Popular Varieties: Big Top
Store At: Room temperature to ripen, 8-10°C for storage
Comes From: Temperate to Mediterranean zones
Seasonality: May to October
Like apples, nectarines come in their own ready to eat packaging, and are a superb fruit to eat out of hand, as well as being versatile for many recipes.
There are three main types of nectarines; clingstones, where the flesh clings to the stone in the middle (which usually get stuck in your teeth as you eat it!), semi-freestones, where the fruit is considerably more easy to remove from the stone, and freestones, where the fruit simply drops away from the stone. There are tasty varieties available in each type, and its' a matter of personal preference; freestone being the simplest and least messy to eat. Most nectarines we eat are yellow flesh; however, you can also get white flesh nectarines, which are absolutely delicious! You'll typically find these as the specialist "already ripe" or "ripe and ready to eat" lines in supermarkets.
As already mentioned, nectarines are close relatives of peaches, and there are records of peach trees turning into nectarine trees, or at least producing nectarines. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. In general nectarines are smaller than peaches, with a firmer flesh. They also, of course, are missing the fuzz-like covering on the skin. They are also quite different in colour, usually with a red, purple or greenish tinge to the yellow background colour of the fruit, whilst most peach varieties are ultimately red-orange on a yellow background. Nectarine trees are also slightly less hardy than peaches.
Nectarines are a very perishable fruit; that is, they spoil quickly. They must be picked when practically ripe, since they do not ripen well off the tree, and can only be kept 3-5 days after picking; those sat on the supermarket shelf could have been off the tree for weeks if not months. Be careful when handling nectarines; the slightest bump will result in a bruise, which will very quickly degrade and rot. If you need to store them, put them in the fridge - they store best at 32°C with low humidity - the most you will get is 2 weeks though and the fruit will be far from it's best after surviving cold storage.
When choosing a nectarine, the firmness is a good indicator; the softer the skin, the better usually. Unripe nectarines will not ripen, and will probably be somewhat mealy (dry). Also, smell is a good indicator.
Although nectarines are a popular fruit, they are somewhat difficult to locate in history, the first commonly noted mention of them around 1616. It is believed they originate as far back as the Peach, to China over 2,000 years ago, and also cultivated by the Ancient Persians, Romans and Greeks. It is likely that at the time they believed nectarines and peaches to be the same fruit, especially since they can both grow on the same tree. In fact, they are the same species of fruit.
Nectarines were first mentioned as being specifically cultivated in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and were introduced to the Americas by the Spaniards not long after. California, one of the sites of early Spanish settlers, grows over 95% of the nation’s nectarine crops today.
Nectarines are mostly eaten as a dessert or snack. They can be baked into pies, or made into jam, although this is more popular with peaches rather than nectarines. They are also commonly canned to better preserve them.
Other uses include pureeing the fruit to freeze and preserve it, and making chutney or fruit juice.
Climate wise, nectarines require a certain amount of chilling during winter to stimulate bud production, and can withstand temperatures down to -30°C. However, any cold temperatures when the buds are forming usually kills them and severely reduces the crop. In summer, temperatures of 20-30°C are preferred.
Despite that, it is possible to grow nectarines in England - it's best to grow them against a south facing wall however, to get that extra bit of heat. They also need good air flow, so as to not trap pockets of cold air around the trees. Nectarines should be planted in early winter, to allow the roots to take hold before the new spring growth comes. Nectarine trees grow roughly 5 metres high and 5 metres across, so allow sufficient space.
From then on in, it's quite simple. When the fruit starts forming, they should be thinned out when they are about 2cm in diameter (roughly 2 months after flowing), otherwise the fruit will be undersized and lack sweetness. You should be aware of diseases such as peach leaf curl; they cause curling, disfigurement and defoliation of the leaves, and directly influence the size of the fruit because of this, even though the fruit are not affected first-hand by the disease. Various moths also attack nectarines.
Nectarines have significant water requirements, and ideally a drip hose should be used (one per tree) to deliver sufficient moisture. Nectarines also require feeding, and have a high nitrogen requirement in particular. A balanced general purpose fertiliser should be used regularly, with additional nitrogen in the form of blood and bone meal to promote growth.
Watering should be increased slightly before harvest; fruits are ripe when they are soft to the touch, yet not perishable.
- Peaches on Wikipedia
- Peach and Nectarine Info
- Nectarine Nutritional Information
There are over 4,000 varieties of nectarines and peaches combined, with more being added by breeding programs the world over. Popular varieties of nectarine include Sunglo, Redgold, Fantasia, Royal Giant, and Zephyr.
Zephyr is a white fleshed nectarine, grown on a very productive, heavy cropping plant. It is a medium to large freestone variety, with a sweet flavour.
Arctic Gold is a large sized, white fleshed freestone variety, with one of the best flavours of nectarine around, well balanced between sweet and acidic.
Fantasia is a medium sized fruit, with firm yellow flesh protected by a red-yellow skin.
Redgold is a very productive variety, these are large sized fruit, with a red-yellow skin covering a yellow flesh. This is one of the standard varieties, since it has excellent flavour.
Sunglo is a freestone variety, sunglo is a medium size yellow fresh fruit, with firm flesh and a red skin.