Relentless wet weather over the past few months might have had you bracing for bad news regarding this year’s traditional Christmas spread, as growers and suppliers struggle to keep their crops above water.
And true, oysters and stone fruits have taken a hit, but all is not lost. Cherries, for instance, are a little late but they’re back better than ever according to one Riverina orchardist. Perhaps most importantly, the ham is also intact.
Spyro Konidaris owns local seafood store Sea Harvest, with shopfronts at the Belconnen and Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets. With more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, he says demand for prawns and oysters, as well as lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans, normally peaks at this time of year.
“They’re easy to prepare and serve, especially if you’re buying them precooked, and they’re nice and refreshing,” he says.
“Served cold on a hot summer’s day, they go down so well.”
Spyro sources most of his rock oysters from the South Coast, particularly Merimbula and Bermagui, with Pacific oysters coming from Tasmania and South Australia. He says this has been a challenge.
“The rain affects the salinity – or level of salts – in the water, causing the oysters to spawn,” he explains.
“When that happens, the farmers aren’t allowed to harvest until the salt returns to a certain level. It’s a highly regulated industry – as it should be – and there’s a whole testing process.”
He still expects a decent supply in time for Christmas, however.
Harrison & Sons is a fourth-generation family-run farm in the Araluen valley, 25 kilometres from Braidwood, producing peaches, nectarines, citrus, vegetables, lucerne hay, sheep and Limousin/Angus cattle. Ken Harrison says 2022’s crop of stone fruits is the worst they’ve ever had.
“We’ve had a couple of really bad years, ever since the bushfires came through our orchard in the summer of 2019/20,” he says.
“Our tree numbers are nearly back to what they were, but there wasn’t enough cold in the winter and sunshine in the spring for the bees to do their job properly. The worst affected are the peaches and nectarines.”
To make matter worse, the sheer amount of rain has drowned many of the trees, some as old as 12 years.
“It’s the worst crop we’ve ever had, well and truly.”
On the plus side, the taste has survived.
“We probably get away with it better than cherries do – they swallow more water than stone fruit – but we’ve had some sunshine in the last two to three weeks which has increased the sugar content in the fruit, so that’s been good.”
Despite reports of flooded cherry orchards and watery fruit elsewhere, Ballinaclash Orchard and Cellar Door in Young have a “beautiful” crop, ripe for picking.
“We’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways, the cherries are really good,” owner Cath Mullan says.
As a pick-your-own orchard, the trees are almost always bare by Christmas, but Cath says the rain and cold has pushed the season back so the cherries may remain into the new year.
“For the first time, we may well open after Christmas.”
Thanks to a couple of weeks of fine weather, and a pleasant forecast, Cath says they’re anticipating a “really good season”.
“The fruit is looking really good and those we’re bringing in off the trees are really tasty, so fingers crossed it doesn’t rain.”
Wagga Free Range Pork is a family-run business in the heart of the ‘Riverina food bowl’ at Mangopla, rearing their own pigs for ham, bacon and pork, while also assisting other farms in the area with cutting up their meat for markets.
Owner Stephen Anderson says they’re seeing the standard Christmas shopping list this year – “the fresh pork roast, Christmas ham and chicken”.
“There are some people buying roast lamb cuts too.”
Crisis somewhat averted, it seems.