing!

  5. says

    So funny how you miss what you don’t have. I loved the berries in the UK as well but pined for Australian mangoes (the ones you get in the UK are so hard) now I am back here and have all the mango I want, guess what I am missing!

  6. says

    I do love grilled fruit. The smell and stickiness of it all. I still cannot bring myself to ‘eat’ lavender. I love the fragrance of it all and we have oodles of it growing everywhere around the house – I should cave in and just eat some. I love the photos Jeanne – very appetizing indeed x PS – congrats on your recent listing of Top 100 UK Food blogs. Well earned x

  7. says

    Aw this is wonderful…..a fabulous recipe and nostalgic post for me, as I remember sitting in the garden at our home in Wynberg when I was little nd eating nectarines straight from the tree! I LOVE Outspan oranges too…..I have a wonderful old Outspan advert form the 1050’s that can share with you of you like.

  8. says

    I love this post, Jeanne. :-) You’ve given me something further to think about when I choose what to buy and what to leave on the shelves. I’m back in the States for a very short time and it’s interesting to see the shelves with new eyes. I miss my Aussie dragonfruit and blue pumpkins. :-) Love this recipe too. I’ve been roasting like mad recently and am such a happy eater. :-)

  9. Delia Jordaan says

    I’m so proud of our amazing fruit, thank you for giving it such a great platform. I think we take our fruit for granted sometimes as we are not always aware of how far and wide it is exported. Next time I fill by basket with beautiful summer fruit (which actually is later today) I will remember to be greatful.

  10. says

    We try our best to eat locally and support out local farmers but my diet would be without the necessities like flour, salt and even pepper. We all do what we can I am sure, but when a special treat comes our way it is hard to resist!

  11. says

    Oh yum, I’m not big on dessert, but when served hot I’m a fan.
    This sounds delicious with the addition of saffron too, I’d have to have vanilla ice cream to slowly melt on the plate, heaven.
    Thanks, have saved for another day.

  12. says

    I love nectarines, it is my favorite fruit, but i really amazed that other than eating this one normaly, I cannot imagine that there is another way of preparation for nectarines. Thanks for sharing.

  13. says

    When we lived in SA one of my memories is my grandpa buying a full box of lychees and us grandchildren devouring them… it breaks my heart to buy then in tiny packets…
    A family friend a SA emigre in the 1960’s landed up in Edinburgh and for several years persuaded the local greengrocer that when the avocados were soft that they were off and they should be sold to her very cheaply but ‘I was buggered when the Israeli Avocado Growers did some consumer education about eating avocados.’ And the cheap avos stopped…
    Living in Pietermartzburg with avocado trees raining them down the size of rugby balls my mom was terrified that I’d be hit by one as I crawled as a baby under then. So she phoned up the local Indian fruit and veg seller who came with a truck and removed them. It was painful to pay pounds for them when we came to the UK.

  14. says

    Oh how I absolutely love such desserts. Quick and absolutely divine! What I loved about moving to Europe was enjoying the produce at the proper time of year. Living in Qatar we pretty much got everything all year round. So that was a highlight for me – waiting impatiently for the right season to enjoy berries, peaches, tomatoes and of course asparagus and butternut squash (although i think we should enjoy those all year round LOL!)
    Love the subtle lavender highlight here!