Produce at Its Peak: Stone Fruit

Stone fruit season has begun! When we talk about stone fruit, we are talking about peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, apricots, and cherries. The name “stone fruit” comes from the stone-like seeds inside. These varieties peak from June-September and the harvest spans warm climate regions. About a month ago we welcomed the first yellow peaches from Mexico and they were luscious and juicy–best eaten over the sink. It’s fun to watch as the season progresses to see from which regions the stone fruit is sourced. As mentioned the first harvest comes from Mexico, then California, followed by Washington’s, mid-summer yields Colorado peaches, and we close out the season with local Wisconsin and Michigan fruit from Partner Farms. Some notes about stone fruits:

Apricots have velvety skin and flesh, and are smooth and sweet with a faint tartness.

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Cherries are the smallest stone fruits. There are many varieties of dark sweet cherries as well as the even sweeter yellows. The most popular yellow cherry is the Rainier and it has a delicate honey like flavor.

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Peaches have soft and fuzzy skin with juicy, luscious flesh. Yellow fleshed peaches tend to have a balanced sweet/tart flavor unless they are the late season sub-acid varieties which are very sweet. White peaches have little to no acidity and are very sweet.

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Nectarines are smooth skinned and very similar to peaches yet often have a thicker texture and become more syrupy when ripe. White nectarines have little to no acidity.

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Plums are generally grouped into red and black categories though there are a great number of varieties of sweet, juicy plums. Plums sometimes have tart skin which compliments the ultra sweet flesh.

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Pluots are hybrids of plums and apricots. There are numerous varieties of pluots resulting from different combinations of plum and apricot varieties as well as plum to apricot ratio variance. Pluots usually have a more complex flavor profile than plums. Some varieties you will see this year are flavorosa, flavor grenade and dapple dandy.

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While stone fruit season is exciting, one of the most disappointing occurrences in the produce department is coming across a mealy, dry peach or nectarine. We taste test the stone fruit that goes onto the sales floor whenever possible, but sometimes the fruit just isn’t ripe enough to be able to decipher its future. There is a scientific explanation as to why stone fruit becomes dry, or mealy. Enzymes that help break down the undesirable qualities are produced in the ripening process. These enzymes work to break down chloroplast and pectin. Chloroplast is responsible for the green color in unripe fruit and pectin is the reason unripe fruit is hard. As the chloroplast is broken down, you may notice a change in color from greens to reds and yellows. With the disintegration of the pectin, the cell walls are broken down, starch is converted to sugar, and the fruit becomes juicy and soft. These enzymes do not work correctly if the fruit is not handled properly from the time the fruit is picked to the time is arrives at our stores. When unripe fruit is harvested, then lowered to 50 degrees, then brought up to room temperature, these enzymes can be compromised. The pectin is either not disrupted at all or entirely dissolved, and the starch never quite makes the transition to sugar causing gritty, undesirable fruit.

Growers cannot ship peaches that are fully ripe in most cases; therefore, temperature control for peaches is of the utmost importance. It is every peach growers challenge to wait to pick the fruit until it has ripened enough on the tree but not so much that it will bruise during shipping. When selecting peaches you should look for ones that are heavy for their size and have a peachy scent. Avoid peaches that give to slight pressure and feel light. Do not refrigerate stone fruit at home unless it is fully ripe and you have an excess.

There are so many ways you can use stone fruit. Eating out of hand always works, but you can also roast, poach, sauté, bake, make pies and crisps, toss in salads, make jams, sauces, salsas and chutneys, or grill stone fruit. Now that we have an abundance of local tomatoes and peaches and nectarines coming in, it would be an ideal time to try this peach salsa recipe.

Ingredients

1 ripe peach, peeled, pitted, diced (could use nectarines)

1 medium yellow or orange tomato, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup chopped sweet onion, such as Vidalia

1 Tbsp. lime juice, plus more to taste

1 tsp. minced, seeded jalapeño, plus more to taste

¼ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

Preparation
Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with additional lime juice, jalapeño or salt, if desired. Serve salsa with tortilla chips, or spoon onto grilled chicken or fish.