A guide to summer’s best stone fruits

Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries and various hybrids are examples of stone fruits.
(Catharine L. Kaufman)

From classics (peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, cherries) to hybrids (peacharines, nectaplums, apriums, plumcots), here are ideas to fill your bowl.


The produce industry, in collaboration with creative growers, has sparked a major hybridizing frenzy, increasing the diversity of the stone fruit family by leaps and bounds with striking colors and bursts of exotic flavors.

If you have a timid palate and cautious nature, stick to the tried-and-true classics, giving interesting hybrid creations time to shake themselves out before experimenting. But if you have a more adventurous culinary spirit, branch out with some quirky crosses that have become the stars of the season’s bounty. Peacharines? Apriums?

Here’s the drupe lineup to help you navigate the world of stone fruits while they’re good and plenty.

Classic purebreds

The quintessential sisters of summer — the fuzzy peach and the bald eagle nectarine — have had a long-standing rivalry. Nectarine is a natural peach mutation with a recessive gene for glabrous skin. Peaches and nectarines are divided into clingstone and freestone varieties, depending on the ease that the flesh separates from the pit, and sport either low-acid white or tangy yellow flesh with a somewhat tart one-two punch when eaten raw.

Nutritionally neck and neck, the duo has a rich store of antioxidants (vitamin C, flavonoids, anthocyanins, zinc, beta carotene, lutein) to temper inflammation, improve eyesight, ratchet up immunity and protect skin from ultraviolet rays. Though interchangeable in recipes, firmer-fleshed nectarines hold up better raw in salads and salsas, while peaches shine in cobblers, pies and preserves.

The apricot resembles a dwarf peach in shape, skin color and fuzzy skin. It’s low in calories and loaded with healing properties. To pick a winner, look for deep, rich orange hues and avoid green or pale yellow skin and wrinkles or blemishes.

The petite plum, grown on every continent except Antarctica, offers Japanese clingstone beauties that enliven palates with juicy, firm, yellow or reddish flesh and skin hues ranging from scarlet to maroon. The more diminutive European freestones have less juicy, golden flesh and dark purple skin and are commonly dried to make prunes.

The highbrow cherry, either sweet (Bing, Tulare, Rainier, Royal Ann) or sour (Nanking, Evans), nicknamed “a homegrown superfruit,” is packed with vitamins, minerals and especially anthocyanins that give it its intense pigment and talent to block inflammatory enzymes, relieving creaky, achy joints. And melatonin regulates sleep patterns.

This summer, wet your adult whistle with an invigorating cherry sling, cherry margarita, amaretto cherry sour or cherry Meyer lemonade cocktail. Cheers!


Don’t confuse wholesome hybridization with freaky GMO technology that tinkers with an organism’s genome by inserting foreign DNA through gene splicing.

For millennia, flukes of nature and mutations have created new species, baffling botanists. Intrepid growers have since copied nature, cultivating stone fruit stunners by transferring pollen from one plant to fertilize flowers of another. In fact, hybrids are more nutrient-dense than the original fruits and have a shorter growing period and longer shelf life. Many have whimsical portmanteaus from their prunus parents:

• Saturn peach, with delicate white flesh, sweet almond notes, nearly fuzzless complexion and a shape reminiscent of the face of a Pekingese dog, is a naturally occurring peach that descended from China’s peento variety. Further refined by Rutgers’ New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, this frost-resistant hybridized version boasts an even sweeter, more intense peachiness considered by drupe connoisseurs as the caviar of stone fruits.

• Plumcot, a 50/50 cross of a plum and an apricot, started with Mother Nature’s cross-breeding tricks centuries ago in regions where plum and apricot trees rubbed elbows. Current commercial cultivation produces a fairly smooth-skinned fruit with a sweet, juicy tang and hints of cherries, pomegranates and berries.

• Pluot also is a plum and apricot cross, with the dominant plum parent creating a smooth-skinned gem exuding an intense flavor.

• Aprium, with mostly apricot parentage and a sprinkle of plum, results in a low-acid, fuzzy variety predominantly apricot-flavored with plum and raspberry notes.

• Pluerry resembles cherries on growth hormones, with dark skin and varying colored flesh. Thanks to its lineage crossing a Japanese plum with the sweet cherry variety, pluerry is blessed with the best of both worlds.

• Peacharine, a peach/nectarine cross, gives rise to a smooth-skinned drupe with a slight 5 o’clock shadow and intensely flavored flesh that’s both firm and juicy.

• Nectaplum, a creamy, white-fleshed cross of nectarine and purple leaf plum, bears a maroon-skinned drupe that’s sweet with a pleasantly acidic tang.

• Peacotum, a triple threat breeding a peach with an apricot and a plum, envelopes sweet and tangy flesh with delicate, downy skin.

In the pits

Stone fruit pits are like the puffer fish of the botany world, laced with toxic amygdalin that converts to cyanide when colliding with gut enzymes. So be careful to extract pits and discard them to prevent ingesting even small fragments, and avoid the temptation of newfangled exotic offerings like apricot kernel ice cream. Whatever effort culinary adventurists use to render pits nontoxic isn’t worth the risk.


Grilled summer stone fruit salad
(Serves four)


• 2 ripe but firm nectarines, quartered, pitted

• 2 hybrid stone fruits, quartered, pitted

• 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

• ¼ teaspoon ginger powder or ½-inch piece shredded fresh ginger

• Avocado oil for grilling

• 6 ounces arugula

• 1/3 cup crumbled goat feta

• ½ cup roasted hazelnuts or walnuts

For vinaigrette:

• 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

• 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice

• 4 tablespoons grapeseed or avocado oil

• 1 tablespoon honey

• Pink salt, fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste


• In small mixing bowl, blend honey and ginger. Drizzle on stone fruit, sprinkle with salt.

• Brush grill with oil. Cook fruit on medium heat until caramelized and tender.

• In salad bowl, gently toss ingredients with dressing. ◆