Alhambra's Sunday Morning Farmer's Market
As spring has come and gone, the literal fruits of summer are beginning to flourish. Specifically speaking, stone fruits (technically known as the drupes) from the prunus genus of trees – peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines and apricots.
There may be obvious differences between these fruits (color, size, texture), but they can pretty much all be described as having a hard shelled seed surrounded by juicy flesh and a soft but crisp outer skin. These fruits can be bred to be either "freestone" or "clingstone," the former having flesh not directly attached to the seed, while the in the latter it is strongly attached. There are supposed to be certain advantages for breeding both, but aside from a difference in eating effort, it does not affect the fruit's flavor.
Peaches and nectarines are essentially the same fruit, except for a single genetic mutation. Nectarines are a specific cultivar of peaches, bred to be smaller and lacking the distinctive peach fuzz (the lack of fuzz is a recessive gene in peaches). Nectarines are also known as shaved peaches. Apricots are similar in appearance to peaches, appearing more uniformly golden orange with a sweet and slightly tart flavor. My favorite of the stone fruits are plums, smooth skinned with slight whitish bloom (a protective waxy coating that develops naturally on the skin). A really ripe plum reminds me of a water balloon exploding with sweet juicy nectar.
When buying, choose fruit that are plump with a deep, vibrant color. Steer clear of any fruit that still have areas of green. Resist the temptation to give them a big squeeze as this can cause bruising. Peaches and plums can be fairly delicate so a gentle grasp is all that is necessary. The skin of ripe fruit will yield slightly then bounce back. You'll want to carry the fruit in a separate bag (or even a box) than your other groceries, as too much pressure and weight will crush them. Very ripe fruit will need to be eaten right away, while harder fruit can be placed in a paper bag and allowed to ripen at room temperature (placing a banana or apple will speed up the ripening). Only wash the fruit when you are ready to eat, as the excess moisture can promote spoilage.
What to do with all this fruit? Serving them slightly below room temperature makes for a refreshing summer treat. Puree the flesh for drinks and smoothies, or in a stone fruit sorbet. Grilling them will enhance their sweetness, and can be added to salads or topped with ice cream. For something savory, try them wrapped in pancetta, or cooked together with garlic, rosemary and a hunk of pork tenderloin, followed up with a peach cobbler or a crazy beautiful nectarine tart for dessert. And if you have leftovers you can always preserve them!
Do you have any recipes or tips for your favorite stone fruits? Let us hear them in the comments,or send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org!