Califonia Bountiful

The Farmer and the Foodie: Stone fruit... nature's summertime sensation

July/Aug. 2010 California Country magazine

Hot weather means it's time for stone fruit to take center stage at produce stands.

The farmer: Glen Ikeda grows fruit on 40 acres in Auburn with his brother, Steve. They also manage their family’s markets in Auburn and Davis ( The foodie: For food writer Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons. Her favorite pastime is exploring farmers markets and produce stands.

Farmer: Even with a long, cool spring like we had this year, all it takes is a couple of weeks of warm weather and the stone fruit begins to ripen. That includes peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, pluots and apriums. Stone fruit is grown all over California. But because the trees must go dormant in the winter and flower in the spring, they need to be where the weather gets cold enough in the winter. Stone fruit ripens first in the southern regions of the state, and the Northern California crop follows about two weeks later.

Foodie: I know a pluot is a hybrid of plum and apricot, but what is an aprium?

Farmer: An aprium is a relatively new hybrid that is closer to an apricot than a plum. It is shaped like an apricot and has more of an apricot flesh. The pluot has more of a plum flavor and look.

Foodie: Are white peaches relatively new? I don't remember seeing them when I was a kid.

Farmer: White peaches started to grow in popularity in the '80s. Early on they were a novelty, but people liked them because they were sweeter and less acidic than yellow peaches. Consumers seem to prefer sweeter fruit now, so the demand is growing for white peaches. Currently we sell about 25 percent white to 75 percent yellow.

Foodie: If I'm looking for a peach that's easy to peel, which ones should I buy?

Farmer: Those would be freestone. Most stores sell freestone, which means the seed comes away from the flesh easily and the fruit is easy to peel. When buying peaches you should look for lots of color in the shoulders, which is the area around the stem. Also, it should smell like a peach. Next give it a gentle squeeze. The fruit should have a little give. And if the farmer is standing right there, ask him for a taste.

Foodie: Of course all the stone fruit varieties are wonderful eaten out of hand or sliced over ice cream. But did you know they can be a delicious addition to a pitcher of sangria? I also like to use plums with feta cheese and walnuts as a topping for fresh spinach salad. Grilled peach wedges are one of my favorite toppings for pork and chicken. Put wedges on the grill just before the meat is done and grill until they're heated through. You can also make a great barbecue sauce with puréed plums and horseradish.

Make a splash with sangria

Gwen's birthday bash sangria

The best thing about having an August birthday is, my party is always a sangria competition. Everyone brings a big pitcher filled with their favorite combination of sliced fruit, California wine and a few secret ingredients. Before the evening is over, we vote on the favorite mixture and the winner gets bragging rights until next summer.

Maybe it's a sympathy vote for the birthday girl, but I always win. My secret is using sliced yellow peaches splashed with a little peach schnapps before adding them to the wine.

You can make sangria with red wine, white wine and even sparkling wine. When using peaches and nectarines, I choose a crisp, light white wine such as riesling, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Some good red wine choices include pinot noir, zinfandel or rosé.

There are no rules for making sangria as long as you add generous portions of fresh fruit. If you like a sweeter mixture, add some sugar. If you like more citrus, add lemon and lime slices or some orange juice. If you like it bubbly, add club soda. Just keep mixing and tasting until you're happy with the results—and be sure to make twice as much as you think you'll need!

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