18 June 2018

Stone Fruit Season at Napa Farmers Market

by David Layland

from the Napa Valley Register 

As much as I love cool-season produce, it’s time to move on. What better way to do it than with stone fruit? Peaches and nectarines are now available at the Napa Farmers Market, and they are delicious.

When I have to decide whether to buy peaches or nectarines, I take the easy way out and buy both. The main difference is that peaches are fuzzy while nectarines are smooth. This is not important to me, but to my wife it’s practically a matter of life and death. She will bite into a juicy nectarine, but a fuzzy peach will never cross he lips.

If you can’t decide between the peaches and nectarines, buy the fruit that smells best. At the farmers market, you can also taste before you buy. I don’t recommend that you squeeze the fruit, especially if you are at the Bera Ranch stall. Michelle Bera does not like customers squeezing her fruit.

Peaches and nectarines are almost identical genetically. Peaches have a dominant gene that produces the soft, fuzzy skin. Nectarines have a recessive gene that results in smooth skin.

Both fruits can be freestone or clingstone, yellow or white. With freestone types, the pit detaches easily from the flesh; with clingstone varieties, the pit is harder to pry loose.

Nectarines tend to be smaller, firmer and more aromatic than peaches, and they can also be more susceptible to disease.

In the kitchen, you can use them interchangeably. Freestone fruits are better for freezing, whereas clingstone are better for canning. Some people claim that nectarines are juicier and sweeter, but I haven’t found that to be consistently true.

Peaches have been traced back to at least the 10th century in China. A favorite among China’s emperors, peaches were later introduced to the Romans by the Persians, while Alexander the Great presented them to Europe.

Spanish explorers brought peaches to South America. In the early 17th century, English horticulturalist George Minifie brought peaches to the New World and planted seeds at his Virginia estate. Native American tribes actually spread peach seeds across the United States, planting them as they traveled.

Nectarines were called the “nectar of the gods” by one Chinese emperor, which likely gave rise to the English name. A ripe nectarine is indeed as sweet as nectar.

Both peaches and nectarines are excellent choices to add to your summer menus. A single large peach contains roughly 70 calories, along with fiber, antioxidants, potassium, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. A medium-size nectarine would provide about 60 calories, plus beta-carotene, Vitamin C, potassium and lutein.

Grilled peaches or nectarines are a perfect seasonal dessert and meet my two preparation requirements: quick and easy. I prefer using a charcoal grill. After grilling whatever you’re serving for dinner, throw some more charcoal on the grill, give the cooking grate a good brushing and go eat dinner. The fire will be ready to grill the fruit when you’re ready for dessert.

Grilled Peaches with Balsamic Glaze

This recipe is adapted from www.epicurious.com.

½ cup honey

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

½ tsp. vanilla extract

6 firm, ripe peaches or nectarines, halved and pitted

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Whisk together the honey, balsamic vinegar and vanilla extract. Brush the fruit with half of the mixture. Grill over high heat, turning occasionally, until the fruit is hot throughout and the glaze has caramelized. Put the fruit on a platter cut side up, drizzle with the remaining balsamic mixture and top with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6

David Layland is the president of the board of the Napa Farmers Market.