As July transitions to August, we enter what is commonly known as the dog days of summer. In the produce world this also means we will see the most abundance and variety of domestically grown produce in our stores than at any other time of year. Local production is also peaking with all types of nearby fruit and vegetable production. In soft fruit, plum availability explode, figs start their second season and grapes come off the vine full of sugar and flavor. Cherry production has shifted to the northernmost states and to higher elevations and, while some of the best fruit is still ahead of us, the season has passed its peak. For peaches and nectarines some of the best varieties are coming off the trees all over the U.S. but there is a subtle difference to the fruit we buy mid- to late-summer as compared to what we bought in June and May. Peach and nectarine varieties are broadly classed in two general types - cling and freestone. The early varieties tend to cling - this is where the flesh of the fruit "clings" to the stone. In the later varieties, the flesh separates from the stone (hence the "freestone" designation). The quality of both is exceptional in most cases. but there are two important changes you should note when selecting and preparing late season peaches and nectarines to insure you are not disappointed.
- Firm is good: Most all peaches and nectarines are shipped to market firm - the early varieties are best when you allow them to soften but this is NOT the case with the later freestone fruit. Late July and August fruit will generally have a slightly lower moisture content coming off the tree and should be eaten firmer (otherwise you run the risk of the fruit being mealy).
- Free stone varieties are obviously a lot easier to remove from the pit but they are also susceptible to a condition called split pit (where the pit breaks inside the fruit) if you encounter this condition be extra careful to make sure you have removed all the pit fragments (they are very hard and can break a tooth).