Meet Robin from Harncroft Orchard, Maungatapere

Robin and his wife Heather own Harncroft Orchard in Maungatapere, which is situated approx. 10km to the west of Whangarei in Northland.

Maungatapere is a small village community located in the heart of Northland’s hill country. The landscape is dominated by a nearby hill, also by the name of Maungatapere, which means ‘meeting place by the mountain’. Historically a dairy farming region, the Maungatapere area remains an important part of Northland’s agricultural industry, with its deep volcanic soils being some of the most desirable in the country.

Robin has been in and around agriculture for quite some time starting as an Arable Farmer in the Rangitiki then moving into pig farming. After a stint with a tourism venture, Robin and his wife Heather have moved back to orcharding and started New Zealand’s only Tamarillo Co-op, Tamco in 2014.

Their passion for tamarillos is simply illustrated by the fact that they can grow them successfully as the fruit is notoriously difficult to grow. To achieve success, three things are required; a frost-free climate where Northland’s proximity to the coast helps. Secondly, an environment which is sheltered and free from wind. Thirdly they need free draining soil where Maungatapere’s volcanic plains is ideal along with the added benefit of its rich nutrient base.

Within the co-op Robin and the growers use modern pest management techniques, alongside traditional methods, to produce tamarillos that taste great, are highly nutritious and free of unwanted residues. The devastating Psyllid virus near ruined the commercial crop in New Zealand back in 2008 but after intense monitoring and caring of the trees, control and good management, the strength of the industry is returning. As a result, the tamarillo fruit is healthy after being well monitored. Because of the small scale of the industry, fruit is still hand picked delivering exceptional quality and flavour.

Once the tamarillos are picked and sorted at the orchard and shipped South, secondary processing begins. It can be challenging with the tamarillos ‘tumbled’ to promote the skin to crack so they can be easily peeled to access the flesh for preserving. There is a fine balance to ensure enough of the skin and bitter ‘pith’ is adequately removed to ensure the preserve isn’t tainted with unnecessary bitterness.

Minimal sugar is added to ensure the fresh bold fruit flavour of tamarillo is maximised. We also add a touch of pectin so we don’t have to boil the fruit too vigorously which reduces the risk of caramelisation. This traditional rolling boil can result in over sweet, sticky jam compared to the desired lighter texture and flavour we aim for in Grower Series. The result is a preserve with a lower sugar content. Compared to traditional ‘jam’ which must have at least 65g sugar per 100g, our Grower Series Tamarillo has only 45g per 100g, therefore it’s important these preserves are kept in the fridge to de-risk any mould appearing during usage.

The result however is a very special, classic and iconic NZ fruit preserve which many kiwis fondly. Now the fruit is not so readily available on the fresh market so this makes the Grower Series Tamarillo preserve all the more in demand for those who love the traditional kiwi backyard fruit.

Robin’s secret tip is to take fresh tamarillo and add it chopped up to a simple lettuce salad to add a real zing and bite. Ultimately though, Tamarillo & Apple crumble is a heart-warming favourite. Enjoy!