While nectarines “ripen” after harvest, they only soften and do not get sweeter. To reach their maximum flavor potential, they must be fully ripened on the tree.
When are nectarines in season?
They are in season from about May through October with the peak season in July and August. California provides about 98% of nectarines in the US because of the favorable growing climates (the trees get more diseases in hot and humid areas).
However, many farmers around the country do grow nectarines, so you should check your local farmers markets, probably in July and August.
How to pick:
With your nose! The best ones will have a sweet, strong aroma (even more than peaches) and should be full and plump around the stem end. A yellow stripe indicates it was left on the tree longer to ripen (as shown on the right nectarine in the picture at the top of this page). The underlying yellow color is an indicator of ripeness – the more golden the better, however the red blush is a result of sun exposure (and does not indicate ripeness). The Agriculture Victoria site has 2 useful pictures (on the right side, with captions), comparing unripe to ripe fruit.
Ripe ones will be slightly soft, otherwise leave them in a closed paper bag on the counter to ripen them. However, they do not get better flavor or sweeter as they ripen on the counter (that happens on the tree).
Leave on your counter and eat in a few days. You can put them in the fridge if fully ripe, though only for a few days or their flavor and texture might deteriorate.
Should I buy organic?
If you can afford it, probably. The EPA tests pesticide levels in various fruits and vegetables every year. Non-organic peaches have a medium amount of pesticides, which means that eating 5-10 servings in a day would put you over the known-to-be-safe limits.
The data collected by the EPA looks at the toxicity and amount of each pesticide found in the edible portions of the fruit (not including zest). The full details can be found over on the Consumer Reports website.
Now what should I make?
That’s a good question! I scour the internet to find recipes that use fresh, seasonal ingredients, often with a fun twist. Follow Ask The Food Geek on Pinterest or Facebook to get access to the recipes I find every day.
Each recipe is reviewed to make sure all of the ingredients are in season when nectarines are available (or uses ingredients available year-round). The recipes are grouped by parts of the season (early, late, or anytime).
…For earlier in the season, May through July
Grilled nectarine, blueberry, and chicken salad with honey mustard dressing – recipe by As Easy as Apple Pie
Blueberries have a shorter season than Nectarines, so make this in summer while you can still get them. Valencia oranges are in season in summer and fall, so look for that variety. The rest of the ingredients are available year-round.
…For later in the season, July to the end
Nectarine and corn salad with chipotle shrimp – recipe by The Whole Bite
Corn is in season a month or two after nectarines, so you can make this once corn shows up in the market.