Monday, July 14, 2008

Selecting Produce for Peak Freshness

While gardening can be very rewarding some of the same skills are needed whether you are purchasing from your local farmers market, harvesting from your garden or buying from the produce section of a grocery store. Selecting at peak maturity along with proper storage will help maintain the flavor and texture of fruits and vegetables.
Remember fruits and vegetables are easily bruised when not handled carefully. When harvesting, purchasing, or transporting treat produce as if it is glass to prevent damage to the flesh. The flesh under the skin may not show visible damage until cut and will shorten shelf life and lower the quality. Use all of your five senses when choosing produce. Avoid produce with visible damage that are limp, dull in color, wilted looking or brown on the edges or leaking juices. Look for even shaped smooth skin and general overall bright color. Smelling is a great way to help in selection of tree fruit such as plums, peaches and pears this can also be applied to cantaloupe, honeydew and lettuce by scratching near the stem end. Feel for bruises and soft spots, root vegetables should feel firm. Most ripe produce will be heavy for its size and give slightly when lightly squeezed in ones hand. In the case of watermelons listen for deep pitched tone when slapped with an open palm. Tasting for quality can be helpful when selecting, just remember what you may be tasting does not always determine if the item beside it is of the same quality whether on the vine or in the market.
Buying locally in season is great way to increase the chance of getting peak freshness and quality and at a good price. Contact your local Penn State Extension Office for farmers markets in your area.
The following is a general guide on seasonal availability.
Spring: Asparagus, lettuce, radishes, strawberries and spinach,
Summer: Apricots, Blueberries, cabbage, carrots, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, peppers, melons, peaches, plums, raspberries, red potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, and Zucchini
Fall: Apples, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, grapes, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, and red beets
In my next posting I will cover proper storage to get the most shelf life out of your produce it is the next important step in eating great tasting produce.

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