Stone Fruit Mix Stone Fruit


Peaches, Plums, Cherries and Almonds, known commonly as "Stone Fruits", are all members of genus Prunus of subfamily Amygdaloideae (formerly Prunoideae). The fruit of these roses have only a single seed, and the edible pulp is the middle layer of the seed surround (the mezocarp). The fleshy flower base that forms the edible part of an apple is entirely missing. Some species are harvested for their flesh and others for the seed kernels which are sold as "nuts".

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General & History

The largest number of Prunus species, and pretty much all that are produced commercially, are of Asian origin, though some are native as far west as Europe. Many were intensely cultivated in Anatolia, Caucasus and Western Asia in prehistoric times. They are pretty much all temperate climate plants. because they need winter chill in order to fruit.

There are a number of species native to North America, and some have been important to American Indians, and some are eaten locally, but only the Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) is exploited commercially, and on a very small scale.

Varieties

Listed here are the species and varieties that are most significant as food. A fair number of species not listed here are eaten or made into jams and jellies on a local basis, but are not available in our markets.

Almonds

Almonds   -   [Prunus dulcis var dulcis (sweet almond) | Prunus dulcis var amara (bitter almond)]
Almond Seeds, unshelled and shelled

Sold as "nuts", almonds are the pit of a peach-like fruit, but one with a thin, leathery flesh. California is by far the world's leading grower and exporter of almonds, with Spain a very, very distant second, trailed by Iran.

Due to what many think is an over-reaction by the FDA to a single US incident, all US almond nuts sold to consumers are pasteurized against salmonella. Those sold as "raw" are either lightly steam pasteurized or fumigated with propylene oxide. This is the sort of thing that drives raw foods adherents nuts - but almond farmers are allowed to sell unpasteurized nuts directly to consumers.

Shelled almonds are about 30 to the ounce. Bitter almonds are not allowed by the FDA due to their much higher cyanide content than in sweet almonds. If you need stronger almonds, use nectarine or apricot pits - but use caution, they also contain more cyanide than sweet almonds.

Almonds   -   [Prunus dulcis]
Almond Fruit, whole and cut

Immature "green" almonds are favored in Persia (Iran), Armenia and the Near East as a snack food. The whole fruit is eaten. It is quite sour, but tempered by dipping it in sea salt. Due to our very large populations from these regions, and since California is the world's leading almond grower, these are plentiful when in season (late April to mid June - 8 weeks at most).

Bins of them will be presented in the big ethnic markets here in Los Angeles. Some are exported to other parts of North America where there are significant communities of the appropriate eths. They should be enjoyed right after purchase, as the outer portion becomes tough in a couple of days. These weighed 0.33 ounces each on average.

Green almonds are now also favored (the seed inside only) by some high priced chefs for use in expensive gourmet dishes.


Apricots

Apricot   -   [zard-alu (Persia); Prunus armeniaca]
Whole & Cut Apricot Fruit

In ancient times Armenia was famous for apricots, but some hold their first domestication to be farther east. In any case, this fruit is still very important in Anatolia, Caucasus and Persia, with Turkey the leading producer, followed (at some distance) by Iran and Uzbekistan.

California grows 95% of the apricots produced in North America, and the variety most planted in Turkey was developed in California. Fresh apricots are widely available here in California when in season, but not so much elsewhere as they are quite perishable. The photo shows whole, cut and dried apricots. The dried ones have been treated with sulphur dioxide for color - "natural" dried apricots are a very dark brownish color.

Bitter Apricots   -   [Prunus armeniaca]
Whole & Cut Bitter Apricot Fruit

These are sold for uses similar to those of green almonds (see above). They have a pleasant sourness and the immature shell has a little crunch to it. The seed is fairly bitter with a definite hint of cyanide. They were about 1 inch long, purchased from a large multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles.

Black Apricot   -   [Prunus hybrid]
Whole & Cut Black Apricot Fruit

This is not actually an apricot - it's a cross between an apricot and a plum. As you can see, the fruit is not nearly as dry as an apricot and the seed is not loose inside. This fruit may also be called a plumcot, apriplum, pluot or aprium.


Cherries


Sweet Cherries   -   [Prunus avium]
Whole & Cut Sweet Cherries

Cherries are native to North America, Europe and Western Asia. They grow in regions where there will be a good winter chill, so they do not fruit in the tropics. Turkey is the largest producer (19%), with the United States close behind and Iran trailing, and total European production accounting for 40%.

