After enjoying the season’s first corn on the cob for supper, I had to go to get more. The variety of produce available now is at its best price and quality.
Trying to meet the recommended intake of 2½ to 3 cups a day results in counters and refrigerators overflowing with a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. But what about when the item selected for tonight’s dinner isn’t ripe – or worse, is bruised or brown inside.
Here are some guidelines to help you pick the best quality options for key produce items. Note that at no time in your selection should you be squeezing the fruit with your fingers – that just bruises it. Instead gently cup the item in your palm to feel a slight give.
Asparagus – Firm, smooth and brightly-colored stalks with compact tips. Choose stalks of equal thickness to ensure even cooking times. Avoid limp or shriveled stalks. Avocado – Avocados only ripen after being picked, resulting in significant variation. Ripe ones will be firm and give to slight palm pressure. If the stem area is black, the fruit is very ripe, possibly over ripe. If the stem pops off easily and green, that’s my choice. If the stem doesn’t pop off easily, the fruit is probably under-ripe. They will ripen while sitting in the fruit bowl with bananas or tomatoes. String Beans – An even, rich dark color (without blemish or discoloration). They should snap rather than bend and show moisture inside. Avoid bulging or dried pods.Beets – Choose firm beets with fresh stems and slender taproots. Avoid beets with wilted leaves, scaly tops or large, hairy taproots; they will be older and woody.Broccoli – Choose firm stalks, tight florets and crisp green leaves. Avoid yellowed or flowering florets.Cabbage – Choose firm, compact heads that feel heavy for their size. Check that the stems are compact.Cantaloupe – Look for the melons that are heavier and evenly shaped with no cuts or bruises. A small yellow spot on the side says it was in the field long enough to sun ripen. The netting on the outside should be even with the underpart being beige or slightly green. The final check is the smell at the stem area. It should smell sweet and musky. Cherries – Glossy, dark colored fruit should be on the stems, indicating higher sugar and moisture content. Corn – Whether white or yellow, look for bright green husks that are slightly damp, yellow to light brown silks and tight rows of small kernels. The cut at the stem end should be clean and moist rather than turning brown.Mangos – Mangos can be tough since color is not an indicator. If it gives slightly when palm squeezed and gives a fruity aroma at the stem, it’s ripe. Peaches, apricots and nectarines – The color can vary from creamy yellow to red so look at the stem area for creamy yellow. Green indicates it’s not ripe. The part that was in direct contact with the sun becomes red, and the part facing away — the ground color — becomes yellow. The ripe ones will be firm but give to slight palm pressure. Soft spots or bruises are found on abused or overripe fruits. If you want to ripen fruit, go for the light green stem area and put fruit in paper bags with another fruit such as a banana. Close the top and leave on kitchen counter. The gases given off by the banana will finish ripening your peaches and nectarines. Peppers and eggplant – The stem and cap should be bright green. If it’s starting to turn yellow or brown, it’s past its prime. The skin should be rich in color with high gloss and free of scars or blemishes. Watermelon – A yellow patch on one side indicates that the melon sat in the field long enough to ripen in the sun; otherwise it will be smooth and rich green. When you find the one, pull it from the bin and thump it with your middle knuckle or gently slap it. email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.