Stone fruits include fruits that contain a pit, like apricots, pluots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums and apriums. They are first harvested in the spring, beginning with cherries, but plums and the last of the peaches can appear in markets through September.
Look for fresh apricots with a deep golden color and sweet fragrance. They should be soft enough to give slightly when gently pressed. Avoid any hard fruit, as it will never ripen fully on the counter.
Make sure that cherries are large, plump, smooth and still have stems and leaves that are firm and green. Avoid any that are wet, sticky, bruised, excessively soft or have shriveled stems.
Choose nectarines and peaches that give slightly to gentle pressure, emanate a flowery fragrance and are free of bruises and blemishes. Avoid any with tinges of green, as they were picked too early and may never ripen properly.
Plums should be smooth, heavy for their size and give gently when pressed, particularly at the blossom end. The freshest plums retain a white, powdery bloom on their peel. Avoid any that are wrinkled or overly soft.
Lightly green-tinged apricots may become sweeter if enclosed in a paper bag at room temperature for 1 or 2 days. Once ripe they should be eaten as soon as possible.
Cherries, too, should be used as soon as possible after purchasing. If needed, refrigerate them in a shallow container covered with a clean cloth or paper towels for up to 5 days.
Arrange peaches and nectarines stem end down and store at room temperature. If they are soft, refrigerate them in a plastic bag for 4 to 5 days.
To soften hard plums, place them in a paper bag for a few days at room temperature. Store fully ripe plums in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Apricots should be handled very gently, as they bruise easily. To peel the fruit: Trim away the stem, cut a shallow X in the blossom end and plunge the apricots into a large pot of boiling water until the skin peels away, 20 to 60 seconds, depending on ripeness. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to ice water to cool. Drain and then peel with your fingers or a small paring knife.
Try to keep the stem on the cherries until ready to use, since once they are removed, the fruit spoils quickly. To prevent them from molding, wash cherries under cold running water just before using. To use cherries in recipes, pit the fruit with a cherry pitter or a small, sharp knife.
Wash peaches and nectarines under cold running water just before using them. To halve, use a small, sharp knife to cut down to the pit following the fruit’s crease, then grasp the fruit in both hands and rotate the halves in opposite directions to separate. Scoop out the pit with the tip of the knife or a spoon.
Plum skins are easy to peel if the fruits are fully ripe. If the plums are still firm and their skin clings stubbornly, cut a shallow X in the blossom end and plunge the fruit into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the ripeness. Rinse in cold water to cool, and then carefully slip off their skins.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)