Plant Stories: Golden Queen peach

Watties built an empire on them, late summer wouldn’t be the same without their delights – and Tauranga can lay claim to being the birthplace of the Golden Queen peach.

Edwin Reeve of Greerton, then a separate settlement, quickly spotted the potential of the seedling growing by his pig sty and in April 1909 the Bay of Plenty Times reported on the tree’s superior qualities, including heavy cropping, vigorous growth, a clingstone fruit and a skin that didn’t mind being handled.

Mr Reeve had purchased peaches in Opotiki for customers in Rotorua and among them were some yellow-fleshed peaches which, apparently, had come from trees planted by  missionaries. It is reported that Maori called them paukina pititi, or pumpkin peach. Mr Reeve kept some stones from the Opotiki load and planted them on his 4ha property on Cameron Rd.

Several varieties grew, but one stood out. It was later described as “averaging 8 and a quarter inches in circumference” (22cm in new money). Its “blush” colour and taste were also praised. For more than 100 years, the Golden Queen has been a firm favourite with home preservers.

Golden Queens bottled and ready for eating. Photo: Kings Seeds

Read Karen’s blog about preserving at Kings Seeds.

Originally named Reeve’s Golden Peach, the fruit was developed for the public by Auckland nursery D Hay and Son, which propagated the tree through cuttings – so every Golden Queen has grown on a tree descended from Mr Reeve’s. Although some reports have Mr Reeve receiving as much as £100 for the tree, his family recalled it as being closer to £25.

Mr Reeve, who fought in World War 1 and attained the rank of sergeant – and whose father had fought at the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864, died in 1921 aged 49. His wife Ellen had opened Greerton’s first Post Office from their home in 1904, the first stop on the coach route from Tauranga to Rotorua.

But Tauranga hadn’t quite finished its association with the Golden Queen. The peach’s suitability for canning prompted Major Mayfield and his relative Mr Chater, both orchardists, to open a cannery on the Mayfield orchard on Waihi Rd near Bethlehem just before World War 1.

When war was declared, Major Mayfield returned to England to rejoin his regiment, leaving Mr Chater in sole charge of Hawkridge Orchards.

The Burbury family of Hawke’s Bay have been growing Golden Queen peaches for Watties for three generations. Photo: Watties

Young women travelled to Tauranga for the seasonal work of peeling and preparing the fruit in an open shed (apparently wasps weren’t a problem in New Zealand then). Syrup was added to the cans which were soldered shut apart from one small hole. The cans were then “cooked” by immersion and the steam hole soldered closed.

Hawkridge Orchards canned both peaches and pears but the venture ended after only a few years when crops were destroyed by fire blight (pears) and brown rot (peaches).

The Hawkridge name lives on, chosen by millionaire property developer Paul Adams as the name for his Bethlehem home. His Carrus Corporation bought the Mayfield property in about 1995, donating the homestead to Tauranga Boys’ College where it is used as a sports pavilion on the corner of Cameron Rd and 15th Ave. The orchard and farmland has become the Mayfield housing subdivision in Bethlehem.

The former Mayfield house, now part of Tauranga Boys’ College. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand says: “There is no record of who introduced stone fruit to New Zealand. Groves of wild peaches, known as ‘Māori peaches’, were found growing along several North Island rivers by the first European settlers. They may have been planted by the explorer James Cook and his crew, or by early 19th-century sealing or whaling gangs. The first peach orchard was planted about 1840.”

Here’s a timeline of when and how peaches may have arrived in Northland (the first part of New Zealand to be ‘settled’). It appears Samuel Marsden had sent fruit trees from Australia and by 1817 these were ‘perfection’.

The Golden Queen still forms the vast majority of peaches canned by Watties but there are threats to this business. Read more here. And believe it or not there is an entire blog devoted to labels in New Zealand, including a great section on food can labelling. Long White Kid is well worth a look.

2 thoughts on “Plant Stories: Golden Queen peach

  1. Hi Sandra. I loved the peach article. Bishop Selwyn, visiting The Elms in the 1840’s, wrote of pitching his tent in the peach orchard adjoining Archdeacon Brown’s study and of the luscious ripe fruit on the trees. Food gardens were necessary but Alfred went over and above that because he loved gardening.
    Bev Corbett.

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