A number of cultivars are used to produce sweet cherries, which are the cherries common in our markets when in season - and frozen out of season. They fall into two general categories: "white" and "red", as shown in the photo.

Sour Cherries   -   [Prunus cerasus]
Sour Cherry Fruit with Leaves

This cherry is used mostly for cooking. It is currently of limited availability here in Los Angeles - and at a rather high price, but for many uses there is no substitute. They are a bit smaller and more uniformly spherical than the common sweet cherries.

Morello Cherries   -   [Prunus cerasus]
Morello Cherries with syrup

This is a small European sour cherry, available in North America mainly as "compote" or preserves, usually sold at a premium price. The photo specimens were from Bulgaria, in size up to 0.75 inch. Ingredients: Morello cherries with pits, water, sugar. One of my favorite markets had piles of 24 ounce jars, both pit in and pitted at 2013 US $1.49 per jar. Naturally, at that price, I bought plenty.

Mahaleb   -   [Bird Cherry: Mahlab, Mahleb (Mid East, Anatolia, Armenia); Mahlepi (Greek); St Lucie Cherry, Mahaleb Cherry; Prunus mahaleb]
Mahaleb Seed kernels

This cherry tree is native from central and southern Europe east to Pakistan and Kyrgystan, and south to Morocco and Lebanon. It produces small red cherries that are thin fleshed and bitter, eaten mainly by birds. The cherry pits are broken open to release the kernel, which is used as a spice for holiday sweets and cakes, particularly in Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Cyprus, Lebanon. Syria and Iraq. It is also used to flavor Nabulsi cheese.

It is described as tasting like a combination of cherry and bitter almond. Myself I don't detect much cherry, but it has a moderately bitter aromatic resin taste. The specimen photo shows seed kernels 0.2 inch (5 mm) long purchased from a market in Los Angeles. It is more available in powdered form, but that must be fresh as it degrades rapidly. Details and Cooking.

Cherries - Subgenus Padus
Usually called "Bird Cherries", these trees grow in Europe, Asia and North America.


Black Cherry   -   [Rum Cherry; Prunus serotina]
Black Cherries on Tree

Native to the United States east of the Mississippi and extending into Texas, and in the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala, this tree can grow to about 100 feet high. It produces cherries about 0.38 inch diameter with a single seed. The seed kernel and other parts of the plant produce copious cyanide, but the fruit flesh is safe to eat. The fruit is used to make jams and cherry pies, but is most noted as a flavoring for liqueurs, sodas and ice cream, as well as being used in cocktails and dark chocolate cakes.   Photo by Amerikaanse vogelkers distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike v3.0 Unported.

Chokecherry   -   [Bitter-berry, Virginia Bird Cherry; Prunus virginiana]
Chokecherry Fruit and Leaf

Native to central United States through central Canada from coast to coast, this was the most important edible fruit to the American Indians of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Planes, and much of Canada. The fruit can be used to make jams and jellies, but needs a fair amount of sugar due to bitterness. The foliage is laced with cyanide, especially when wilted, and is toxic to livestock (and people). This fruit should not be confused with Chokeberries (Aronia species) which are Pome Fruits.   Photo by SriMesh distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike v3.0 Unported.

Bird Cherry   -   [Japanese Bird Cherry; Prunus grayana   |   Bird Cherry, Hackberry; Prunus padus]
Bird Cherries on Tree

P. grayana is a small tree, growing to 65 feet, native to China and Japan. It is very closely related to P. padus. The small fruit, about 0.3 inch diameter, starts green, then turns red and finally black when fully ripe. The flowers and fruit are edible, and unlike many cherries, the seed kernels are edible. In Japan, the fruit is often preserved in salt.

P. padus is a small tree, growing to around 50 feet, native to northern Europe and Asia and south to Ukraine. The small black fruit is somewhat astringent and seldom eaten in Western Europe, but is eaten in Eastern Europe and Asia. I don't know if the seed kernel is edible as it is with P. grayana.   Photo of P. Padus by Anneli Salo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike v3.0 Unported.


