Sweeter than its first cousin, the peach, and
darker fleshed (hence richer in beta-carotene), nectarines are
a sweet, juicy treat that is virtually fat free and a good supply
of vitamin C and fibre. Many people mistakenly think nectarines
are simply peaches without fuzz, an understandable association,
given that the two fruits are nearly alike in size, texture, and
colour. Nectarines, however, are generally sweeter than peaches.
Botanically, the nectarine is classified as a subspecies of the
peach, but it is more accurate to describe each fruit as a genetic
variant of the other.
Despite their similarity, nectarines (their
name is probably derived from nektar, the Greek word for "drink
of the gods") have been distinguished from peaches and other
pitted fruits for hundreds of years. Today's modern cross breeding
techniques, in which nectarine varieties are crossed with one
another as well as with peaches, have yielded larger, peachlike
nectarines with gold and crimson skin and yellow flesh.
Select bright, well-rounded nectarines with shades of deep yellow
under a red blush. Ripe fruit should yield to gentle pressure,
particularly along the seam, and it should have a sweet fragrance.
Brightly coloured fruits that are firm or moderately hard will
"ripen" (not get sweeter, but juicier and softer) within
two or three days at room temperature. Avoid fruits that are rock
hard or greenish, signs that the fruit was picked too soon and
will not ripen properly. Reject fruits that are mushy or have
shriveled skins, both signs of decay. Sometimes the skin of a
nectarine may look stained, as though the blush has spread out
in an irregular pattern under the skin, but this doesn't affect
taste or texture. Moreover, a rosy blush doesn't indicate the
degree of ripeness, but is simply a characteristic of the variety.
Allow nectarines to reach peak eating condition by storing them
for two or three days at room temperature in a loosely closed
paper bag, away from sunlight. Once the fruit gives slightly to
gentle pressure, it's ready to eat. You can keep it fresh for
another three to five days by storing it in the refrigerator.
Before eating a nectarine whole, wash the fruit under cold running
water; if refrigerated, let it warm to room temperature for optimum
flavour. Since the flesh of a fresh nectarine darkens when exposed
to air, don't slice it until you are ready to use the fruit. You
can preserve its colour temporarily by dipping the slices in a
cup of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice, or by simply tossing
them with lemon juice.
Nectarines do not need to be peeled before
eating. However, if you want to peel them, blanch them first by
dropping them into boiling water for a minute, then cooling them
in ice water; the skins will slip off easily. Rub the peeled fruits
with lemon juice to keep them from darkening. Cooking softens
nectarines and enhances their sweetness. It can also salvage slightly