Nectarines In Season Now
A cousin to the peach, these luscious fruits deserve praise, and thus this ode.
Bryce Loewen of Blossom Bluff Farm.
Poems to peaches are common enough. Google “ode to a peach” and there are plenty of hits. But odes to nectarines, their smoother-skinned cousins? They’re fewer and farther between. But they are just as deserving of elevated praise, especially ones from organic orchards like Blossom Bluff, a family farm in Parlier.
You can find Blossom Bluff nectarines in Blue Chair Jam products, on Chez Panisse’s summer galettes, and on the fruit plates at Zuni Café. They can be unadorned, because they are often perfect specimens—luscious, tart, and sweet, picked ripe and packed in single-layer boxes.
According to Bryce Loewen of Blossom Bluff, the nectarine is a fuzzless mutation of the peach that was stabilized through propagation. But nectarines also have other more subtle differences.
“Nectarines have a more acidic edge to them than yellow peaches,” Loewen said. “Peach flavors are more delicate or muted.”
Nectarines are also made of sturdier stuff. A summer peach’s time of perfect ripeness can be a matter of hours on a hot day. “They peak and fall more quickly than nectarines,” Loewen said. “The nectarine’s peak lasts longer.”
Throughout the summer, smaller orchards like Blossom Bluff and Frog Hollow grow a multitude of varieties, so that every week, a new crop, from a different stand of trees, reaches its peak. Some varieties only pop up at the market for a week or two. This year, according to Loewen, it’s difficult to predict what will be in season when, because of the winter’s sudden temperature drops and because the weather didn’t stay cold for very long. Some fruits are ripening more quickly than usual, and others are slower to take off.
But look for Summer Grands in mid-July. “It’s a strongly acidic yellow nectarine, but it’s acidity is masked by its sweetness. Its flesh is creamy, and because it’s a freestone [the pit is easily removed], it’s great for baking projects,” Loewen said.
In late July, look for July Reds, a yellow variety whose flesh has a reddish hue. A favorite of Blue Chair Jam’s, they have an unusually high level of tartness.
Choosing nectarines is similar to choosing peaches. Its undertone should be even throughout the fruit; the skin around the stem needs to have lost its greenish tinge.
Another thing to look for are sugar spots. “Some people call them bee stings, though that’s not accurate. It’s the speckling you see on fruit. The more you see, the sweeter the fruit tends to be,” Loewen said.
Russetting, which is a rough brown area on the skin, can also earmark its tastiness. “It’s surface scarring due to insect activity, wind, or other things, and sometimes fruit that is traumatized in some way does actually end up being quite sweet. Though that’s not necessarily always the case, it’s definitely a thing to look for,” he said.
You can also let the birds pick the fruit for you. “Another old anecdotal bit of farm wisdom that I picked up from my grandpa is that if the birds are pecking the fruit, it tends to be good fruit. Aesthetically people don’t always want to go for fruit that birds have eaten, but if we’re culling fruit, and we have a pile of fruit that has bird pecks, I’ll generally go for that,” Loewen said.
When shopping for the week from a stand that picks its fruit ripe, choose a few that still have a way to go, and stand them on their shoulders (stem-end) on the counter, not touching. They’ll continue to ripen as the week progresses.
Blossom Bluff’s farm stand operates at the Saturday downtown Berkeley market, the Sunday Temescal market, and the Tuesday North Berkeley market.
Cynthia Salaysay works at the Blossom Bluff farm stand during the summer.