I think some of the best fruits of summer are the stone fruits – apricots, cherries, peaches and nectarines and plums. Named for the pit or “stone” found in the center, stone fruits are members of the genus Prunus and belong to the rose family.
Peaches and nectarines both belong to the species Prunus persica. Peaches originated in China and have been grown since the 5th century BC. They then traveled to Japan and then Persia. Alexander the Great discovered them there and introduced them to the Greeks. The main difference between peaches and nectarines is peaches have fuzzy skin and nectarines have smooth skin. Both can be yellow or white, white is actually the genetically dominate color, yellow wasn’t developed much until the 1850s. They can come freestone, which means the pit easily separates from the flesh, or clingstone, which is strongly attached. I prefer the freestone ones for eating out of hand, while the clingstone are good for drying, canning and shipping.
Peaches and nectarines are in season all summer, May to September depending on the variety and where you live. When shopping, look for fruit with smooth, unblemished skin. The color of the skin differs by variety and unless it is green, doesn’t indicate ripeness. Ideally, look for tree ripened fruit. They will continue to soften once picked, but the sugars will not increase. When ripe peaches and nectarines smell sweet and give slightly when gently pressed. They are rich in vitamin A, phytochemicals and fiber and are low in calories.
Obviously, peaches and nectarines are delicious eaten out of hand, but they also lend themselves to many preparation techniques. Pies and preserves are always a favorite. Cut some up and cook over low heat for a quick and yummy topping for pancakes or waffles. They can be dried, frozen or canned to save for winter. A simple but impressive way to serve them for dessert is to cut them in half, remove the pit, lightly brush with olive or canola oil, and grill face down for a few minutes. They can be served face up as is, or sprinkled with brown sugar or served with the frozen confection of your choice. I have been making the oatmeal-fruit bars recipe I posted a few months ago, but instead of using preserves, I have been cutting up stone fruit and using that as a filling. That’s good.
If you want to peel your stone fruit, cut a small X in the bottom of the skin and then dip in boiling water for 30 seconds. The skin will peel right off. This trick also works for tomatoes and similar fruit. To get the fuzz off a peach, run it under cold water and rub gently. Not that the fuzz will hurt you at all, but some people are picky about their fuzz. (If only this method worked on the “peach fuzz” on us!)
What is your favorite way to eat peaches or nectarines? Post a comment and let us know.