When it comes to stone fruit, people have their preferences. While I like pretty much everything, there are those that have trouble with say, peaches. How could someone not like a peach? It’s not like they don’t like the flavor of the peach, it’s the fuzz on the outside that is giving them troubles. Never fear – the nectarine is here (well almost). Today I wanted to take a moment to focus in on nectarine season – when does it start, when does it end, and what are some of the best varieties to look out for it.
When Does Nectarine Season Begin (and End)?
As with much of the fruit we eat in the United States, the story all begins in California. When you head to the grocery store chances are pretty good that the nectarines you find will be California grown. The season begins in early May (sometimes late April). Kingsburg Orchard’s (Kingsburg, California) first nectarine of the season is their Ruby Fire variety that is available around on April 26th.
The early varieties that come out I find to be more on the acidic side, with sweeter fruit coming later. The season really gets going with the variety “Zee Fire” which is ripe in mid to late May. This is a commercial variety of nectarine that you rarely seen mentioned on a store sign, but you can kind of predict it’s arrival when nectarine displays grow larger and the prices gets cheaper. It’s one of the best early season pieces of stone fruit, with good flavor and good balance of sweetness and tartness.
The Zee Fire nectarine is also as prime example of what happens when a new variety doesn’t have a good plan. What do I mean? This nectarine was released in 2003. Trees were easy to come by and everyone was planting it – like I said it’s a flavorful variety and it’s productive and pretty. Everyone planted it, so within 8 years the value of this variety plummeted. The orchards race to be the first one to ship theirs before prices go down. You can read more about this on the Good Fruit Grower website. What this shows us is that there is more going on behind the scenes that many of us think about. And it effects both selection and the price we pay at the grocery store.
Below you will find a video of the Zee Fire Nectarines being packed for shipping by Summeripe.
The California season wraps up at the beginning of September. Kingsburg Orchards’ last variety of the season is called Orange Honey Heirloom and it’s available around September 2nd.
Do Other States Grow Nectarines Besides California
Absolutely. Any place that grows peaches most likely as grows their smoother cousins. In most grocery stores across the country, the only nectarines you are going to see are California – they dominate the commercial nectarine market. On occasion I have seen Washington grown nectarines. One of my favorite varieties of the season is actually from Washington – the Nectafire, which is a donut or flat nectarine that is just packed with rich nectarine flavor. I have never seen a southern nectarine here in Michigan. None from Georgia or South Carolina. You can find them (Jaemore Farms in Georgia grows them but most likely they don’t go much further than the borders of those states.) California is definitely dominant in the nectarine category. I do buy Michigan grown nectarines at my local farmer’s market, but most orchards here seem to stick to just growing peaches and not nectarines.
Nectarines to Watch Out For
I already mentioned the donut nectarine called Nectafire (seen in the photo above) that is a must have, but there are a couple others you should be on the look out for.
Honey Fire from Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s sells their peaches and nectarines in a cardboard crates. The variety name is printed on the side of these crates so you can actually see what variety you are buying. One of my favorites to watch for is the Honey Fire variety. It is sweet, flavorful, and not too acidic. I bought them last year on June 14th – so look for them in early to mid June at your local Trader Joe’s. You will not be disappointed.
No, these are not a combination of a mango and a nectarine – it’s just a marketing name. It is an all-yellow nectarine like a yellow mango. It has an unique flavor that kind of reminds me of a mango with it’s finish, but still tastes like a nectarine. It’s worth searching out for something different, especially if you are a nectarine fanatic. I found these at Whole Foods Market last year during the month of July. They are distributed by Frieda’s Produce.