When I was working on a farm up in Northern California it was the first time I had the opportunity to pick fruit right off the tree and eat it straight away. I remember how cool I thought this was. And how crazy it was that I had waited 23 years to taste a fruit truly at the peak of its ripeness. I guess this happens when you’re from Chicago. But when I tasted that fruit (it was a fresh fig) it changed everything. I knew that I wanted to spend my life in a place where I was closer to my food, both knowing where it was from and also being able to consume the fruits closer to the time they were picked. (Hello California!) Not only does fruit taste better this way, but the health benefits supposedly diminish as soon as the fruit is plucked.
Farmers markets are special because unlike super markets, we get to enjoy fruits picked very close to the peak of ripeness. Sometimes the farmers even harvest that very morning and conveniently bring the fruits right to our hands. We are so lucky. And as I’ve expressed over and over, we are lucky we live in San Diego where we can have locally and freshly harvested fruit all year round.
Biting into a perfectly ripened nectarine, for example, is an incredibly delicious experience. But this brings up the question: What is “perfectly ripe?” Some prefer a bit more crunch while some prefer a mushier, juicier nectarine. So what are the general rules? I scoured the web, and here’s what I found:
Color: Not all fruits change colors when they ripen, but fruits like bananas, tomatoes, and berries do. It’s a chemical change that occurs when the fruits ripen. For these fruits, the deeper the color away from green, the riper. HOWEVER, with all of the heirloom tomato varieties, it’s sometimes best to rely on feel…
Smell: Fruits like melons and pineapple take on a full, fruity smell when they ripen. If you smell the blossom end of the fruit, which is at the end opposite the stem, and it smells like the fruit itself, it’s probably good to go. Also beware: If you smell any fermentation, like maybe on strawberries, then perhaps the fruit is past its best days.
Feel: We all know this one. Squeeze your fruits lightly to test if it’s ripe. The softer the riper. This works only for fruits such as stone fruits, tomatoes, avocados, pears, and kiwis. Apples, for instance, don’t really become softer if they’re riper. Of course, this is where our own personal preferences come in. Some prefer a softer fruit, and some a harder. For me, a slight give is perfect.
On the other hand, eggplants should feel tight and elastic, and never soft. Softness means they’re not yet ready.
A random tip: I heard that bananas being stored near avocados speeds up the avocado’s ripening. Worth a try!
Weight: Not so much only to do with ripeness, but to do with having a good piece of fruit is if the fruit is heavy for its size. For instance, if a large orange feels light, it probably isn’t too juicy. And who wants that? A heavy fruit is always a better bet than a lighter one.
Sound: Watermelon and pumpkin, or other winter squash should sound hollow when you hit them lightly. I thought this tip was really interesting and surprising!
Blemishes: I found quite a few sites that said that one should look for fruit that is free of blemishes. I don’t really agree here. There are so many “imperfect” looking fruits at the market, and sometimes they’re the best! It’s easy to cut around a tiny blemish and not waste much of the fruit. Plus, there are often deals on these types of fruits.
It should also be noted that when fruits go past their optimal ripeness, they may not be best for eating as a snack. BUT, they might be perfect for jams or pies. A fruit, in my mind, should rarely be tossed out! There is usually a good use for it, which maybe compost, if nothing else. Hey, it’s better than the trash!
Hope this helps… Enjoy your summer fruit while it lasts!