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WHAT’S BLOOMIN’

Gardening column: Use your senses to find ripe produce

Friday, October 26, 2012 - 12:01 am

When standing at the produce counters of your local market, have you wondered how to tell whether fruits and vegetables are ripe? Maybe you are shopping ahead for a special occasion and want to purchase produce that is still slightly (green) unripe so it will be at its peak when you serve it.

Growers outside our area always pick early so that their product will have time to reach the retailers and still be fresh and ready to sell. There is a fine line to that as well, and if fruits or vegetables are picked too early, they will never ripen properly.

I have purchased green bananas that would not ripen — even after the skin turned yellow the banana inside was hard and tasteless.

I'm sure many experienced shoppers have learned to recognize ripe and unripe. But with all the new items being grown and brought to our stores, there are times when I would like to try something new and a little exotic but, because of the price and the fact that I can't tell if it is ripe, I pass for the old standbys.

Here are a few tips that should help you, and me, purchase any ripe fruit and/or vegetable no matter where it is from:

•Any fruit or vegetable that has a bruise is overripe, and under the bruise there may be a large bad spot you'll have to cut away — so pass for one that has no breaks in the skin and no bruising.

•If any fruit or vegetable looks worn, wrinkled, dimpled, moldy or feels soft and may even have spots that look slimy (peppers and cucumbers for instance), do not think that underneath it may still be good — even if it has been added to the “marked down” section.

•Fruits and vegetables should look healthy and have unmarred skin, and many should feel firm with a little bit of give when you give them a gentle squeeze.

•Certain fruits and vegetables should

not have any give when gently squeezed. Some of these are cucumbers, squash, asparagus, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, potatoes of all types and other root vegetables. If potatoes or onions are sprouting, they are overripe.

•Unripe produce will always feel very hard and have no give when squeezed gently, and often the skin will not have the color you want to see, such as with tomatoes, peaches and nectarines.

•Smell the fruit: Ripe fruit will have the right fragrance, just as overripe fruit will smell spoiled.

•When picking a melon, smell the opposite end from the stem. A ripe melon will have the fragrance of that particular fruit. An old-fashioned way was to press on the stem end of the melon and if it gave a little, it was ready to eat.

•Bananas should always be purchased when they are a light golden color with a slight bit of green around the edges and feel firm with a little give when touched. If they are turning black and feel soft, they are overripe. If they are very green and feel hard, they may or may not ripen and have the sweetness you want from a banana.

•If any pieces of the fruit in a container of berries or in bagged fruit and vegetables have spots or mold on them, do not buy. The old saying “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel” is very true of fresh produce, whatever kind it is.

Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@frontier.com. You also can read her What’s Bloomin’ blog at www.news-sentinel.com. This column is the writer’s opinion.