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Everything you Need to Know about Picking, Ripening, Storing and Using Stone Fruit

Everything you Need to Know about Picking, Ripening, Storing and Using Stone Fruit

The following information was provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla at 

There’s nothing better than a juicy peach, plum or nectarine on a warm summer day and life really is a bowl of cherries when they are tart, sweet and just waiting to be made into a pie or jam. We’re talking about stone fruit, that ambrosial tree fruit which contains a large seed or stone. In season from early spring through early fall, stone fruit is at it’s best at the peak in the dog days of summer, which lucky for us, is right now.

What is Stone Fruit?

  • Peaches: Nothing says “summer” like the juice of a ripe peach dripping down your chin. We love them because at their peak, they have the perfect balance of tart and sweet flavor. Yellow peaches will be a little more tart than white. Look for Saturn or doughnut peaches for eating out of hand as well.
  • Plums: Plums come in a variety of colors including purple, red, yellow and green. Plums can be as large as an apple or as small as a cherry. They offer a range of sweet/tart flavors with the yellow-skinned plums the most tart and red or purple the sweetest.
  • Nectarines: Smooth-skinned nectarines are very similar to peaches. Firmer, sweeter and juicier than peaches, nectarines are a great substitute for peaches in recipes.
  • Apricots: Yellow apricots have a slightly fuzzy skin and tend to be firmer when ripe. Not as juicy as a peach, apricots hold their shape when grilled or roasted.
  • Mangoes: The golden flesh of the tropical mango is one of the most delicious. Mostly sweet with tart notes, mangoes are almost always firm when purchased and require days on the windowsill to render them sweet and juicy. Mangoes have a flat stone in the center and a tough skin, which should be cut away in order to enjoy the tender flesh within.
  • Cherries: Cherries can be either red or yellow and are either sweet or tart. Sweet cherries are great eaten as is or baked into tarts, jam or pies. Sour cherries are also known as pie cherries because you have to mix them with sugar and bake them in order to make them palatable.
  • Plumcot: Plumcots are the hybridized fruit of a Japanese plum and an apricot but more closely resemble a plum. They come in many colors and sizes with a rainbow of colored flesh as well.
  • Apriums: Apriums are also hybridized fruit of a plum and apricot but more closely resemble an apricot. Extra sweet and juicy, apriums are yellow/orange and smaller than plums, but larger than apricots.
Stone Fruit on a Surface

How to Purchase Stone Fruit

Stone fruits are usually purchased from bins in the Produce section grocery store. They are picked firm so that they don’t bruise on the way to the store, so stone fruit can be a little hard when you purchase it. Look for smooth, plump fruit that smells fruity in the case of plums, peaches and nectarines with no bruises or dark spots. Look for firm, shiny cherries with stems intact, as they will keep for a longer period of time. Mangoes should be green and red but when ready to eat, the skin will turn a yellow/orange.

Person Handling Peaches

How to Ripen Stone Fruit

Most stone fruit requires a few days on your kitchen counter to ripen and soften. I like to place them in a single layer in a woven basket, turning them a few times a day. Ripeness can vary by fruit, but generally, stone fruit is ripe when the flesh yields to pressure and is slightly softened. Peaches and nectarines will take 2-3 days to ripen, if purchased hard. Apricots can ripen more quickly, so it’s a good idea to keep and eye on them. Cherries are usually purchased ripe and go straight to the refrigerator in a breathable produce bag and enjoyed right away. Once the fruit has ripened at room temperature, transfer it to the crisper drawer of the refrigerator where it will keep for a few more days.

Fresh Peaches in a Basket

How to Enjoy Stone Fruit

Stone fruits are wonderful in sweet and savory applications. If you grew up eating Grandma’s peach pie, Grandma might be surprised to find that grilled peaches with a sprinkle of fresh thyme are also delicious with grilled pork tenderloin or ribs. Of course, there’s always cobblers, crumbles, pies, tarts and galettes to be made with stone fruit, but how about adding the juicy fruit to your morning oatmeal or smoothie? Instead of tomatoes, try making a stone fruit salsa with peaches, nectarines or mangoes. Here’s more:

  • Add sliced peaches or nectarines to a tomato and mozzarella caprese salad. The extra acid and sweetness in the fruit makes the tomatoes taste even more delicious.
  • Chop nectarine, peach or mango and combine with a little chopped red onion, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper for an accompaniment to grilled meat and chicken.
  • Make a tart. In a large bowl combine 4 cups of chopped stone fruit, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp. flour, a pinch of salt and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Toss gently to combine, taste and adjust with more sugar, if necessary.
  • Roll out a purchased pie crust into a large circle and dump the fruit in the middle. Dot with a few Tbsp. of butter and fold the edges up over the sides, leaving the fruit exposed in the middle. Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 400°F oven until browned and crisp on the bottom, about 35 minutes.
  • Add chopped stone fruit to morning cereal or granola.
  • Grill stone fruit and add to salads or serve as a side to grilled poultry and meats.
  • Muddle stone fruit in a glass and top with iced tea or sparkling water for a refreshing summer beverage.
  • Muddle stone fruit in a rocks glass and top with vodka, rum or tequila and a splash of sparkling water for a fresh and fruity cocktail.
  • Add chopped stone fruit to pancake batter and fry up fruity pancakes.
  • Make a crumble topping. Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch cinnamon and 1 cup of diced cold butter. Using fingers, snap the butter into the flour mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over diced fresh fruit and bake for 30 minutes, or until crispy on top.
  • Make stone fruit jam! It’s so much better than store bought and it’s very easy to make. Look online for recipes with the search “easiest plum jam recipe.” You’ll be glad you did.

When berries are no longer at their peak and apple season hasn’t yet started, stone fruits like peaches and plums are at their ripe, juicy best. Make the most of the season by incorporating stone fruit into breakfast, lunch and dinner because when summer ends, so does the sweetest part, all that tasty, juicy fruit. All you need is a drink to go with this summer feast… oh, wait. Muddled fruit in a rocks glass topped with…we covered that as well.

Carla Snyder

By Carla Snyder

Carla has spent the past 30 years in the food world as a caterer, artisan baker, cooking school teacher, food writer and author of 6 cook books including the James Beard nominated Big Book of Appetizers. Her passion is sharing fresh, cooked-from-scratch weeknight meals that cut prep time and practically eliminate that nightly sink full of dishes.

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