Kitchen Shrink: A guide to summer’s best stoners around town

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The produce industry in collab with creative growers have sparked a major hybridizing frenzy increasing the diversity of the stone fruit family by leaps and bounds with striking photogenic Technicolors and bursts of exotic flavors. If you have a timid palate and cautious nature then stick to the tried-and-true classics, giving interesting hybrid creations time to shake themselves out before experimenting. But if you’re like me and share a more adventurous culinary spirit, then branch out with some quirky and delightful crosses that have become the shining stars of the season’s bounty. Peacharines? Apriums? Here’s the drupe line-up to help you navigate through the dizzying world of stone fruits while they’re good and plenty.

Catharine Kaufman
(File photo)

Classic Purebreds

The quintessential sisters of summer--the fuzzy wuzzy peach and the bald eagle nectarine—have had a long-standing rivalry. Nectarine, the blue-eyed blonde of the stone fruit world, is a natural peach mutation with a recessive gene for glabrous skin. Both peaches and nectarines are divided into clingstone and freestone varieties depending upon the ease that the flesh separates from the pit, and sporting either low-acid white, or tangy yellow flesh with a somewhat tart one-two punch when eaten raw.

Nutritionally neck and neck the duo has a rich store of antioxidants (Vitamin C, flavonoids, anthocyanins, zinc, beta carotene, lutein) to temper inflammation, improve eyesight, ratchet-up immunity, and protect skin from fire-breathing UV rays. While interchangeable in recipes, firmer-fleshed nectarines hold up better raw in salads and salsas, while peaches shine in cobblers, pies, and preserves.

The luscious apricot resembles a dwarfed peach in shape, skin color, and fuzzy-textured skin. This mini-powerhouse low in calories and loaded with healing properties is a guiltless treat. To pick a winner look for deep, rich orange hues avoiding green or pale-yellow skin, wrinkles, or blemishes.

The petite plum grown in every continent except Antarctica offers the Japanese clingstone beauties that enliven palates with juicy, firm, yellow or reddish flesh, and skin hues ranging from scarlet to maroon, while the more diminutive European freestones with less juicy, golden flesh and dark purple skin are commonly dried to make prunes.

At last, the highbrow cherry either sweet (Bing, Tulare, Rainier, Royal Ann) or sour (Nanking, Evans) nicknamed “a homegrown superfruit” is packed with vitamins, minerals, and especially anthocyanins that give its intense pigment and talent to block inflammatory enzymes relieving creaky, achy joints. There’s more. Boron boosts bone health, melatonin regulates sleep patterns, and quercetin acts like nature’s Claritin with an antihistamine effect on target cells.

This summer wet your adult whistle with an invigorating cherry sling, cherry margarita, amaretto cherry sour. or a refreshing cherry Meyer lemonade cocktail. Cheers!

Hybrid Darlings

Please don’t confuse wholesome hybridization with freaky GMO technology that inkers with an organism’s genome by inserting foreign DNA through gene splicing concocting strange bedfellows. Yikes! For millennia flukes of nature and mutations have created new species baffling botanists. Intrepid growers have since copied nature cultivating stone fruit stunners by transferring pollen from one plant to fertilize flowers of another. In fact, hybrids are actually more nutrient-dense than the original fruits, have a shorter growing period, and a longer shelf life. Many have whimsical portmanteaus from their prunus parents:

• Saturn peach with delicate, white flesh, sweet almond notes, nearly fuzzless complexion, and shape reminiscent of the squished-in face of a Pekingese dog is a naturally occurring donut peach that descended from China’s peento variety. Further refined by Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experimental Station, this frost-resistant hybridized version boasts an even sweeter, more intense peachiness considered by drupe connoisseurs as the caviar of stone fruits.

• Plumcot, a 50/50 cross of a plum and an apricot started with Mother Nature’s cross-breeding tricks centuries ago in regions where plum and apricot trees rubbed elbows. Current commercial cultivation produces a fairly smooth-skinned fruit with a sweet, juicy tang, and hints of cherries, pomegranates, and berries.

• Pluot also a plum and apricot cross with the dominant plum parent creating a smooth-skinned gem exuding an intense flavor oomph.

• Aprium, the converse of the pluot with mostly apricot parentage and sprinkle of plum results in a low-acid, fuzzy beauty predominantly apricot-flavored with delightful plum and raspberry notes.

• Pluerry resembles cherries on growth hormones with dark skin and varying colored flesh. Thanks to its fine lineage crossing a Japanese plum with the sweet cherry variety pluerry is blessed with the best of both worlds.

• Peacharine, a peach/nectarine cross gives rise to a smooth-skinned drupe with a slight five o’clock shadow and intensely flavored flesh that’s both firm and juicy.

• Nectaplum, this creamy, white-fleshed nectarine and purple leaf plum cross bares a maroon-skinned drupe that’s sweet with a pleasantly acidic tang.

• Peacotum, a triple threat breeding a peach with an apricot and a plum envelopes sweet and tangy flesh with delicate downy skin.

In the Pits

Stone fruit pits are like the pufferfish of the botany world laced with toxic amygdalin that converts to cyanide when colliding with gut enzymes. So be careful to extract pits and discard them to prevent ingesting even small fragments, and avoid the temptation of new-fangled, exotic offerings like apricot kernel ice cream. Whatever efforts culinary adventurists use to render pits nontoxic is not worth the risk-taking.

My fingers crossed that you’ll enjoy this stone fruit salad as much as I do (see recipe below).

Grilled summer stone fruit salad
(Catharine Kaufman)

Grilled Summer Stone Fruit Salad

(Serves 4)

2 ripe but firm nectarines, quartered, pitted

2 hybrid stone fruits, quartered, pitted

2-tablespoons honey or maple syrup

¼-teaspoon ginger powder or ½-inch-piece shredded fresh ginger

Avocado oil for grilling

6-ounces arugula

1/3-cup crumbled goat feta

½-cup roasted hazelnuts or walnutsFor vinaigrette whisk together--

2-tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1-tablespoon Meyer lemon juice

4-tablespoons grapeseed or avocado oil

1-tablespoon honey

Pink salt, fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

In small mixing bowl blend honey and ginger. Drizzle on stone fruit, sprinkle with salt. Brush grill with oil. Cook fruit on medium heat until caramelized and tender.

In salad bowl, gently toss ingredients with dressing.

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