Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Selecting Summer's Sweet Bounty: Part 1

  This year, for some reason, I've been lucky choosing my fruits and vegetables. By lucky I mean I'm not cutting open a pricey melon only to find it tastes like  bitter cardboard or throwing equally pricey grapes away after one day because they've become too soft. 
  Maybe this is just a good year for produce or maybe, just maybe, after all these years, I finally mastered the art of pickng sweet and tasty produce.
  I admit I've read up on it and so I'll pass along a couple of tips that I've learned along the way.
Today we'll deal with fruits, tomorrow vegetables. 

General Tips:
  • Buy local fruits and vegetables if possible. This usually means they're freshest, not frozen in shipping. A lot of fruit stands will tell you when the produce was picked if you ask. Don't be shy - they want to move their products before they get too ripe and...they want repeat customers.
  • Take your time and handpick produce if possible. Packaged fruit always has a few 'rotten apples' in the bag. Believe me, I know!
  • I'm a slave to the pre-washed lettuce products because of the convenience. But again, fresh is best if you have the time. Invest in a salad spinner...they're really worth it.
Peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums are at the height of the season which makes them a good buy right now. They all should have firm skin and a sweet smell. If they're hard. leave them out for a day but give them a squeeze frequently because they'll ripen quickly. Apricots should have a nice blush to the skin.

Apples should also be hard to the touch and should be free of any 'bad spots'  or bruises. The fall is your best bet for great tasting apples of all varieties.

Melons should be heavy with soft spots at the ends, Give them a good smell for fragrance and when picking a watermelon, don't choose one with a flat side. When sliced open, the color should be a deep red with an inch of rind. If a honeydew looks beige with distinct green veins it's probably not ripe yet. A ripe one has a pale yellow skin with bright, lemon color. Cantaloupes aren't ripe when the skin beneath the textured skin is green. Cantaloupes are ripe when they're orange or gold. 

Citrus fruit like lemons and limes should be smallish about 3" long and they should feel heavy. The skin should be tight but give a little when pressed. For grapefruit, look for heavy fruit without bruises. Oranges, should be taut with shiny skin.

Pears should be free of bruises and hard if you're not eating them right away, softer if you're eating sooner.  

I usually choose bananas with greenish skin because they ripen nicely in a day or two. Very yellow bananas will need to be consumed more quickly. Choose clean, bruise free skins. Never refrigerate. Overripe bananas make great muffins or banana bread.

Avocados should be hard, dark green to almost black in color. Skin will soften as they ripen and should be left out at room temperature until they soften up. (I'll have a tasty, easy guacamole recipe on Sunday)

Strawberries should be mold-free (look for white stuff through the cellophane) and not too soft.  Look for great color, firmness and nice shine. Blueberries should be firm and have a good blue color, raspberries soft and full but not squishy. 

Tomatoes should have taut skin and a red/orange color with an evenness. Keep at room temperature. 

Note: If you're fruit gets over ripe you can always make a simple sorbet by putting them in a blender with two cups of ice cubes and a half cup of milk (skim!) or you can use yogurt. Sweeten if needed with sugar or sugar substitute. Freeze in small containers or drink right away as a fruity frozen juice drink. 
Tomorrow, picking vegetables. 

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