Ever wonder about the differences between a plumcot and a pluot? Or do you need tips for selecting the best peaches?
During California's stone fruit season, these are burning questions. After all, the state grows 95 percent of the nation's nectarines and plums, and about 66 percent of the nation's peaches, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement.
The Modesto area grows some of the fresh-market fruit, but much of its peaches and apricots go to canneries. Farmers markets throughout the region, however, are packed with peaches, nectarines and apricots.
The state also is home to at least 95 percent of the country's hybrid fruits, such as pluots, apriums and plumcots, says Eric Gaarde of Fruit Dynamics Inc., a Fresno lab that analyzes and evaluates tree fruit.
Pluots and apriums, both apricot-plum crosses, were first crafted by Floyd Zaiger, a legendary fruit breeder in Modesto.
Here's a guide to selecting and storing all of that summer fruit:
The best way to get delicious fruit is to taste samples before buying, says Jeremy Lane, president of RipeNow, a Fresno-based delivery service for fresh fruit.
Some folks only want juicy, softer fruit, while others like a crunchier texture. Likewise, some prefer a sweet-tart flavor instead of strictly sweet fruit. So taste, taste, taste.
Blossom Bluff Orchards in Parlier gives its customers a guide with these general tips: When you get home, don't automatically place your fruit in the refrigerator. Instead, line up the fruit on the kitchen counter and examine each piece.
Very gently handle the fruit at its so-called shoulders, the wide, rounded part of the fruit near the stem end. If it yields a little to gentle pressure, then the fruit is ripe. At this point, it can be refrigerated for just a few days. For the best flavor, bring the fruit back to room temperature before eating.
If the fruit still is too hard, then leave it on the counter to ripen. "Don't stack the fruit, because if one piece of fruit ripens and begins to go bad, it will spread quickly to any fruit it is touching," the guide says.
Most plums have smooth, tart skin and sweet flesh. The skin becomes less tart and the flesh becomes sweeter as the fruit ripens, according to the California Tree Fruit Agreement.
California plums grown for the fresh market generally are Japanese plums, which have a round shape. Harvest season is between May and September.
When buying, avoid plums that are too soft or too hard, Aliza Green writes in "Field Guide to Produce: How to Identify, Select, and Prepare Virtually Every Fruit and Vegetable at the Market" (Quirk Books, $14.95). Allow them to ripen at room temperature until the skin loses its shine.
Known for their fuzzy texture, peaches are divided between two colors: yellow-fleshed peaches and white-fleshed peaches.
Generally, yellow-fleshed peaches are softer when ripe and have a sweet-tart taste. They are available April to October.
White-fleshed peaches are still crunchy when ripe and have less tartness. They are harvested between April and August.
When buying, check the stem end of a peach, Green writes. It should be yellow or cream-colored. Don't buy peaches with greenish shoulders, or ones with bruises. Also check for shriveled skin at the stem end, a sign of overripe fruit, she adds.
Like peaches, nectarines are either yellow- or white-fleshed. Yellow-flesh nectarines are available between April and August, while the harvest for white-flesh nectarines lasts May to August.
Avoid very hard nectarines, but keep in mind that ripe ones won't be as soft as a ripe peach, Green writes.
If the nectarine has freckled skin, choose fruit with lots of spots for better sweetness, says Rebecca Torosian of Tory Farms in Dinuba.
"We call them sugar freckles,"she says.
But not all nectarine varieties have freckles, so don't judge the fruit strictly by this standard. And don't confuse them with skin damage. When in doubt, ask a farmer.
California apricots, many of them from the Patterson area, are known for their yellow-orange color.
Generally, look for lots of orange blush, and choose apricots that are softer and heavy for their size, says Reedley grower Vince Iwo.
But certain varieties, such as the Blenheim apricot, are ripe when they're still yellow and on the firm side, Fresno grower Paul Mesplé says.
Another tip-off: "Always smell a fruit," he says. "The more of that fruit you smell, the riper it is."
For lots of sweetness, look for the hybrid stone fruits. Most popular are the plum-apricot ones that go by different names.
Apriums are complex hybrids that look like apricots and are available May-August, according to Dave Wilson Nursery, east of Hickman. Pluots are complex hybrids that look like plums and are sold May-October. Less widespread are plumcots, which are harvested in May and June.
Within these fruits, there's a lot of variety. For more information about each one, head to the farmers markets and ask for a taste.