The Stone Fruits of Summer

Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries are all members of the Prunus genus. By definition:

“A genus is a group of similar species. Prunus is a genus of trees with perigynous rosaceous flowers. Perigynous describes a flower that has petals, stamens and sepals arranged around a cup-shaped receptacle containing the ovary.”

The long and short of it is that all of the summer stone fruits are related, in some mysterious and delicious way. As the definition denotes, all stone fruits have a common hard pit that surrounds the seed from which they come. The varieties are as endless as a long summer day, with some flavors distinctly sweet, others a little bitter and some that walk the line between bitter with sweet overtones.

Keep reading to learn more about the growing season, how Mollie Stone’s sources stone fruits, and for some tips about selecting and storing stone fruit!

When are stone fruits in season?

Stone fruits start in late May in the southern growing areas of California, and run through September as the season winds its way up the West Coast to Washington and over to Idaho.

These wonderful fruits are different each year, decided by the chain of weather events from the first leaf through harvest. The strength of the tree and the resulting quality of the fruit is dependent on the winter. The trees need a deep sleep of over 700 hours, which occurs with temperatures below 32F. These are called “chill hours.” If it’s colder than 31-32F for too long, the trees will suffer. If it’s not cold enough, the trees won’t have the strength to produce good fruit. If it’s too rainy, windy or cold during February and March, the flowers are affected and so on to the fruit.

How does Mollie Stone’s select stone fruits?

Varieties and flavors are abundant in California, and our goal is to be in the correct variety at the correct time. Peaches, for example, come in many different sizes, shapes, colors and flavors ranging from the flat Donut to the hearty O’Henry. The peach season starts out with varieties like Spring Flame, Crimson Pride, Snow Blaze and leads into Summer Flame, finishing up with varieties including Joanna Sweet and August Lady’s.

Mollie Stone’s searches for fruits with the best flavor, size and appearance. Each night we are on the produce market sampling, and each day we’re on the the phone talking to growers or out to their fields inspecting crops. (Click here for photos of our Northwest Fruit Tour last year!)

From which growers does Mollie Stone’s source its fruits?

This year we have partnered with a number of growers that produce very high quality fruit, including Family Tree Farms, Valley Wide Farms (a group of small organic farmers packing under one label), Stemilt, Trinity, Capay Valley and more.

How can you tell when stone fruit is ripe?

You can’t always judge a book by its cover, or a peach by its skin. Here are some tips for selecting different varieties of stone fruits:

  • Peaches: The amount of red color on the skin is not an indication of ripeness and can vary greatly amongst varieties. The background color indicates the maturity of the fruit. If the background is too green, the fruit may have been harvested too early. The background should be a light greenish yellow to a full yellow-gold, indicating its time on the tree was sufficient to produce the proper balance of sugar and acidity.
  • Nectarines: To select the sweetest nectarines, look for “sugar spots,” which are light yellowish/beige spots accumulating on the skin.
  • Plums & Pluots: Squeeze the fruit gently to determine if there is a slight give, which indicates ripeness.
  • Cherries: Cherries should be dark red or mahogany to almost black in color with a nice firm shiny skin and attached green stem. They should be round to heart-shaped and in this case, bigger is usually better. Internally they should be a solid reddish-purplish color. To make them last longer, do not wash them until right before you eat them.

How should I store stone fruits at home?

How to store stone fruits at home depends on your preference in eating and how ripe they are when you buy them. If you want to hold them for a few days and you bought them ripe, you need to refrigerate them at 35-38F. If you bought them ripe and you’re ready to eat them, then store them on the counter top.

Refrigeration that is not cold enough can actually damage the fruit, turning it mealy, mushy and even blackening the meat. These temperatures, called the “kill zone,” range from 40-52F.