Nectarines are a fabulous summer stone fruit, very closely related to the peach. There has been a long standing misconception that nectarines are a cross between a peach and a plum; this is absolute nonsense. Nectarines are a naturally occurring variety of peaches Prunus persica var. nectarina that simply has a genetically recessive gene dictating the differences between the two fruit.
These differences are slight, but enough to ensure this fruit has its own loyal followers. Firstly and most significantly, nectarines have a smooth skin. They lack the fuzzy down of peach skins that some find unappetizing (as to why they would, I am unsure). Secondly, in the main nectarines tend to be a little smaller than their fuzzy cousin. The third difference is dissipating as more varieties come onto the market each year, but in general the nectarine season starts a little later than peaches.
Just like peaches, nectarines are native to China. Peaches were eventually discovered in Persia by Alexander the Great, who then introduced them to Greece. It is entirely possible that the naturally occurring nectarine came with him as well. This supports the most common theory behind the fruits name, the Greek nektar, or liquid of the Gods.
Nectarines come in either yellow or white-fleshed varieties, and possess stones that either adhere to the flesh, clingstone varieties, or stones that come away easily, freestone nectarines.
A wonderful method of serving nectarines and peaches as well is to poach them. It is simply a matter of gently simmering the fruit in a spice infused sugar syrup. The skins of the fruit give a delightful rose-pink blush to the syrup, which can then be reduced and poured over the finished dessert.
6 nectarines or peaches
2 cups (500 ml) caster sugar
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 vanilla bean, split in half
Rind of 1 lemon
Place the sugar, wine, vanilla bean and lemon rind in a heavy-based saucepan, along with 1 litre (4 cups) of water. Stir well and bring to the simmer. Wash the nectarines and submerge in the simmering liquid, turning down the heat so it is at a very gentle bubble. Cover the nectarines with a sheet of cooking parchment and weigh the lot down with a small plate. This will ensure that all the fruit is fully submerged and they will cook evenly.
Cook at this gentle heat for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the nectarines. Piece the fruit with a skewer; they are cooked when it will insert easily to the centre.
Lift the fruit out with a slotted spoon and allow to cool a little. Peel away the skin while they are still warm and discard. Reduce the syrup of medium heat until it is half the original volume.
When ready to serve, re-warm the peaches in a microwave for a few second and plate up with a Almond Wafer, a dollop of crème fraiche and some of the delicious pink syrup.