Stone fruit trees are a dramatic presence in the garden, yielding delicate blossoms in the spring and gem-like fruit in the summer. Even in winter stone fruit trees retain a striking form, their dark, gnarled branches seen against a chilling grey sky. Between late January through March, small branches may be cut and brought indoors to force blooming, creating an unexpected wintertime floral display.
Apricot blossoms in early spring
During spring bloom time, stone fruit flowers such as cherry blossoms may be pickled or crystallized to make enchanting edible garnishes. Even the leaves of some trees may be used for cooking. In Provence, peach leaves infuse custard with a subtle yet distinct aroma of almonds and anise. Simply add 1 or 2 peach leaves to the pot as the custard cooks and serve alone or as a crème anglaise- a fitting accompaniment for a peach pie or tart.
Peaches growing on a columnar fruit tree.
Whether in an orchard of standard or dwarf-size summer bearers such as peach, plum, and apricot, or a small potted nectarine on a balcony, stone fruit trees will do well in almost any sunny location with minimum fuss. There are many varieties to choose from that are suitable for outdoor spaces of all sizes.
One of my favorite varieties is a hybrid known as the aprium, a genetic graft of 3/4 apricot and 1/4 plum. The unique fruit has the appearance of an apricot and features the apricot's buttery texture and mellow, sweet-tart character with a hint of the plum's ambrosial fragrance.
Aprium fruit picked in late June
Planting several kinds of stone fruit trees will yield a continual harvest throughout the summer. I had a wonderful crop of apricots and apriums in June, pluots and Japanese and Italian plums in July, and peaches in August. Because there is so much fruit, ripening at different times, I like to use some to make an impromptu fruit dessert, such as a tart or cobbler, and use the rest for jam and chutney. Of course, one of the greatest pleasures of picking your own fruit is eating it fresh off the stem, still warm from the sun.
Stone Fruit Chutney
3/4 to 1 lb. stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots, and peeled peaches, chopped
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1" piece of ginger, grated
1" piece cinnamon stick
1 blade of mace or a sprinkle of nutmeg
1/2 tsp mustard seed
2-3 small dried chili peppers
1/4 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients except fruit in a large nonreactive pot and bring to the boil. Add fruit, and cook at a high simmer for about 20 minutes, or until syrupy. Remove cinnamon, chilies, and clove. Pour into jars and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
Stone Fruit Conserve
1 lb. stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots, and peeled peaches, sliced
2 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
Place fruit in a large nonreactive bowl with sugar and mash together. Stir in lemon juice and allow the mixture to macerate for 15 minutes. Transfer mixture to a large nonreactive pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10-20 minutes, or until thick and syrupy. (Note: a longer heating time will produce a thicker consistency. Keep in mind that the conserve will firm up more when in the refrigerator.) Pour into jars and refrigerate up to 1 month.
The conserve is excellent with eggs, pancakes, toast, or simply mixed into creamy yogurt.
Japanese Plum Jam