Food and Cooking Tips
How to Pick Fresh Fruit or Who Put the Worm in My Apple?
Fresh fruit! Everybody likes fruit. Imagine biting into a crisp red apple, tantalizing your taste buds. How about tossing sweet , seedless grapes into your mouth, anticipating that satisfying pop!! with each bite. Then there is the ultimate fruit treat! Ice-cold watermelon, juice dripping down your chin and all over your hands. Is there a better feeling? Absolutely not.
Your taste buds are ready for that first bite of succulence. Yum! Absolutely delicious! But what is this...? Your smile is turning into a frown. That beautiful apple is mushy!! You dig further into your refrigerator for some grapes. What can go wrong here? Pucker, pucker. Sour, you say? And where did these seeds come from? You move onto that all-time favorite. The only thing wrong with watermelon is that once you put it into your refrigerator to chill, suddenly there is no room for anything else, with the possible exception of a tin of sardines. You excavate the refrigerator, digging for that melon with the juice of ambrosia. Cutting yourself a hunk, you take that first big bite, waiting for bliss. Hmm! You had better take a second bite. Oh, no! Guess what? You just bought 14 pounds of water and rind.
It’s now time for revenge! With the following list, you will be ready and able to properly choose FRESH fruit to titillate your tongue. Happy eating!
Let’s take a look at 20 of the most frequently eaten raw fruits. Included in this list are bananas, apples, watermelons, oranges, cantaloupes, grapes, grapefruit, strawberries, peaches, pears, nectarines, honey dew melons, plums, avocado, lemons, pineapples, tangerines, sweet cherries, kiwifruit, and limes. It is fairly easy to judge the quality of most fresh fruits by just looking at their external appearance.
The following alphabetical list can help you with what to look for.
APPLES For good snacking, try Red Delicious, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Empire, and Golden Delicious. Tart or slightly acid varieties such as Gravenstein, Grimes Golden, Jonathan, and Newton make good pies and applesauce. However, for baking, use the firmer-fleshed varieties such as Rome Beauty, Northern Spy, Rhode Island Greening, Winesap, and York Imperial.
When selecting apples, chose those that are crisp, firm, and well-colored. Apple flavor depends on the stage of maturity at the time that the fruit is picked. Make sure to select mature apples at the time of picking to insure good flavor, texture, and storing ability.
Avoid overripe apples (Fruit that yields to slight pressure on the skin, and soft, mealy flesh) and apples damaged by freeze (Internal breakdown and bruising). Taste will not be seriously affected by scald (irregularly shaped tan or brown areas). See a selection of helpful apple corers and peelers
APRICOTS Most fresh apricots are available in June and July while a limited number of them can be found in large cities in December and January.
Apricots should do their maturing while still on the tree and be firm to the touch when picked. Choose apricots that are uniformly plump, golden orange, and juicy looking. They should yield to gentle pressure.
Avoid dull-looking or mushy fruit and hard, pale yellow, or greenish yellow apricots. This indicates fruit that is overmature or immature, respectively.
Groves of AVOCADO trees in California and Florida make the fruit available all year. There are two general types, with a number of varieties within these types. Avocados can vary greatly in shape, size, and color. Most of them are pear-shaped but some are almost spherical. The most commonly available tend to weigh under 1/2 pound. Some of the fruits have a rough or leathery textured skin while others are smooth. Most avocados are some shade of green but certain varieties turn maroon, brown, or purplish-black during the ripening process.
Avocados are ready to eat when they are slightly soft. It usually takes from 3 to 5 days at room temperature for “grocery store hard” avocados to ripen. Refrigeration slows ripening.
For immediate consumption, pick slightly soft avocados which yield to gentle pressure but for use later in the week, select fruits that are still firm to the touch.
Sometimes the outer skin of an avocado has irregular light-brown marking. This generally doesn’t affect the flesh. Avoid avocados with dark sunken spots or cracked or broken surfaces. This is a sign of decay. See our avocado slicer, just slide the slicer just above the skin to scoop and slice at the same time.
