The parenting adage goes, “Put on a sweater, your mother is cold,” but we needn’t worry about the health of a nectarine, which is indeed a sweater-less peach. Peaches’ fuzzy coats help protect them because pests don’t care for their texture, but nectarines get extra mothering. Nectarines thrive with the special care that many orchardists employ. Farmers such as California’s Ed Magee use precise irrigation, owl pest control, and special pruning techniques to get the prettiest and sweetest-tasting of this scantily clad fruit.
The name “nectarine” means “like nectar,” and varieties come in a cavalcade of fancy names evoking fire and jewels, such as Diamond Bright, Diamond Pearl, Crimson, Goldmine, Ruby Grand, Flame Kist, and August Flare. The names with Ice, Snow, or Stars usually belong to the white-fleshed varieties, such as the Snow Queen and Arctic Star. Just like their sister peaches, nectarines can come in freestone (the flesh is free from the pit), clingstone (the flesh is woven into the pit), and semi-cling versions. They also come in the squashed-looking “donut” varieties.
Nectarines are not genetically modified to be fuzz-less—they’re as ancient as peaches, their histories intertwined. The nectarine is just one gene different from a peach. In fact, sometimes peach trees will produce a nectarine or vice versa. They were described in ancient texts, but true cultivation wasn’t chronicled until the 17th century in England. They were first grown in the U.S. in the 18th century and thrive in less humid climes like California.
Nectarines bring a full palette of flavor undertones, from cinnamon to citrus to pineapple. The most significant aspect is their sweetness, which is affected by the level of acid in the fruit. “Sub-acid” nectarines and peaches taste sweeter because they have less acid. Nectarines are a low-calorie food (about 50 calories per piece) and are chock full of vitamins C and A (20% of your RDA)—which is bound to make any mom happy.