Peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, and apricots—here’s your guide to picking and preparing all the best summer stone fruits.
Summer brings a lot of things; lawless children with waaaay too much time on their hands, sweet sunsets caked in SPF 80, and a whole lot of stone fruit. Stone fruits—also known as drupes—are marked by a large stone-like pit (seed) inside and the sprawling category includes mangoes, lychees, and even almonds, but a few “summer stone fruits” shine brightest during the warm months of June, July, and August are gone long before our tans fade.
Peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots have relatively short growing seasons in North America beginning in spring and generally running no later than September 1 with some as short as a fortnight. In honor of these beloved, fleeting summer stone fruits, we thought we’d share a helpful guide including a breakdown of the many varieties, tips on how to spot a good (ripe) stone fruit, and of course a few recipes to make the most of your summer haul.
Related Reading: Why You Should Be Grilling Fruit This Summer
Peaches & Nectarines
The most popular stone fruits and for good reason. Peaches are good eating alone or in desserts. You can grill them, bake them in a pie, or just grab a ripe one and go at it, though there’s nothing quite as bad as a bad peach, so choosing a good one and eating them in season is key.
In pop culture, peaches are so beloved when something is great or perfect, even, it can be described as “peachy” while in emoji language, peach, of course, means tuchus.
When are peaches in season?
May officially kicks off peach season and it runs through late September making them an ideal summer nosh. Most come from Georgia (“The Peach State”), South Carolina, Florida, California, and Idaho with the warmer climates coming in earlier, but many other states produce them as well.
- Yellow peaches are the most popular variety of peach with their sticky, juicy inside and orange-reddish skin. If serving raw be sure to choose a ripe one or wait for it to ripen. If using for cooking you can get away with a slightly under-ripe fruit.
- White peaches are paler in color than a yellow peach but have a nice sweet flavor and delicate flesh. Be careful not to bruise this sensitive variety.
- Donut peaches are named for their flattened shape. Donut peaches have white flesh and are perhaps just slightly less juicy than the average peach. Great for eating out of hand.
- Nectarines are nearly identical in genetics to peaches but sport a smooth skin with no fuzz. Treat and use them mostly in a similar way you would any other peach.
How do I pick the best peaches?
Buy local! If you can buy from a farmers’ market, do it; otherwise ask the produce manager if any of the stockpiles came from a nearby farm. Or, find out what your closest peach producing state is and see if you can track those down, in-season.
Experts will warn not to squeeze peaches and nectarines since they bruise easily (gosh, so sensitive!) but rather give the skin a whiff and smell for a pungent sweet peach flavor. If you must squeeze them…do it gently.
Peaches should have some give but avoid a mushy or overly soft specimen. Better to buy underripe as you can let them ripen at home or put them in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter to speed up the process.
How should I use peaches?
Besides the obvious (just biting straight into the thing), peaches make great additions to fruit salad, filling for a pie or cobbler, or the base for jelly or marmalade. Peaches grilled with a scoop of vanilla is one of the simplest summer desserts and a major crowd-pleaser to boot.
Related: 11 Perfect Peach Recipes for Summer
In savory applications try slicing and grilling them to serve with a pork loin, or dice into a spicy peach salsa to heap over chicken or fish or pile onto tacos. Or swap them in for heirloom tomatoes in a peach Caprese salad.
Peach recipes to try:
A medium-size stone fruit, plums are also popular both as a hand fruit and used in cooking, with just a bit more tartness than peaches and nectarines, generally speaking. There are over 2,000 varieties of plum, spanning a range of colors, tastes, and textures, and plums are produced all over the world (Asia being the largest producer). Most sport some pretty great health benefits, too, including loads of vitamin C and iron.
When are plums in season?
Plum season is similar to peach season with the best hauls starting in May and lasting through October, in some cases.
- Black plums, sometimes referred to as “Japanese plums,” are a popular grouping of plums with a dark purple, almost black skin and yellow flesh. Sweet and juicy but somewhat mild, these make great candidates for plum pie or tarts and hold up well to cooking.
- European plums, which include the popular Moyer Plum and Italian Plum, are slightly smaller and elongated with a purple-y red skin and very sweet flesh. The sweetness has earned them the moniker “sugar plum” of “Nutcracker” fame.
- Red plums can be found in most markets here, too. This group includes Santa Rosas and Simca plums; they have a nice balance of tart and sweet and are delicious to eat as is or when made into a jam.
- Yellow plums are yet another category and are, you guessed it, yellow both inside and out. Most are great eating out of hand, with good texture and balanced flavor.
- Pluots are a hybrid between plums and apricots but are roughly 75 percent plum with big bold flavor but perhaps less tartness than plums. There are delightful sub-categories of pluot like Dapple Dandy and Dinosaur Egg.
How do I pick the best plums?