AVOCADO COOKING TIP: To avoid the browning of avocado flesh when it is exposed to the air, immediately place the exposed flesh in lemon juice until ready to use.
BANANAS are best after they have been harvested. They are available year-round and are imported from Central and South America. Bananas will get injured in temperatures below 55º and should never be kept in the refrigerator. Ideally, bananas should be kept in an area that is between 60º and 70º.
Look for firm bananas with a bright skin and no bruises. When the solid yellow color is specked with brown, the banana has reached its best eating stage. Avoid bananas with green tips, bruised fruit, discolored skin, or a grayish, aged appearance.
Fresh BLUEBERRIES are available from May through September. The large berries tend to be cultivated and while the smaller berries are wild. Look for dark blue berries with a silvery coating. Purchase blueberries that are plump, firm, uniform in size, dry, and with no stems or leaves. Try to avoid soft or mushy blueberries.
Most sweet CHERRIES, excellent as a dessert fruit, come from the Western states and are available from May through August. Sour or pie cherries, also known as red tart cherries, are used primarily in cooked desserts and have a softer flesh, lighter red color, and a tart flavor.
Look for a very dark color to indicate good flavor and maturity in sweet cherries. Bing, Black Tartarian, Schmidt, Chapman and Republican varieties should range in color from deep maroon or mahogany red to black for the richest flavor. Lambert cherries should be dark red. Rainier cherries should be straw-colored. In all varieties, look for bright, glossy, plump-looking surfaces and fresh-looking stems. Avoid cherries with soft, leaking flesh, brown discoloration, and mold growth, all indications of decay. See cherry stoners to easily remove the pits from cherries, and from olives, too.
Fresh CRANBERRIES are available in large volume from September through January. Look for plump, firm berries with lustrous color. Avoid brown or dark, discolored berries; soft, spongy, or leaky berries should be sorted out before cooking or else they may produce an off-flavor.
GRAPEFRUIT are available all year, most abundantly from January through May, from Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona. Grapefruit are marketed as “seedless” (having few or no seeds) and “seeded.” The color of the flesh is another distinction of the various varieties: pink- or red-flesh is the most common but white-flesh is also on the market. Grapefruit is picked “tree ripe” and ready to eat.
The best tasting grapefruit are firm and heavy for their size. Thin-skinned fruits tend to be juicier than the coarse-skinned ones. A grapefruit is likely to be thick-skinned if it is pointed at the stem end. Avoid fruit with soft, tender peel that breaks easily with finger pressure. See the Grapefruiter™ for perfect grapefruit wedges without the waste.
Most table GRAPES sold in your local grocery are of the European type and are grown principally in California and Nevada. European-type grapes have a firm flesh and usually have a high sugar content. Common varieties are Thompson Seedless (an early, green grape), Red Seedless (an early, red grape), Tokay and Cardinal (early, bright red, seeded grapes) and Emperor (late, deep red, seeded grapes).
American-type grapes have softer flesh and more juice than the European varieties. The blue-black Concord has outstanding flavor. Delaware and Catawba are also popular varieties.
Look for well-colored, plump grapes firmly attached to the stem. Bunches will most likely hold together if the stems are predominantly green and pliable. Avoid soft or wrinkled grapes.
The KIWIFRUIT is a fairly small, elliposid-shaped fruit. The pulp is bright green, slightly acid-tasting, and surrounded by many small, black, edible seeds, which in turn surround a pale heart. The exterior of the kiwifruit is light to medium brown and “furry” in texture. Most domestic kiwifruit is produced in California.
Look for kiwifruit that is plump and unwrinkled. It is fully ripe when it is yielding to the touch but not soft. Ripening can be speeded by leaving it for a few days at room temperature. Avoid fruit that is shriveled or excessively soft.
SPECIAL NOTE: Kiwifruit contains the enzyme actinidin which reacts chemically to break down proteins. Actinidin prevents gelatin from setting, so if you are planning to serve kiwifruit in a gelatin dish, cook the fruit for a few minute's before adding it to the gelatin.
