All photos/art by Michael Piazza
My father introduced me to the art of cherry picking. Every year, anticipating peak ripeness, he watched the trees behind our house in Albestroff, France. We grew ‘Burlat’, a popular French variety that’s similar to the ‘Bing’, but earlier-ripening, and ‘Bigarreau’, a firm-fleshed cherry that makes great preserves. I insisted that he never pick without me, and as I climbed down the ladder with a full bucket, I felt as though I’d gathered a priceless treasure. Some baskets of fruit went to friends and neighbors; others went into tarts, clafoutis, and jams packed in tall glass jars.
Summer still makes me happy for stone fruit. Peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, and other fruits with “stone” pits grow over much of New England in a season that runs from late June (for cherries in Connecticut) through September (when the last of the peaches and plums ripen before the frosts). All of these fruits reach beautiful ripeness in the summer sun, but for many people, the peach shines brightest.
Gordon Drazen grows apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, and pears at Drazen Orchards in Cheshire, Connecticut, but “our customers are waiting for our peaches each year!” he exclaims. At Applecrest Orchards, in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, ‘Sugar May’, ‘White Lady’, ‘Red Haven’, and ‘Garnet Beauty’ are the magnificent names of some of the 20 yellow and white peaches grown. And at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire, you can pick your own ‘Red Star’, ‘Flaming Fury’, and doughnut-shaped ‘Saturn’ varieties. I can’t imagine a nicer way to sample the fruit than fresh from the tree.
But don’t limit your fruit feasting to peaches, or to eating them raw. These gems are versatile and welcome every preparation: poaching, sauteing, roasting, grilling, stewing, drying, and baking. They also require minimal effort to cook. Saute slices of nectarines, plums, apricots, or peaches in some butter and sugar, add aromas of vanilla or a hint of lime zest to spice them up, and serve over ice cream or pudding, or in a tart shell. You can bake them in a cake, spoon over plain yogurt, or serve in a salsa or relish for grilled meats. And don’t forget that you can puree very ripe fruit into sorbets, ice pops, and ice cream.
These six recipes are wonderful with every type of stone fruit and can easily be interchanged. I’ve made the apricot clafoutis with nectarines and cherries. And on numerous occasions, I’ve baked the chocolate cake with nectarines instead of plums, and the nectarine gratin with cherries. So use whatever fruit you happen to have on hand. These treats are delicious, simple to make, and can easily be made gluten-free if you use millet or buckwheat flour as suggested in the recipes. It’s a celebration of one of summer’s sweetest flavors.