August is here and it means farmers’ markets are finally at their peak. An array of crops are ready, picking has begun and delivery trucks are filled to the brim, bringing fresh produce to the market nearest you.
The beginning of August sees stone fruits (fruits with a middle seed, also known as drupes) come to the forefront of market stalls: peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries. Even blackberries and raspberries are considered relatives of stone fruits, although they are known as drupelets. How’s that for a bit of stone fruit trivia?
Cherries are usually the first of the stone fruits ready and available to be eaten. U-pick farms open mid-July, but from past experience, I find the most flavourful cherries make their appearance in August. A little more ripening seems to do them good. Look for bright, large, firm cherries. Some markets also carry sour cherries, which are great for baking, jams, and ice creams. Unlike their sweet counterparts, they will make you pucker if you eat them raw, so leave them for your favourite cooked recipes where they’ll shine.
Make: jalapeno and cherry jam
Try: River Café in Calgary
The epitome of summer is a perfectly ripe peach. Penticton, B.C. even has an annual Peachfest to celebrate this fuzzy, juicy fruit. This is Peachfest’s 70th year and it runs from August 9 to 13, with peach bin and sandcastle competitions. If you’re not in the Okanagan, there are still many ways to enjoy local peaches while they last. Choose firm peaches that have a peachy aroma. They’re perfectly ripe when you can gently press into the skin. Eat them raw with a napkin to catch the inevitable juice drips, pit and grill them on the barbeque or add them into pies and tarts. My favourite way to enjoy peaches is in a jam like the peach and vanilla bean jam from Kelowna’s Okanagan Grocery (http://www.okanagangrocery.com/Default.aspx), but try a peach salsa out too!
Try: Whittamore’s Farm in Markham, Ontario
Plums and peaches go hand in hand. Ranging in colours and sizes from yellow, red, blue-ish to purple, and small to large, plums are versatile like peaches in that they can be eaten raw, baked, or turned into jams and compotes. Plums also have a longer growing season, so you’re likely to find them in markets from now into September. Ripe plums are smooth to the touch, have bright colour and give slightly under pressure. Make sure to smell your plums before your buy them too! A sweet scent means they are ready to be eaten.
Try: Kitten and the Bear blackberry, plum and violet jam in Toronto
Nectarines are another stone fruit similar to peaches, but they don’t have a fuzzy skin and are firmer. They come in both yellow and white varieties, and each has its own flavour profile: white nectarines are sweeter, while yellow nectarines are tangier. Nectarines are easy to snack on and bake with. They are also lovely on top of salads with goat cheese. You can also try broiling, grilling, poaching or sautéing this stone fruit.
Try: BC Tree Fruits in Kelowna and Osoyoos
An often overlooked stone fruit, apricots are the smallest of the family. In addition to eating them as is, these can also be baked, grilled, poached and stewed. Some chefs even prefer apricots cooked, saying they reach their full potential when heated. Apricots are a staple in Middle Eastern cooking as well. Look for firm apricots with a velvet skin that is orange with a tinge of blush. Experiment with them by making dried apricots in the oven.
Try: Uccellino in Edmonton
Blackberries and raspberries
Technically not an authentic stone fruit, blackberries and raspberries get a pass because they are close relatives, also known as drupelets, aggregate fruits made of individual drupes. In simple terms, this means their seeds/pits are small enough to get stuck in your teeth! Fresh berries are a summer classic and although we all could eat them fresh by the handful, they do wonderfully in desserts, jams and as toppings on breakfast bowls or salads. Blackberries and raspberries are also easy to add to savoury dishes like pizzas, grilled cheeses and sauces.
Try: Bel Café in Vancouver