Nectarines 101: Learn basics

Nutrition: 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 Vitamin A and C than peaches. Nectarines also are richer in several minerals, including iron, phosphorus and potassium.

Selection: Look for rich color and smooth skin. Avoid fruit with brown spots or bruises, wrinkled or green patches or that looks sunburned. A ripe nectarine will yield a bit when pressed with your thumb.

Storage: Nectarines will ripen in two to three days, kept at room temperature. To speed up the process, place fruit in a brown paper bag and place out of direct sunlight at room temperature. Once ripe, fruit may be stored for up to one week in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.

Freeze for later: Packed in airtight containers or sealed bags, nectarines may be frozen up to one year. Peel and slice before freezing; sprinkle slices with lemon juice, citric acid or sugar to avoid browning. Remove pit before freezing; it can turn the fruit bitter.

Preparation: To peel nectarines quickly, plunge whole fruit into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove fruit and plunge it into a bowl of cold water. The skin should slip right off.

Grill ’em: 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 2 to 3 minutes a side, turning once. Serve as an accompaniment to meat or as a dessert with ice cream.

Roast ’em: This is an extra-easy dessert or side dish. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut nectarines in half and remove pits. Lightly butter an ovenproof baking dish. Place nectarines cut side up in dish. Sprinkle fruit with sugar (white or brown, 1 tablespoon per nectarine) and ground cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamon, if desired. Dot each half with a little butter (1 teaspoon per nectarine). 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.

Nectarine vs. peach: Native to China, these two summer fruits are very closely related. Nectarines are not a cross between plums and peaches – as commonly believed – but are descendants of a mutant variety of peach. Both peaches and nectarines are the same species. A recessive gene leads to nectarine’s smooth skin. Nectarine seed may produce a tree with fuzzy peaches while some peach varieties (such as Autumnglo and Encore) that carry that recessive gene may produce nectarine trees from their seed. By the late 16th century, nectarines were grown in England where they got their name, which means “sweet as nectar.” Spanish explorers introduced nectarines to California more than three centuries ago.

Debbie Arrington