As the summer progresses, a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables become more readily available in stores as well as farmer’s markets. When searching for fresh fruits or vegetables, the best guide to picking them is your nose. As a rule of thumb, if it smells like the fruit or vegetable, it is ripe, if it doesn’t, don’t buy it. Another good indicator for ripeness is touch and color. Most fruits and vegetables should be slightly soft to the touch, not hard as a rock, and generally the brighter the color, the riper.
For example, when picking a cantaloupe, choose one that is slightly soft at the point where the stem connected to the fruit. Then smell it. It should smell sweet and like a cantaloupe. For tomatoes, the tomato should be fragrant, darker red and there should be a slight pliability to the skin, unless of course you are looking at a green zebra, orange or yellow tomato, in which case, you’ll have to go by feel to see if they are ripe. Avocadoes are always a perplexing fruit to pick. Again, the avocado should be dark green, almost black, and slightly soft to the touch, but not mushy. For herbs, make sure the leaves are still dark green and not turning black.
Taking the extra time to make sure your fruits and vegetables are ripe when you buy them is worth doing. Ripe fruits and vegetables not only taste better, but are generally higher in vitamins and nutrients. Often unripe fruits and vegetables will never ripen properly once they are brought home, thereby ruining their flavor and nutritional value.
The best way to ensure you are getting the highest quality fruits and vegetables while they are in season is to buy from local farmers. Many of them participate in local farmer’s markets while others also offer CSA’s or community supported agriculture programs. These programs rely on individuals purchasing a share of a farmer’s crop. Generally you pay half the share at the beginning of the season and half at the end. Every week you will receive a box of the freshest produce that is available within that season. And the price is generally as reasonable or more so than purchasing produce at a standard grocery store. It is a great way not only to support your local economy, but to get the best possible product around.
One more note about organics. Organic produce is fantastic and if available you should always try to buy organic despite the increased cost. However, many purveyors of “organic” foods are not entirely clear on what is truly organic. Organic foods must be produced without the use of pesticides, no genetic modification, no fertilizers, no growth hormones and no ionizing radiation. Very few farms can actually qualify completely for organic certification because even those farms that do not use pesticides may be located near other farms that do in which case the pesticides may contaminate the soil in which the produce is grown. Unless a product in a store is labeled “certified organic” it is not organic and should not be purchased.
Buying good quality seasonal produce isn’t brain science. It is simply a matter of committing to careful shopping habits. Shopping isn’t everyone’s favorite hobby and in fact may be more drudgery for most people than entertainment. What we should all remember, however, is that there is no more important activity that we can do to increase our health and life expectancy then to eat healthy. But eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless and one of the key ingredients to healthy and tasty eating is buying ripe, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Why not take advantage of locally available produce and enjoy the bounty of what our earth produces. Take pride in the foods you purchase for your family. They will thank you for providing them with foods that are not only delicious but healthy for them.