It was long believed that the nectarine was the result of grafting the branch of a plum tree onto a peach tree, or a cross between these two trees.
However, it seems that this fruit originally came from a variety of peach tree native to China, the Prunis persica nucipersica.
A description of a peach with smooth skin has been found in 16th century French texts under the name brugnon.
Darwin, the English naturalist, noted in his research that peach trees produce nectarines and he even found a tree that simultaneously produced both fruits.
He concluded from this that spontaneous mutations in the peach tree resulted in trees that produced smooth-skin peaches. According to another hypothesis, the nectarine is the original fruit, but it covered itself with a light down to protect itself in cooler climates, thus becoming the peach.
However, the origin of the French word for clingstone nectarine, brugnon, is perplexing. A description of this fruit has been traced back to 1600 (Olivier de Serres’ Théâtre de l'Agriculture) under the name brignon, and then, in 1680, the word brugnon is used. It is thought that this word came from pruna, which became brunum, or from the Celtic brin, which means "plum", and on, which means "good", transformed into brinonia, then brignon, and finally brignon in 1680. As for the word “nectarine”, its origin is clear, coming from “nectar”.
Until the mid-19th century, all smooth-skinned peaches were known as brugnon in France.
But no one knows why one type of nectarine (the brugnon) has flesh that adheres to the stone, while the other type is the complete opposite!
Different varieties of this fruit were grown in the 17th century. It was introduced to the United States in the 18th century and went on to be grown all over the country, especially in California.
The intensity of the color of a nectarine's skin is not a sign of its ripeness because it varies depending on the variety.
The fruit should be soft to the touch and have a pleasant smell. The skin should not have any marks.
They are almost always harvested before they are ripe to make them easier to transport.
Nectarines are mainly sold fresh when in season. They can also be bought frozen and canned in syrup.
Both clingstone and freestone nectarines are used in the same way. Neither are peeled (but should be washed).
They are eaten as they are. They are obviously used in fruit salads, but are also used to make ice cream, sorbet, and coulis, can be cooked to make compote, cooked in a clafoutis, en papillote, or in wine, and are included in pies and fruit skewers.
This fruit has not really inspired French chefs. In North America, fried nectarine is served as an accompaniment for poultry or pork.
Nectarines can be stored at room temperature until they are ripe. If they are very ripe and are not to be used immediately, they should be kept in the refrigerator or cold room.
Nectarines do not contain protein or fat, but some carbohydrates, fiber, and plenty of water.
They are particularly rich in antioxidants, especially carotenes. Nectarines with yellow flesh have more than those with white flesh.
They also contain minerals, B vitamins, and vitamin C.
Both clingstone and freestone nectarine come in yellow or white flesh varieties.
A nectarine with blood-red flesh, a cross between a nectarine and a vine peach, called Nectavigne®, is a fairly recent addition.
This fruit is available during summer.