Apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums are some of summer’s sweetest, juiciest gems — and it’s finally time to savor them in every way you can. They’re called “stone fruits” because they contain a pit, or stone, and you can substitute one for another in most dishes. Read on for more tips on working with stone fruits, plus new ways to prepare them from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Look for: Look for fresh apricots with a deep golden color and sweet fragrance. They should be soft enough to give slightly when gently pressed. Avoid any hard fruit –it will never ripen fully on the counter. Make sure that cherries are large, plump, smooth and still have stems and leaves that are firm and green. Avoid any that are wet, sticky, bruised, excessively soft or have shriveled stems. Choose nectarines and peaches that give slightly to gentle pressure, have a flowery fragrance and are free of bruises and blemishes. Avoid any with tinges of green, as they were picked too early and may never ripen properly. Plums should be smooth, heavy for their size and give gently when pressed, particularly at the blossom end. The freshest plums retain a white, powdery bloom on their peel. Avoid any that are wrinkled or overly soft.
Lightly green-tinged apricots may become sweeter if enclosed in a paper bag at room temperature for 1 or 2 days. Once ripe they should be eaten as soon as possible. Cherries, too, should be used as soon as possible after purchasing. If needed, refrigerate them in a shallow container covered with a clean cloth or paper towels for up to 5 days. Arrange peaches and nectarines stem end down and store at room temperature. If they are soft, refrigerate them in a plastic bag for 4 to 5 days. To soften hard plums, place them in a paper bag for a few days at room temperature. Store fully ripe plums in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Prep tips: Apricots should be handled very gently, as they bruise easily. To peel the fruit: Trim away the stem, cut a shallow X in the blossom end and plunge the apricots into a large pot of boiling water until the skin peels away, 20 to 60 seconds, depending on ripeness. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to ice water to cool. Drain and then peel with your fingers or a small paring knife.
Try to keep the stem on the cherries until ready to use, since once they are removed the fruit spoils quickly. To prevent them from molding, wash them under cold running water just before using. To use cherries in recipes, pit the fruit with a cherry pitter or a small, sharp knife.
Wash peaches and nectarines under cold running water just before using them. To halve, use a small, sharp knife to cut down to the pit following the fruit’s crease, then grasp the fruit in both hands and rotate the halves in opposite directions to separate. Scoop out the pit with the tip of the knife or a spoon.
Plum skins are easy to peel if the fruits are fully ripe. If the plums are still firm and their skin clings stubbornly, cut a shallow X in the blossom end and plunge the fruit into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the ripeness. Rinse in cold water to cool, and then carefully slip off their skins. Here’s your toolkit:
- Peach Pitter/Slicer, to turn whole peaches and nectarines into uniform slices for fruit salads, fruit tarts and snacks
- Kilner Stainless-Steel Jam Pan, for making stone fruit preserves
- Stainless-Steel 3-Piece Mesh Colander Set, for rinsing and draining fruits
- KAI for Williams-Sonoma Paring Knife, to peel and slice stone fruits
Uses: Stone fruits are beautiful (and delicious) when sliced and used to top tarts, baked into pies and pastries, or pureed into sauces. They are also ideal for preserving, making wonderful relishes, compotes and jams. Fresh stone fruits bring their incomparable flavor to ice creams, sorbets and gelatos, too. In savory dishes, they pair well with poultry and roasted meats, such and duck and pork.
Honey-Thyme Roasted Nectarines: Halve and pit nectarines. Combine honey and thyme and drizzle over nectarines. Roast at 425°F until honey-thyme mixture is caramelized, 10-12 minutes.
Plums with Goat Cheese & Pistachios: Thinly slice plums. Arrange on a serving platter. Drizzle with walnut oil, then sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and toasted pistachios. Season with salt and pepper.
Wine-Poached Apricots: Combine white wine, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add apricots and simmer until tender. Remove apricots from pan and continue cooking liquid until syrupy. Drizzle apricots with syrup and top with creme fraiche and toasted almonds.
Grilled Stone Fruit Vinaigrette: Grill stone fruit over medium heat until soft and slightly caramelized. Peel fruit. Using a fork, mash fruit with lemon juice. Whisk in olive oil, salt and pepper and toss with salad greens.
Peach Crisp: Peel 6 peaches, cut into wedges and toss with lemon juice, 1 tsp. cornstarch and sugar to taste. Stir together 1/2 cup flour, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cut in 4 Tbs. cubed butter and toss in 2/3 cup rolled oats. Sprinkle on peaches and bake at 350°F until bubbling.
Easy Peach Galette: Toss 4 sliced, peeled peaches with tsp. cornstarch and sugar to taste; place in center of a pie dough round. Fold dough over edges of peaches, lightly crimping; brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400°F until golden.