Hollyleaf Cherry   -   [Evergreen cherry, Islay; Prunus ilicifolia]
Hollyleaf Cherries on Shrub

Native to the coastal chaparral of California, from Monterey south into northern Baja, this shrub or small tree, growing to 30 feet, has been cultivated for hundreds of years for its fruit. The purple to black fruit, up to almost an inch in diameter, is sweet, with moderately thick flesh around a single pit. The fruit can be eaten out of hand, but the Coastal Indians liked to ferment it into an intoxicating beverage. This is a popular and decorative landscaping plant in coastal California.   Photo by Noah Elhardt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike v2.5 Generic.

Nanking Cherry   -   [Korean cherry, Manchu cherry, Downy cherry, Shanghai cherry, Ando cherry, Mountain cherry, Chinese bush cherry, Chinese dwarf cherry, Hansen's bush cherry; Prunus tomentosa]
Nanking Cherries on Shrub

Native to northern and western China, Tibet, Korea and Mongolia, this shrub, growing to 10 feet, produces red cherries between 1/4 and 1/2 inch diameter. The fruit is sweet and slightly tart, used for juice, jams and wine. It is also used in pickled vegetables and mushrooms. Some are grown in England and the United States. It is often used as a dwarfing root stock for grafting other cherries, and as a flowering decorative.   Photo by WildBoar contributed to the Public Domain .

Oshima Cherry   -   [Prunus speciosa]
Oshima Cherry Tree in Bloom

Native to Japan, this tree is now planted as a flowering decorative worldwide (the photo is from Paris, France). It can grow to 39 feet high and bears small black edible cherries about 0.4 inch diameter. The dried flowers are used to make tea. The leaves (sakura leaf) are used in cooking and medicinally in Japan.   Photo by Moonik distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Ground Cherry   -   [European Dwarf cherry, Dwarf cherry, Mongolian cherry, Steppe cherry, European ground cherry; Prunus fruticosa]
Ground Cherries on Shrub

This plant is native to Central Europe, from Germany into Italy, Eastern Europe, Siberia, the Caucasus, Kazakhstan and Xinjiang in Western China. It is a low shrub growing to a little more than 6 feet, producing dark red fruit between 0.3 and 1.0 inch diameter. The fruit is sweet but tart, used for pies and pastry fillings, jams and jellies. It also attracts bees and is important to honey production.   Photo by HermannSchachner contributed to the Public Domain.


Peaches & Nectarines

Peaches and Nectarines are of the same species, Prunus persica, differing mainly in that peaches are fuzzy and nectarines are smooth skinned.


Peaches, Common   -   [Prunus persica]
Peaches, Whole & Cut

Peaches originated in China, and have been in cultivation there for more than 4000 years. In ancient times they were taken to India and Western Asia. They were taken from Persia to Greece during the time of Alexander, and were grown extensively in Italy during the Roman Empire. Today China grows over 50% the world's production of peaches and nectarines, with Italy second at 7.7%.

Many cultivars are grown, including "yellow" and "white" varieties. The flesh of white peaches vary from nearly white to light yellow, while regular peaches are intensely yellow. Some varieties are "freestone", with an easily removed seed, but others are "clingstone", with a seed very tightly bound to the flesh. Clingstones ripen early in the season and are the major versions for processing and canning. Freestones come later in the season and are the most common varieties in the markets. They tend to be larger, firmer and less juicy than clingstones, but are still quite sweet. They work well for canning and baking.

The photo shows white peaches to the left and yellow peaches to the right. Both were about 3.3 inches diameter and weighed about 9-3/4 ounces, near the high end for size and weight. The yellow are significantly jucier, sweeter and have more intense peach flavor than the white, but the white can be cut more neatly and are reported to be higher in vitamins. Both specimens were obviously "freestone" varieties.

Nectarines   -   [Prunus persica]
Nectarines, Whole & Cut

Nectarines are the same species as peaches and vary only in having smooth skins instead of fuzzy. As with peaches, China grows over 50% the world's production

Like peaches, nectarines come in "yellow" and "white" varieties, and "freestone" and "clingstone". The photo specimens are a "white" variety.

Donut Peaches / Nectarines   -   [Prunus persica]
Donut Peaches, Whole & Cut

Why something that's really just a curiosity is so common in my local markets here in Los Angeles is a mystery to me. They are generally considerably more expensive than regular peaches, have a lot less flesh per unit, and, in my opinion, generally don't taste as good. They come in yellow and white versions of both peaches and nectarines. The photo specimen is a white peach variety.

