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Monday, July 18, 2011

The Now, and Only Now, Nectarine: Arctic Rose

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 9:10 AM


Summer may be hiding behind the false fall we can't seem to escape, but it's summer on the farm, and the farmers' markets are a ball pit of stone fruits. Taste them all and you'll find one, for a short few weeks, that wins: the Arctic Rose nectarine.

This is the stone fruit other stone fruits look up to. Arctic Rose has a dappled yellow and red dinosaur plumlike skin that differs from the consistent two-tone coloring of other varieties, so it should be easy to spot, even if your seller doesn't list varieties. The inner flesh is between white and yellow, like a banana. Sometimes the skin has a slightly dry, almost scabrous texture, which, when not excessive, seems indicative of the best of the crop.

Best when slightly soft, the lushness of this sweet, nectarlike fruit reminds me of exceptional Vin Santo (an outrageously good sweet dessert wine from Italy, for those of you who aren't wine geeks). The sweetness of your first bite will hook you on these like refined sugar hooked the Native Americans. This is exceptionally good fruit.

Sweetness is the first thing that hits you, in pleasant contrast to the firmness of the flesh, which would normally deliver far less flavor. Flavor saturates the fruit. As my friend Erez said, "You taste summer."

There are honey, light custard, and vanilla notes. If you search for descriptors, you might also come up with pineapple, guava, bright sweet citrus, and free-run grape juice. There's even a note of lychee.

For fruit to eat now, i.e., ripe, look for a hint of softness around the stem. If you were to press down firmly (don't), you'd leave an imprint. Firmer fruit will keep longer and ripen at home. Refrigeration will extend the fruit's life, but barring scarcity, you're always best buying ripe and eating at room temperature.

While these nectarines last, there isn't a better piece of fruit in the market.

Read Ben Narasin's published works, follow him at @bnarasin, or e-mail him.

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