Other than ramps, there are few fruits or vegetables that possess as excruciatingly short a local season as nectarines. Their fuzzy cousin, the peach, has a short season too, but due to higher cultivation levels and yields it seems longer. Both these stone fruits are from the very same family, and therefore most of the information contained here applies as equally to peaches as nectarines.

When shopping for nectarines, we prefer yellow for straight eating and baked desserts and white ones for salads. In deference to your fellow shoppers, don’t squeeze the merchandise while scouting for good fruit. You will end up damaging the goods with your hand, and even when you find a ripe one you will no longer want to buy it with the newly created bruise. Instead visually inspect stone fruit for blemishes and bruises, and then utilize your sense of smell to determine ripeness. When ripe, their aroma should be very fragrant, both sweet smelling and slightly floral. Once they pass prime ripeness, they will take on a winy, perfumed air, and are unripe when no dominant scent is perceptible.

While there are few things as great as eating a perfectly ripe stone fruit, luscious juices spilling all over your hands, possibly a napkin if you are tidy, they are welcome additions to salads or can hold their own starring in a myriad of dessert offerings.

For salads, we like more of an undressed, composed approach - here is a salad example:

Sliced nectarines with slices of Prosciutto de Parma, toasted pine nuts or almonds and a chiffonade of basil.

For desserts, try this easy granita, the compote below from Chez Panisse or your own favorite tart, crisp, cobbler or shortcake recipe.

Nectarine, Peach and Strawberry Compote:

- Combine 3 ½ cups water and 1 cup sugar, bring to a boil, remove from the heat and refrigerate in a bowl large enough for the fruit until cold.
- Slice the fruits in ¼ inch slices directly into the bowl in order to contain all the juices.
- Refrigerate 12-24 hours to combine and set flavors.
- Variation – substitute 1 cup red zinfandel wine for 1 cup of water.