Pickled Green Peaches   -   [Prunus persica]
Pickled Green Peaches, Whole & Cut

From Turkey, these were crunchy and mildly tart with just a hint of sweetness. They were entirely edible, with skins very slightly fuzzy and the flavor fairly neutral. 1-1/2 inches long, they weighed about 0.44 ounce each on average. Seftali Caglass Tursusu. Ingred: peaches, water, salt, citric acid, acetic acid.


Plums / Prunes   -   [Prunus domestica   |   Prunus americana   |   other species]
Listed here are the most common plums. There are a number of other edible wild plums that were valued by American Indians, but are no longer in much use.


Plums   -   [Prunus domestica]
Whole & Cut Fruit

The photo shows three common versions, called white, purple and red.

Italian Prune Plums   -   [Prunus domestica]
Italian Prune Plums, Whole & Cut

These smaller plums have a more intense plum flavor than the larger ones shown above. They are also drier of flesh and easier to dry into prunes.

Giant Plums (#4042)   &   Tiny Plums   -   [Prunus domestica]
Whole & Cut Giant Plum

The very large plums in the photo were up to 3.2 inches long and weighed up to 10 ounces each. I don't have a variety name and have only seen them once, in September 2014. They were freestone, had good plum flavor and texture, and excellent flesh to seed ratio.

The tiny plums I have no photo of, because I saw them only once many years before I started this Web site in 2004. They were purple plums that tasted fine, but had an unusual side effect which may have caused them to disappear from the market. Under the influence of these plums I let by far the longest and most luxurious fart of my entire life! I went out on the back porch to enjoy this event in private, but was reminded of a nearby open window with an assistant working on the computer just inside - when I heard shrieks of laughter coming from within.

Sour Plums   -   [Prunus domestica]
Sour Plums, Whole & Cut

These unripe plums are sold as "sour plums" here in Los Angeles, when they are in season. They are not identical to the sour plums of the Caucasus, which remain sour when mature, but they are popular here anyway. They make a good tart snack just eaten out of hand.

Cherry Plum   -   [Myrobalan plum, Sour Plums; Tkemali (Georgian); Prunus cerasifera]
Cherry Plum Branch with Fruit

This small tree, growing to 49 feet high, is native to Europe and Asia, but has escaped cultivation in North America and is now found in the wild. It is a widely planted decorative, and a number of cultivars have been developed with red or purple leaves. The edible fruit is between 3/4 to 1-1/8 inch diameter - the fruit in the photo is not yet ripe, so is quite green. Flower and fruit color varies with cultivar, with fruit ranging from green through red to very deep purple. Edibility also varies with cultivar, ranging from sweet and edible out of hand to rather tart, best for making jams and jellies.

These small plums, in both red and green colors, are very important in Georgia (former Soviet Republic of), much used for making tkemali sauce, "ketchup of the Caucasus". Some sweeter plums may be mixed in to make a less tart sauce. Examples found in Los Angeles ethnic markets are commonly made in Russia. These plums are available dried, seed in, made from a green variety, in ethnic markets serving a Caucasus community. See "Prunes" below.   Photo by Diako1971 distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Prunes & Dried Plums   -   [Prunus domestica | Prunus cerasifer (sour plums)]
Prunes, Whole & Cut

Prunes are used in cooking throughout Europe, from the British Isles through the Caucasus, and in North America for recipes originating from that region. They need to be soaked for about an hour before using. Prunes are also used as a snack, and sometimes to aid in "regularity". In North America black prunes dominate, and they are almost always seeded. Dried sour plums are generally seed in.

The photo shows fresh plums at the top, black prunes made from similar plums in the middle, and dried sour plums along the bottom. Those to the left (lighter color) are treated with sulphur dioxide, and those to the right (darker color) are not.

Mume Plum   -   [Chinese Plum, Japanese Apricot; meihua (China); Hiragana (Japan); Prunus mume]
Whole Umeboshi

This is more an apricot than a plum, but it's so commonly called a plum we have entered it here. This is a very important fruit in China, Korea and Japan, not often eaten fresh but made into many different products, including plum sauce, plum wine and umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). The Umeboshi in the photo were about 1 inch long. These plum products have their own Mume Plum page.

