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Ingredient Spotlight: Stone Fruit

Peaches, plums, and apricots, oh my!
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Stone fruit season, which runs from roughly late May through early October in the United States, is in full swing. Members of the rose family and also known as drupes, stone fruits received their named because they have a "stone" or pit in the middle. Some may think that this is the seed, when in fact, the seed is actually contained within the pit.

For those keen on consuming all of the apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines that the season has to offer, here's what you need to know when it comes to purchasing, storing and using stone fruits.

Apricots

With about 90% of the country's apricots coming from California, these golden orange beauties are high in vitamin A. One thing that sets them apart from the other produce on this list is that they are a little bit firmer when ripe.

Plums

First cultivated by the Chinese, plums come in an array of colors, from deep purple/nearly black to yellow or even green. They should have a whitish layer called a "bloom" coating their skin as a form of protection.

Peaches

Peaches are native to China and were also once known as "Persian apples." These fuzzy-skinned fruits can be divided into two categories based on how attached the pit is to the flesh: freestone and clingstone. (I'll let you figure out what each of those means.)

Nectarines

Fun fact: Nectarines and peaches are varieties of the same species. Aside from the nectarine's smooth skin, the other main differentiator is that its flesh tends to be sweeter and firmer than its compatriot.

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Purchasing

Hopefully we all have had the pleasure of eating a great peach or plum in our lifetimes—if not, now's the chance!—and it's the smell that should guide us in selecting the best specimens. Give it a good whiff and its scent should match the flavor you expect (particularly peaches).

Coloration isn't really a great indicator of ripeness in most cases, but another way to test is to gently press near the stem. If there's a little give, then you're in the money. (Otherwise you'll want to let them ripen a little bit before using.)

Another tip is to go for a range of ripeness if you want to have them around for snacking over a few days. That way you can eat them as they ripen over time instead of finding yourself with a basket of peaches all ready to eat at once.

Storing

It's best to store unripe stone fruit in a single layer, uncovered and unwashed, at room temperature. Once ripe, you can move them to the refrigerator to slow down the ripening process.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can put the fruit in a brown paper bag to help speed up the ripening process. This works because the ethylene gas emitted by the produce gets trapped and hastens maturation; additionally, you could throw in other ethylene gas producing fruits, such as apples or ripe bananas, to hurry the process even further.

Using

All you really need is a quick rinse first to enjoy the beauty of a perfectly ripe nectarine. But if you're looking to show off your culinary skills, stone fruits can be used in a variety of sweet and savory applications, from cobblers and jams to grilling and pickling. And when it comes to peeling, a quick dip (about 30 seconds) in boiling water followed by an ice bath plunge will help those skins come off with ease.

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