When are nectarines in season?
Both yellow and white nectarines are in-season at the same time. Their ripening dates are dependent on the specific variety, and both colors have early, mid, and late-season varieties available.
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 hot and dry growing climate.
However, many farmers around the country do grow nectarines and peaches, so you should check your local farmers markets, probably in July and August. You can also look for a UPick farm near you to get even fresher nectarines.
Signs of a ripe nectarine
Squeezing a nectarine isn't the best indicator of flavor, it just tells you if it is ready to be eaten right now. To find the best flavor, there's a few other things to look for.
The first thing to do is look past the beautiful red color, as hard as that is to do. It's not the best indicator of ripeness, especially since newer varieties have been bred specifically to have more red color. That color sells well and makes them appear flavorful, even when picked too early.
Instead, look for the 'background' color (the undertone).
- A yellow nectarine should have golden undertones
- A white nectarine should have have pale-yellow undertones
- If you see greenish hues on either white or yellow nectarines, they were picked too early
Probably the most reliable way to pick a good-tasting nectarine is by smell. It will have a sweet, strong aroma (even more than peaches).
The stem end should be full and plump. Look for a yellow stripe across the top that is indented. As the fruit ripens on the tree, it pushes against the branch. This creates an indent and shades it from the sun (preventing the skin from turning red).
This is the easiest spot to look for the undertones.
Hard vs soft
In order to get it to you, they must be picked before fully softening on the tree. If you are using the fruit right away, buy ones that are slightly soft (those have likely been in the store longer, softening on their shelves instead of your counter).
Otherwise, hard ones will last longer and soften on your counter. At a farmers market, you can tell them what you are using the nectarines for and when, and they'll likely pick out the best ones for you.
I grow peaches and even though I water correctly and harvest at the right time, each peach differs in the quality of flavor. When I pick several seemingly-identical peaches at the same time, they will be surprisingly different. One will be really juicy and lack flavor, the next will be the best peach I've ever had.
Growing fruit is part science and part luck, thanks to Mother Nature. I suggest buying several nectarines and not judging the grower or your own ability to pick the 'good ones' on just a handful of experiences.
Difference between nectarines & peaches
Nectarines are actually just fuzzless peaches. Because of this, they can be interchanged in most recipes. In fact, nectarines can be a better option when you can leave the skins on instead of painstakingly peeling peaches (like for a tart).
There are several more differences, and similarities, worth checking out.
How to store
Soft nectarines should be stored in the fridge if they aren't being eaten right away. Their quality will remain good for a few days, after which their flavor and texture might deteriorate.
Hard nectarines can be left on the counter, preferably out of direct sunlight. They will usually soften enough to eat in 1-3 days. Once soft, you can store them in the fridge if you're not ready to eat them.
White vs yellow
Just like peaches, white and yellow nectarines have similar sugar levels. However, white nectarines taste sweeter because they have less acid than the yellow varieties. Acid impacts our tastebuds, decreasing our perceptions of sugar (and increasing sourness).
People are split on whether white or yellow nectarines taste better. Those who prefer white nectarines love the extra honey sweet flavor enjoyed during peak season. Those who favor the yellow varieties like more complex profile thanks to the higher acid levels and sometimes think white nectarines fall flat.
Why you shouldn't peel nectarines
Leaving the skin on a nectarines not only saves you time, it improves the flavor. The skin contains a lot of aromas and flavor (like many other fruits & vegetables). Keeping the skin intact for pies, tarts, salsas, etc, provides more flavor.
The skin can also bleed a little red dye into your recipes. This can be used on purpose to do things like dye ice cream a light pink.
Lastly, it can be hard to peel nectarines without bruising them, losing too much flesh, or getting juice everywhere. So if isn't necessary - you can just skip the trouble and leave the skin on.
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.
...For anytime nectarines are in season
Gorgonzola stuffed burger with grilled nectarines - recipe by Williams-Sonoma
Nectarine tart with lemon-mascarpone filling - recipe by The Busy Baker
Nectarine and ginger lemonade - recipe by Happy and Harried
What else is in season?
Or take a look at current seasonal produce: