Enjoying Summer Fruits
Most everyone loves fruit due to their sweet taste and the fact that they are relatively low in calories! Drupes, or fruits with a single stone or pit, are great summer fruits that include apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums. They are sweet, juicy, and fairly fragile. Beta carotene, Vitamin C, Potassium, and Fiber are key nutrients this group of fruit provides. Cherries are also considered drupes but contain fewer nutrients per ounce than their larger cousins.
Fresh apricots, which are among the first fruits of summer, are notable for their fragrance, delicate flavor, and velvety surface. Not only do they contain the above mentioned nutrients, they are also a good source of Iron. NASA officials have made them a key part of the Astronauts' diet on a number of space flights. Today, California supplies more than 90% of the domestic crop, usually available from mid-May through mid-August. Fully ripened apricots are soft to the touch and brimming with juices. They should be eaten soon after they are purchased, as they do not keep well.
Apricots that still need a day or two of ripening at room temperature should be plump, firm, and orange-gold color. Do not buy hard fruit that is tinged with green--they will never develop the flavor. If you buy apricots not fully ripe, store them in a paper bag at room temperature, away from direct heat or direct sunlight. Once ripe, they may be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, where they will keep for a day or two. Don't wash the fruits until you are ready to eat them.
Peaches are the third most favorite fruit grown in the United States. Early explorers and settlers planted peaches all along the Eastern seaboard, leading botanists in the mid 1700's to believe they were native to America. They actually originated in China. The domestic peach season extends from April through October, with the peak in July and August. Peaches are classified as either freestone or clingstone; a few varieties fall in-between and are referred to as semi freestone. Nearly all the varieties that are sold fresh are freestone--the flesh slips off easily from the pit. They are softer and juicier than clingstone varieties, which are generally used for canning. Whenever you buy peaches, look for skins that show a background color of yellow or warm cream--the amount of pink or red "blush" depends on the variety and is not a reliable indicator of freshness. Undertones of green mean the fruit has been picked too soon and will not be sweet. Avoid rock hard fruit. Once peaches are picked, their sweetness will not increase, so choose fruits that are mildly fragrant. Be sure to store ripe peaches in the refrigerator crisper if you are not going to eat them in a day. They should keep for 3 to 5 days.
To many people, nectarines are peaches without the fuzz. Nectarines are sweeter than peaches. Their name is probably derived from the Greek word nectar, meaning "Drink of the Gods." There are more than 150 varieties that differ slightly in size, shape, taste, texture, and skin coloring. The fruit may be clingstone or freestone. Nectarines are available throughout the summer, reaching their peak in July and August. About 98% of the domestic crop is grown in California. Select bright, well rounded nectarines with shades of deep yellow under the red blush. Ripe fruit should yield to gentle pressure and should have a sweet fragrance. If you select brightly colored fruits that are firm or moderately hard, they will ripen within 2 to 3 days at room temperature. Avoid fruits that are rock hard or greenish--signs of too early picking.
Anyone who likes plums has an abundance of choices--there are more than 140 varieties sold fresh. This fruit is probably the most diverse drupe since it is found in a wider range of shapes, sizes and especially skin colors. Its flavor also varies from extremely sweet to quite tart. About 20 varieties dominate the commercial supply and most are either Japanese or European varieties. The plum season extends from May through October. Plums should be plump and well colored for their variety. If the fruit yields to gentle pressure, it is ready to eat; however you can buy plums that are fairly firm and let them soften at home. Ripe plums will be slightly soft at the stem and tip, but watch for shriveled skin, mushy spots, or breaks in the skin.