Each month, Melina Hammer, Food52’s correspondent in the Hudson Valley, serves up all the bounty that upstate New York has to offer.

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At its best, a peach should be eaten over the sink, the juice dripping down your arm. At worst, a peach is mealy and dry. To guarantee the former, look for local peaches, which have been ripened in trees – they have spent more time growing to their maximum, plump size and are harvested just before they hit the market.

When ripe, peaches impart a distinctly peachy aroma and feel heavy for their size. Store peaches at room temperature – on the counter or in a shallow bowl to avoid damaging their tender flesh. Like tomatoes, peaches are best unrefrigerated if you eat them raw. I only migrate extra-ripe peaches to the refrigerator if I’m in a rush, and even then, only if they’re meant for cooking.

If your peaches are tough and not yet ripe, it’s delicious in its own way. Thinly slice and turn into a salad (take som tum, Thai green papaya salad or this Genius recipe from Bill Smith for inspiration). On the other end of the spectrum, spongy, overripe peaches are excellent as a shrub or as a jam. Don’t waste the bruised fruit – peaches have utility every step of the way.

According to The Food Encyclopedia, “next to the apple, the peach tree is the most cultivated fruit tree in the world” with “more than 2000 grape varieties”. Today we’ll cover some essential vocabulary for the season.

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Types of peaches

Hard-core peaches

One of the two main classifications, hard-core peaches are the most widely available. Since their pits are easy to dislodge, these peaches are ideal for cooking, direct consumption, canning, and marinating (yes, marinating!).

Adherent peaches

A little sweeter and juicier than freestone, and the earlier on the scene each year. As you would expect from the name, the flesh should be cut from the pit. These peaches are most commonly used for commercial canning.

White peaches

With a paler flesh than the yellow varieties and a pale pink skin, the flavor is also slightly sweeter and less acidic. These peaches break down more easily, so they are less suitable for cooking and better eaten raw. Varieties include: Snow Giant, Summer Sweet, and White Dragon.

Yellow peaches

These are the famous peaches often seen in the South: red skin and robust yellow flesh, with a pink center revealed once you dislodge the pit. They are juicy and sweet, with balanced acidity. Varieties include: Crimson Lady, Sugar Time, Contender, and Elberta.

Red Globe and O’Henry Peaches

My favorite yellow peach varieties, these have fuzzy red skin and firm flesh streaked with red. Red Globe and O’Henry are slightly more intensely flavored than their uniformly yellow cousins. They are wonderful with something salty, like scallops.

Donut Peaches

Donut peaches, aka saucer peaches, are a heirloom grape popular for their stocky stature. They have white flesh and low acidity. And because of their new shape, they have experienced a recent renaissance in farmers’ markets. These peaches are excellent eaten with a cookie cutter, added to salads, baked or grilled.

Soft peaches

This is exactly what they look like – once they are ripe, rather than keeping their firmness, their buttery flesh falls apart. Excellent texture for eating raw. Try the smaller Gold Dust heirloom grape for exceptional sweetness.

Nectarines

Did you know? Juicy and sweet nectarines are actually a type of peach. They express a genetic variant, which makes their skin smooth instead of blurry. Excellent grilled, baked or raw. Varieties include: Summer Fire, Honey Blaze, and Rose Diamond.

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