Singing Magpie Produce is a farm and producer of dried fruit in Monash, South Australia. The family run farm produces wonderful sun dried fruit from their signature semi dried figs and smyrna quince to chocolate enrobed fruit. Their products are great for gifting and come separately or bundled up into pack.
The woman and the face behind Singing Magpie Produce is Sue Heward, "Jack Heward (my Poppa), as part of the 1st World War Soldier Settler program, planted our family orchard in the 1920's in the small town of Monash in the Riverland, South Australia." The Riverland is a 9000 square km region of South Australia with the Murray River running through it, located close to the SA/Victorian border.
The Riverland region is known as a fruit bowl due to its hot Mediterranean climate and fertile soil. However the weather that can climb to 47°C/116.6°F also means they suffer drought, sometimes years of deep drought. "This makes sustainable small scale food production even more tenuous, more expensive, more stressful but we are committed to minimising our ecological footprint," she says.
This year marks the Heward family orchards' 100 year anniversary. Nowadays they harvest fruit from1,000 fig, 200 quince and 50 pecan trees, and between 70-100 tonnes of wine grapes. The Hewards grow their fruit at three orchard locations with Sue's parents Frank and Ros managing the family orchard with their vast experience. Wholesale customers include prominent South Australian brands Maggie Beer and Beerenberg.
Before she started in food manufacturing on the farm Sue had a 28 year career in health care. "I found myself deeply embedded in the Melbourne rat-race, living an urban lifestyle but desperate to share the life I knew as a child with my partner and young daughter. In early 2016 we took the plunge and swapped the hustle of the city for the rustle of our orchard trees." In 2017 she started her own gourmet food company – Singing Magpie Produce, to add a level of vertical integration into the family orchard business.
"So many people find Singing Magpie and tell me 'We didn’t think we it was possibly to find great tasting Australian grown and sun dried fruit anymore'. They lament that they can only find imported fruit in the shops. This blows my mind because here in the Riverland region we are the Queens and Kings of amazing dun dried fruit," says Sue.
In November 2020 Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer. "The prospect that I might die having just turned 50 years old is one of the most isolating and difficult things I have ever experienced," says Sue. She relied on her medical team, family, friends plus fans of her Singing Magpie product to help her get through the 9-10 months of treatment. "I wasn’t sure if Singing Magpie would be able to survive while I was undergoing treatment and not being able to work. I made a very conscious decision and expanded the team around me so I could take time off - and that was even before we knew what COVID would bring us. Year to date we have seen 60% growth in our business through online sales and working with gourmet retail food business from across Australia. This is something I am very proud of," says Sue.
All of their dried fruit is naturally dried to preserve their true flavour. "Our figs are naturally sun-dried to retain their best figgy qualities, including intense flavour and a decadent chewy, stickiness that blends beautifully with many texture and flavour combinations. Our figs have no additives. We hand pick them, dry them in the beautiful Riverland sun and ship them direct to customers," explains Sue. The next product after the semi dried figs were the sun dried Smyrna quince. The quince is hand picked, cooked whole, hand sliced and then sun dried. They also use the poaching liquid to produce a thick, sticky quince syrup that is delicious over vanilla ice cream. "Our aim on the orchard and at Singing Magpie is to minimise waste wherever possible," says Sue.
I tried the Singing Magpie Collection box with 11 packets of their products: River apricots, Somerset peaches, Duchess pears, black Genoa figs, white Smyrna figs, sun dried Smyrna quince, fruit melange, dried Riverland citrus slices, sticky quince syrup and a packet of chocolate enrobed figs and chocolate dried fruit melange (enrobed in Callebaut 58% dark chocolate couverture). Sue dubs this the "picnic box". There are also care package boxes from $55 in small and large sizes.
I love the dried pears and peaches and especially the chocolate enrobed fruit and the figs are great on a cheese board. The choc dipped melagne is a delicious selection of each of the fruit partially dipped in chocolate while the semi dried figs are completely dipped in the chocolate and make a great dessert platter addition of a sweet snack.
As for the future, climate change continues to present myriad challenges to farmers from drought, the pollination season, extremely hot summers, fruit fly outbreaks and hailstorms. They have also run out of space and have had to turn away orders until they raise capital for a manufacturing plant as demand is so high. "The juggle of running a small business, trying to wear too many hats (fig picker through to social media creator and book keeper), having a young family and balancing that with trying to stay cancer free is real. Its like juggling balls in the air but I truly feel extremely grateful for my life every aspect," says Sue.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you eat much dried fruit? Do you have a favourite dried fruit?
NQN was sent a collection box but all opinions remain her own.
Singing Magpie Produce