Available year-round, most LEMONS come from California and Arizona. Look for fruit with a rich yellow color, and fairly smooth-textured skin with a slight gloss. Lemons that are firm and heavy tend to be very juicy. Rough skin texture is a sign of thick skin and not much flesh.
Most LIMES are grown in Florida and Mexico and come to market when they have matured. Imported limes are primarily smaller, with seeds. Like lemons, look for limes that have a glossy skin and heavy weight for their size.
Selecting MELONS for quality and flavor can be difficult. Consider several factors when choosing a melon. See the "Melon Ease" for perfect slices in seconds.
CANTALOUPE (Muskmelons) are generally available from May to September and come from California, Arizona, and Texas. There are 3 major signs of full maturity in a cantaloupe: A) The stem should be totally gone, leaving a smooth, shallow base called a “full slip.” If any stem base remains, or if the stem scar is torn or jagged, the melon is probably not fully matured. B) The veining (or netting) should be thick, coarse, and corky. C) The skin color (ground color) between the netting should have changed from green to yellowish-buff, yellowish-gray, or pale yellow.
A cantaloupe might be mature, but not ripe. When handling a ripe cantaloupe it will yield slightly to light thumb pressure on the blossom end of the melon. It will also have a yellowish cast to the rind and have an enticing cantaloupe aroma.
Many cantaloupes on display in the grocery are quite firm but most are not quite ready to eat. It is best to keep them at room temperature for 2 to 4 days to let them finish ripening. Avoid cantaloupes that are soft all over or have a pronounced yellow rind color.
A CASABA melon is sweet and juicy. Pumpkin-shaped, it has a very slight tendency to be pointed at the stem end. It is not netted like the cantaloupe but has shallow furrows running from the stem end to the blossom end. The rind is hard and the stem must be cut when harvesting. Casaba melons are grown in California and Arizona and are available from July to November.
Look for fruit with a gold-yellow rind color and slight softening at the blossom end. Casabas are aroma free!
The CRENSHAW melon, a large fruit, is rounded at the blossom end and tends to be pointed at the stem end. It has a rather smooth rind with very shallow lengthwise furrowing. The delicious flesh is pale orange and juicy. Crenshaws come from California July to October, with peak crops in August and September.
The crenshaw has three signs of ripening: a deep golden yellow rind; a surface that yields slightly to moderate pressure, especially at the blossom end; and a pleasant aroma.
The HONEY BALL melon is very similar to its cousin, the honey dew. The honey ball is much smaller, very round, and slightly and irregularly netted over the surface.
The HONEY DEW melon is highly prized as a dessert fruit. Large (4 to 8 pounds), the fruit is bluntly oval in shape and generally very smooth with only occasional signs of surface netting. Depending upon the stage of ripeness, the rind is firm and ranges in color from creamy white to creamy yellow. The stem must be cut for harvesting.
A soft, velvety texture indicates maturity (ready to be picked) while ripeness (ready to be eaten) is indicated by a slight softening at the blossom end, a faint pleasant fruit aroma, and a rind a yellowish-white to creamy color.
Closely resembling cantaloupes, PERSIAN melons are rounder, have finer netting, and are about the size of honey dews. The Persian melon’s flesh is thick, fine-textured, and orange in color. California supplies a fair number of these tasty melons in August and September.
Even though WATERMELONS can be found in groceries, to some degree, from early May to September, the peak harvest comes in June, July, and August. It is very difficult to judge the quality of a watermelon without cutting it in half or quartering it.
Look for a watermelon with firm, juicy flesh that is a good red color. The flesh should be free of white streaks and should have dark brown or black seeds. Small white immature seeds are normal for “seedless” watermelon. Avoid melons with pale-colored flesh, white streaks, and whitish seeds.
If you are brave enough to purchase an uncut watermelon, there are a few appearance factors that might be helpful (though not totally reliable). The melon surface should be relatively smooth; the rind should have a slight dullness (neither shiny nor dull); the ends of the watermelon should be filled out and rounded; and the “belly” of the watermelon should be a creamy color.
NECTARINES, combining characteristics of both the peach and the plum, are available from June to September, from California.
