It all comes down to fuzz.
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For many Southerners, including this one, summer means stone fruit. I love watermelon and berries of all kinds, but in warmer months, it’s peaches and nectarines that I crave. And while peaches are hailed as the iconic Southern fruit (next to the tomato), nectarines are grown here as well, and are readily available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Both of the ripe, rosy red-yellow fruits are tender and juicy, with a honeyed sweetness that is balanced out nicely by a little acidity. True fruit experts might be able to tell the difference in flavor when blindfolded, but for the rest of us, the difference is very subtle.

Peaches and nectarines are genetically identical. Both types of fruit have clingstone (where the pit sticks to the fruit) and freestone (where the pit separates from the fruit easily) varieties. The only difference between the two is the soft fuzz on the skin of the fruit. Peaches have this coating, and nectarines have smooth skins. When peeled, a peach and a nectarine look pretty much the same.

Which also means that peaches and nectarines are interchangeable in recipes, whether they are baked in a cobbler, cake, or pie, sliced raw into salads and smoothies, or churned into ice cream. Sometimes I will opt for nectarines if a recipe calls for peeled peaches and I don’t want to bother removing those fuzzy skins. Generally, I buy what looks and tastes best. If you do prefer peaches, this is the best way to peel them.

As any stone fruit lover knows, there are good and bad seasons for peaches and nectarines—weather alone plays a huge role in the flavor and appearance of produce. And as the summer goes on, they do tend to get sweeter and sweeter. So taste the fruit before you buy if you can, and go with whatever is sweetest.