Clingstone, Freestone, White, Yellow, and Donut: The Language of Peaches, Explained

Also which are best for baking and which are ideal for eating out of hand.  

orchard peaches in container
Photo: Victoria Pearson

What fruit is as evocative as a ripe peach? Velvet to the touch, easily bruisable, instantly dripping with juice, peaches are the epitome of summer. The perfect peach is both a story and a memory: Whether bought from a roadside farm stand nestled among summer cornfields, or from a busy city market, the first peach you bring home should always be eaten at once. But how do you go about finding that perfect first stone fruit of the year? First, know their season. The bone-hard, hyper-chilled, long-distance and off-season peaches that are stacked in attractive heaps on supermarket shelves will disappoint. Instead of delivering on the promise of peach perfection they may sit around indefinitely at home while their skin slowly wrinkles and their insides turn an upsetting brown. Salvage them in a peach pie, but for the real deal you need peaches that arrive at market within days of harvest, as summer turns towards the days when cicadas begin to vibrate. And then eat them fast.

Then choose your peach. A mouth-watering variety of colors and shapes is available, and you may be paralyzed (happily) somewhere between the piles of white, pink-hued, yellow, donut, clingstone, and freestone fruit. What peach will you pick?

White Peaches

With an evocatively floral scent, the pale flesh of a ripe white peach is sweet, through and through, with no hint of acid. This is the quintessential standalone dessert peach. For extra flair splash the peeled peaches (sliced in a glass, or whole in a dessert bowl) with dry white wine or prosecco.

Yellow Peaches

Yellow peaches tend to have an appealingly tart edge beneath their juicy sweetness. Apart from being delectable raw, this acid complexity makes them good candidates for jamming, pies, fresh salsas, and savory salads.

Clingstone and Freestone Peaches

Clingstone and freestone peaches can be either white- or yellow-fleshed. It's all about the pits. Clingstone peaches do just that: hang onto their pits without letting go. Clingstones are best peeled and served whole or sliced. Freestone peaches relinquish their pits easily, making it a cinch to cut the peach down the middle along its distinctive seamline, and then twist its halves gently in opposite directions to separate them and expose their gorgeous hearts (often rosy).

Apart from being delicious raw, yellow freestone peach halves are easily grilled (heat emphasizes their sweetness), and they're delectable served as a complement to savory sausages or pork chops, as a warmed-through topping for creamy burrata, or as a simple fruit dessert. The hollow where the pits resided are natural nests for stuffings—think chopped cucumbers, onion, and basil, with a sharp vinaigrette; or mascarpone topped with crumbled Amaretto cookies.

Donut Peaches

Donut peaches are a dramatically compressed variety of peach: Prunus persica var. platycarpa (as opposed to straight up P. persica). They are variously known as peento (from pan tao) peaches and Saturn. They were brought to the attention of U.S. markets in the 1980s, after breeders hybridized strains that were frost-hardy but remained a curiosity until the early oughts when breeding took off (thanks to an expired breeding license; it's complicated). Many cultivars have been developed since then, and donut peaches now have every attribute of their spherical peach cousins except one: shape. They can be white, yellow, clingstone, or freestone. They're just flat. So, if you tire of eating round peaches, or don't want to get juice on your mustache or down your chin (this quality made it the apocryphal favorite of a Chinese emperor concerned about dripping on his beard), try a sweetly squat donut.

Better yet, line up a tasting of every seasonal peach you can find, and tuck in.

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