Look for plump, rich-colored fruit with a slight softening along its “seam”. Nectarines that are firm or moderately hard to the touch should ripen in 2 to 3 days at room temperature.
ORANGES are supplied year-round from California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona.
The Washington Navel and the Valencia, both with a rich orange skin color, are leading varieties from California and Arizona. Available from November through early May, the Navel orange has a thicker, more pebbled skin than the Valencia. It has the advantages of its skin being more easily removed by hand and that the segments come apart more easily. The Navel is best for eating as a whole fruit or in segments in salads. The Western Valencia, well suited for either juicing or for slicing in salads, is available from late April to October.
Early October until late June are the months to market orange crops from Florida and Texas. Parson Brown and Hamlin are early varieties. The important, high quality for eating Pineapple orange is harvested from late November to March. Late March to June give us Florida and Texas Valencias, while the Florida Temple orange is available from early December until early March. The Florida Temple is somewhat like the California Navel in easiness of peeling and separating into segments, along with excellent flavor.
Look for firm and heavy oranges with reasonably smooth, bright looking skin. Avoid light-weight oranges, which are likely to be dried out in its interior. These oranges tend to have very little juice. See juicers from top brand names
There are many varieties of PEACHES but it takes an expert to tell one variety from another. Available from May to November, peaches fall into two general types: freestone (flesh easily separates from the pit) and clingstone (flesh clings tightly to the pit). Freestones are generally consumed fresh or for freezing. Clingstones are used primarily for canning.
Look for peaches that are rather firm or becoming a bit soft. The skin color between the red areas should be yellow or creamy. Avoid fruit that has distinct green ground color or that is very soft.
California, Washington, and Oregon produce great quantities of PEARS. The Bartlett pear is the most popular variety for canning and for eating fresh. With use of cold storage, Bartletts are available from early August to November.
There are several other fall and winter varieties grown in Washington, Oregon, and California which are shipped to fresh fruit markets. Through the technology of cold storage, the varieties of Anjou, Bosc, Winter Nellis, and Comice are available from November to May.
Look for firm pears in all of the varieties. Pears will probably ripen at room temperature but it is a good idea to pick pears that have already begun to soften to get good ripening.
PINEAPPLES can be found at the grocery year around but are most plentiful from March to June. The come primarily from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Many pineapples are already fully colored when seen at the grocery but if necessary, a mature green pineapple should normally turn yellow to orange within a few days at room temperature.
Look for pineapples with bright color, a pleasant pineapple aroma, and a very slight separation of the eyes or pips (the fruitlets patterned in a spiral on the fruit core). When mature, pineapples are generally dark green, firm, plump, and heavy for their size. When fully colored, pineapples should be golden yellow, orange -yellow, or reddish brown. See our pineapple slicer for flawless spiral of fresh, juicy pineapple.
PLUMS and PRUNES have very similar quality characteristics and buying tips. California produces a number of plum varieties from June to September. Only a few varieties of prunes are marketed. Prunes are purplish-black or bluish-black. The flesh is moderately firm and separates easily from the pit. Most commercial prunes are harvested in the Northwestern states and are available from August to October.
Look for plums and prunes with good color and are fairly firm to slightly soft.
BLACKBERRIES, RASPBERRIES, DEWBERRIES, LOGANBERRIES, and YOUNGBERRIES may differ from one another in shape or color but they closely share quality factors. Look for a bright, clean appearance and uniform good color. The berries should be plump and tender. Avoid leaky and moldy berries.
The first shipments of STRAWBERRIES come from southern Florida, with crops increasing monthly. The best strawberry harvest is in May and June but lasts until the fall.
Look for strawberries with shiny red color, firm flesh, and the cap stem still attached. Small to medium berries have the best taste. Try to avoid berries with large uncolored areas or with large seedy areas.
TANGERINES come primarily from Florida but California, Arizona, and Texas provide large crops. Available from late November to early March, tangerines peak in December and January.
Look for deep yellow or orange color with a bright luster. Tangerines will frequently not feel firm to the touch due to the typically loose nature of tangerine peel. Avoid tangerines with very soft spots, a sign of decay.
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