Make Room, watermelon – cherry pie deserves a spot on the table.

By Patricia S York
March 23, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Torie Cox

When berry season has hit its stride and apple season is still weeks away, plump ripe and juicy stone fruits such as cherries and peaches generously drop off the trees to fill the void. What exactly is a stone fruit? Also called a “drupe,” a stone fruit is any thin-skinned fruit with a soft, succulent flesh and a pit, or stone, in its center. The seed is actually inside the stone. When you think of stone fruits in the South, the peach is the first one that springs to mind, but Southerners also love a good cherries and plums. A round up of summer desserts will always include icebox pies, banana puddings, and pound cakes, but a the picnic isn’t complete without a cherry pie or peach cobbler.

Cherries

The cherry is the first stone fruit to show up at the farmers’ market in the spring. Their tastes range anywhere from sour and tart to sweet and tender. Sweet cherries are perfect for snacking and, since they contain a high amount of melatonin, make a great late-night snack. Sour cherries are best for pies and other desserts—try to get them at their peak in July and August. Want to make a fresh cherry pie? Watch this video on how to quickly pit a fresh cherry.

Peaches

The most popular and well-known stone fruit in the South is, of course, the peach. Similar to the subjects of college football and bar-b-que, people are passionate when it comes to which state produces the best peaches. Arguments are waged and friendships tested but everyone can agree that the peach is the quintessential summer fruit. Like some other stone fruits, peaches can come in either clingstone or freestone and white or yellow varieties. There are even flat, round varieties that resemble donuts. They'll show up at your farmers market midsummer and continue until the beginning of fall. There is nothing like eating a fresh peach as a snack, but save a few for sweet and juicy peach desserts, such as cobblers, upside-down Bundt cakes, and icebox pie.

Nectarines

At first glance you may have confused a nectarine for a peach, and it is no wonder. Nectarines are very similar to peaches, just without the fuzzy skin. They are also firmer, resembling the texture of an apple. Like peaches, this stone fruit can be freestone, clingstone, or semi-freestone. You can use them interchangeably with peaches—for grilling, salad toppings, or simply eating out of hand.

Plums

Always juicy, plums range from sweet to tart and come in a variety of colors, including red, yellow and black. Like other stone fruits, plums have an easy-to-peel thin, smooth skin and super juicy flesh, so a napkin is always a good idea if you're eating them raw. Bake them into cobbler-style desserts such as this vintage Ginger-Plum Slump, or add them to onions and seasonings for this slow-cooker Spiced Plum Chutney, ideal for serving with pork, beef, or lamb. The best thing about plums (besides their taste)? They have a longer growing season (spring through early fall) than most stone fruits, which means you have a lot of time to enjoy them.

WATCH: 3 Classic Peach Desserts

If fresh stone fruit is available, consider purchasing extra and freezing for a later time. Frozen fresh fruit comes in handy during the winter months when you need a taste of summer.