If you've ever tried to cut a peach into neat slices only to be thwarted by the knotty pit holding onto the flesh for dear life, you've encountered a clingstone peach.
The distinction between clingstone and freestone peaches are at the heart of peach frustrations: You'll know you have a clingstone peach when you try to twist open a peach sliced from top to bottom and smush the fruit instead. Or when the perfect half-moons you had in mind for your galette are reduced to bruised caterpillar-looking things.
It's only more frustrating in comparison: Sometimes—when you've got your mitts on a freestone peach—halves twist cleanly, slices are pristine, and you pluck the pit from the fruit without even thinking about it.
Unfortunately—and even though clingstone peaches tend to be smaller than freestones—you can't tell a clingstone from a freestone just by giving it a careful eyeing. But there are a few ways you can tell:
Clingstone varieties of peaches tend to ripen earlier in the growing season, while freestone varieties are fully ripe later in the season. If you want to make a peach pie as soon as peaches come into season (we get it), there's a good chance you'll buy fruit that will hold tight to its pit. But towards the end of the season, it's more likely that any given you peach you pick out at the market is freestone—which means you'll have an easier time cutting it. (But don't discount the clingy ones entirely! They taste just as good as freestones—especially after the apples-only season).
Some say that all peaches, even the clingstone ones, become freestone by the end of the season, but this really just has to do with ripeness: The riper the peach the easier it will be to remove the stone, regardless of its variety.
The only true way to know whether a peach is clingstone or freestone is to know its varietal. Peach varietals—like "Red Haven," "August Pride," and "O'Henry"—all have designations: clingstone, freestone, or somewhere in between (varietals hybridized from cling and freestone peaches, usually called "semi-cling"; some say these should be thought of clingstones).
If you're specifically looking for peaches that won't grip their pits, make sure you seek out a freestone varietal. It might be hard to tell at the grocery store unless the varietal is specifically listed, but at the farmers market, the grower should be able to tell you. Just ask!
What are your workarounds for peaches that just don't want to let go? Share them in the comments.