Chinese Plum   -   [Japanese Plum; Prunus salicina]
Plum on Tree

This plum, native to China, is now grown in Japan, Korea, Australia and the United States. It has been extensively used as hybridization stock to develop other important plum varieties. In China, candied fruits are made flavored with salt, sugar and liquorice. In Japan, half ripe fruit are used to flavor an alcoholic beverage called sumomo shu. It is also used to make alcoholic beverages in China. The fruits are between 1-1/2 and 2-3/4 inches diameter, and can be eaten out of hand.   Photo by Zeimusu distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Mirabelle Plums   -   [Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca]
Whole Mirabelle Plum

Originating in Anatolia or Caucasus, this small oval plum is now a specialty of France. Though these plums are fine eating, nearly all are made into jam or used for eu-de-vie brandy. In Romania these plums are popular for eating unripe when they are crisp and sour.

Greengage Plums   -   [Reine Claudes (French); Prunus domestica subsp. italica var. claudiana]
Whole & Cut Greengage Plums

In the late 1700s these small green plums were widely grown in the American Colonies / States, but they are not common here now. They are widely grown in Europe, typically for stewing into compote.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Beach Plums   -   [Prunus maritima]
Beach Plums on Tree

This shrub, up to 6 feet tall, is native to the east coast of the United States from Maine to Maryland. The fruit is reasonably sweet and can be eaten out of hand, but is only 5/8 to 3/4 inch diameter. It is often made into jam or wine. It is produced commercially on a small scale, with development of varieties with larger fruit in progress.   Photo by Aznaturalist distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Damson Plum   -   [Prunus domestica subsp. insititia]
Damson Plums on Tree

These small oval plums are most grown in England. The skins are quite sour, so the main use is for making jams and jellies. They are also used to make damson gin, similar to sloe gin. There is a white version, but it is now very rare.   Photo by Jonathan Billinger distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Bullace Plum   -   [Prunus domestica subsp. insititia]
Bullace Plums on Tree

These small spherical plums are closely related to the Damson Plum, but much smaller. They are most grown in England where both black and white varieties are found. They are quite sour until fully ripe, when they can be eaten fresh, but they are more used for making jams and jellies. In the past they were fermented into wine and used to make pies.   Photo by Eirian Evans distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Sloe Berries   -   [Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa]
Whole & Cut Sloe Berries

Not strictly a plum, but closely related, this berry is native to Europe, Western Asia and a few locations in North Africa. Berries are almost black and less than 1/2 inch in diameter. It's most famous use is to be steeped in gin and sugar to make sloe gin, a deep red liqueur. the berries can also be made into jams and jellies, and if pickled in vinegar, are similar to Japanese umiboshi. In England and Central Europe they are also fermented into wine.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Canadian Plum   -   [Blackthorn; Prunus spinosa]
Canadian Plums on Branch

This small tree, growing to 33 feet, is native to a small area surrounding the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, and into Maine. The fruit is 1 inch to 1.8 inches long, with a tough orange-red skin and yellow flesh. The fruit is eaten raw or cooked and made into preserves.   Painting by Harriet Keeler, 1900, copyright expired, colorized by M. Effa 2008 distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Mexican Plum   -   [Prunus Mexicana]
Mexican Plums on Branch

While there are a few isolated populations in Mexico, this small tree, growing to 38 feet, is most common from Missouri to eastern Texas and east to Alabama, but not continuously. The fruit, dark red to purple, is about 1 inch diameter and may range from sour to sweet. It is said to make exceptionally good jelly, is eaten raw or cooked and made into wine and brandy. The seed kernels and leaves are high in cyanide and should not be eaten.   Photo by Jim Conrad contributed to the Public Domain .


Plum x Apricot Hybrids   -   [Prunus salicina x armeniaca and others]
These come in a number of varieties:
  • Plumcots / Apriplums:   These occur naturally in regions where both plums and apricots are grown.
  • Pluots:   These are very common in the markets now. They are closer to plums than to apricots and come in a number colors. "Pluot" is a trademark of Zaiger's Genetics, so breeders of similar products cannot use this name.
  • Apriums:   These are complex plum x apricot hybrids that are closer to apricots than to plums (75% apricot). They are very sweet, but are not commonly available in our markets. "Aprium" is a trademark of Zaiger's Genetics, so breeders of similar products cannot use this name.

Pluots   -   [Prunus persica]
Whole & Cut Pluots

The photo shows two of the very many varieties now available. The one to the right, often marketed at "dinosaur plum" is quite common in markets here in Los Angeles.


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