How to get most out of summer peaches, plums and nectarines

Fresh peaches are a summer treat. Different varieties stretch the California season from May to October.
Fresh peaches are a summer treat. Different varieties stretch the California season from May to October. TNS

Stone fruit, also called drupes, include such summer favorites as peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and cherries as well as all their crosses such as pluots and apriums. Surrounded by soft flesh, the “stone” or pit contains the actual seed.

Contrary to popular belief, nectarines are not a cross of peaches and plums, but a smooth-skinned mutant variety of peaches.

Peaches and nectarines may have yellow or white flesh, while the flesh of plums may be yellow, red or purple. Peaches, plums and nectarines may be “free stone” (with an easy to remove pit) or “cling” (with flesh adhering to the stone).

Nutrition: One cup of fresh sliced peaches contains about 60 calories, almost all from carbohydrates. One cup equals about one large peach. Peaches are a good source of vitamins A, C and niacin. They also contain several antioxidants and minerals such as potassium, iron and copper.

One cup of raw sliced nectarines has 63 calories, slightly more than one cup of peaches. Like peaches, nectarines are a good source of dietary fiber, niacin and potassium, but nectarines contain more of vitamins A and C than peaches. Nectarines also are richer in several minerals, including iron, phosphorus and potassium.

Plums contain more sugar and calories, 73 per one cup. That works out to about 30 to 40 calories per plum, depending on size and variety. Plums also are a good source of vitamins A and C as well as several antioxidants.

Selection: With dozens of varieties available, the California peach and nectarine season stretches from late May through mid-October, peaking in late June and July. Most varieties have a red blush, which indicates varietal traits more than ripeness. Plum season is even longer, stretching from mid-May to November.

One pound of peaches, plums or nectarines yields about 3 cups sliced or 2 cups pureed.

Look for peaches, plums or nectarines that are firm to the touch but have a little give. They should be unblemished, free of nicks or bruises, with a warm, fragrant aroma. Mature peaches have a well-defined cleft and a soft glow. Depending on variety, ripe plums can range from light yellow-green to almost-black purple.

Avoid peaches and nectarines with any sign of green; they won’t ripen fully. Stone fruit will soften off the tree, but their sugar content will remain the same.

Always treat stone fruit gently. Never drop them into a bag or basket; they bruise!

To ripen: Place hard stone fruit in a brown paper bag punched with holes and place out of direct sunlight. Keep at room temperature. Check twice a day. Peaches and nectarines can go from underripe to overripe in 24 hours.

Storage: Fresh stone fruit should be kept unwashed and stored at room temperature. Allow some space between each one for air circulation. They’ll keep three to four days. Wash just before using.

Refrigeration can extend their life, but only a couple of days. Refrigerate unwashed fruit in a loose plastic bag. Allow fruit to return to room temperature (at least 30 minutes) before eating. The flavor will be much fuller.

Freezing: Peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots frozen in a sugar pack keep much better than if frozen plain. Peel the fruit and add a few spoonfuls of sugar to slices before freezing. Always remove the pit before freezing; it can make the fruit taste bitter. If fruit is overripe, add citric acid or lemon juice to prevent browning.

Easy tips for preparation

Peeling peaches and nectarines: Cooking can cause the peel of peaches and nectarines to become rough and chewy. To peel a large batch, use this method. With a sharp knife, slash the skin with a shallow “X” on one side of each fruit. Dip fruit in boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to a bowl filled with ice cold water. The peels will slip right off.

Grill your fruit: Leave the skin on. Cut nectarines in half and remove pits. Brush the fruit with melted butter (both sides) and sprinkle with sugar if desired. Grill over medium coals or heat for two to three minutes a side, turning once. Serve as an accompaniment to meat or as a dessert with ice cream.

Or roast it: This is an extra-easy dessert or side dish. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut fruit in half and remove pits. Lightly butter an ovenproof baking dish. Place peaches, nectarines or plums cut side up in dish. Sprinkle fruit with sugar (white or brown, 1 tablespoon per half) and ground cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamon, if desired. Dot each half with a little butter (1 teaspoon per half). Add  1/2 cup of liquid such as apple juice, orange juice, white wine or water to the baking dish. This liquid keeps the fruit from sticking while also flavoring the fruit. Cover the dish with foil. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, crème fraîche or as an accompaniment to meat.

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