A ripe plum will probably seem a bit heavy for its size. The smell test works too albeit not as well as with peaches. Too soft is also probably a bad sign and may mean it’s overripe—plums should be slightly more firm than peaches but not hard. And maybe you’ve noticed a thin white film on them. That’s bloom and it’s a good thing. It means they probably came from a somewhat local farm and haven’t been handled much. It can be easily rubbed or washed off at home.
How should I use plums?
Like most stone fruit they go great in fruit salads, tarts, or just eaten as is. Plum sauce is popular in Chinese cooking, especially with duck, though we also like a fresh plum sauce on a grilled pork chop. Or grill the plums and serve over a salad with goat cheese and walnuts. Plums sauteed or roasted with chicken is another popular way to work the stone fruit into dinner. Plum wine made from uve plums is popular in China and Japan as an aperitif, and dried plums (or prunes) are a sweet snack eaten the world over.
Plum recipes to try:
A personal favorite of mine within the stone fruit category, cherries are the ultimate summer snacking fruit. Nothing looks prettier than a bowl of bright red or yellow cherries in summer, and this itty bitty stone fruit packs a flavor punch used in everything from pies and ice creams to savory sauces, cocktail garnishes, and jams.
Ironically, one of the most famous cultural references to cherries, the story of George Washington confessing to cutting down his father’s cherry tree as a symbol of honesty, is widely thought to be untrue, while one’s ability to tie a cherry stem with just their tongue has a more lascivious meaning.
When are cherries in season?
Cherries have quite a shorter season than peaches and plums. Sweet cherries are generally available from May to August while tart cherries show up for just a few weeks in June (which is why you might forget about cherries until they are everywhere for a while during the summer and then vanish as quickly as they arrived).
Loosely, cherries are broken down into sweet and sour cherries with most varieties falling under sweet.
- Bing cherries are the most common of sweet cherries and very easy eats, with deep red-purple skin, sweet, vibrant-tasting flesh, and juice so dark it’ll ruin at least one pair of white pants in your lifetime
- Lapins are another varietal almost identical to Bings in color and taste.
- Chelan or black cherries ripen a bit earlier than Bings (generally grown in the Pacific northwest). They have a slightly firmer texture but similar taste to Bings and Lapins but tend to last longer.
- Rainier cherries with their brilliant yellow and blush red skin are as pretty as a picture and taste wonderful, too. They also hail from the Pacific northwest (and were named for Mount Rainier in Washington), with a subtle tartness that balances the sweet.
- Tulare cherries look almost identical to Bings and Lapins but are significantly more tart, though not as tart as true sour cherries.
- Sour cherries have the shortest growing season of all (two weeks in June) which causes a mild hysteria, not unlike ramps. If you hadn’t guessed, these small cherries are indeed sour, meaning they aren’t to everyone’s taste in raw form and often end up cooked in pies, cakes, jams, and jellies which releases their sugar to balance the tart.
Related reading: 8 Ways to Use Your Cherry Haul
How do I pick the best cherries?
Look for cherries to be firm, brightly colored, and shiny with no signs of shriveling or browning, and a fresh green stem. Be less concerned about their ripeness and more concerned with whether or not they are juicy and tasty which largely depends on the season. Because cherries are so tiny you might try sneaking one from the bag to taste before purchase (but don’t say we told you to).
How should I use cherries?
Cherries pack a punch of flavor despite their small size. Cherry pie and ice cream are popular uses but cherries soaked in booze like Maraschino and Luxardo cherries play a role in cocktail culture, too. And don’t forget about savory applications. See a few of our favorite recipes to use your cherry haul this summer.
Cherry recipes to try:
Creo SmartGlass Pie Pan, $34.73 at Walmart
This light green pie pan is so pretty for summer!
Apricots look a whole lot like orange plums but have some significant differences in taste. They grow on trees, like all stone fruits, but are lower in overall sugar than most and are known for a heap of health benefits including fiber, vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant beta-carotene which improves vision.
They have a flavor similar to peach with a bit more tartness and are delicious when eaten raw but you’ll also find them dried or cooked down into jam.
GoJars Hexagon Glass Jars, 24 Count, $39.44 at Walmart
Fill these classic glass jars with some homemade jam.
When are apricots in season?
Like cherries, apricots have a short growing season from early May to July. Almost all North American apricots come from California.
- Blenheim apricots are the most popular variety, medium-sized with a good balance of sweet and tart and a stone that is easily removed.
- Poppy apricots are also available and are great eating apricots, though they mature earlier and are generally done by June.
How do I pick the best apricots?
Look for bright orange apricots that are just slightly soft. Like peaches and plums you can ripen them at home in a paper bag or just set out on the counter. Once ripe, they should be stored in the fridge.
How should I use apricots?
Apricots are great eaten whole but because of their lower sugar content also work well in tarts and cakes, jams and jellies. Dried apricots are popular as a snack but also stewed in with chicken or made into a sauce or reduction.
- Apricot-Whiskey Smash
- Crumbly Oat and Apricot Bars
- Apricots and Herbed Strawberries with Angel Food Cake
Header image courtesy of Tracey Kusiewicz/Foodie Photography / Moment / Getty Images