Often times picking produce is really a simple matter of common sense. If you choose a bunch of broccoli you can generally follow your aesthetic sense and make a good choice. Same goes for green beans.
Things can get more tricky when it come to choosing melons, and it is down right counter-intuitive when it comes to picking stone fruits.
To complicate things further in the stone fruit category, the farmer I buy most of my summer fruit from has 173 varieties of stone fruit! And as if it is not hard enough to pick between peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots he also has many of the “cross breeds” and of the cross breeds there are of course sub-categories of named varieties.
So that means fruit with crazy names like pluot, plucot and apriums are just broad categories for fruit with names like Flavorella and Flavorosa!
Many of these sub-sub-categories are also only available one or two weeks a year! So once you find one you like the next time the Farmers Market rolls around the choices have changed.
Choosing fruit this way could be down right intimidating, if it weren’t so much damn fun. Fortunately most of the vendors at my Farmers Market offer samples. Which can help you decide between a pluot and a plucot. The extra letter “C” seems to denote how much apricot is in a particular plum/apricot cross-breed. Meaning a pluot has less influence from the apricot than does it’s closely related friend plucot!
I myself did a lot of tasting this week and choose Flavorella pluots and Flavorosa apriums. The darker, more plum-like fruit pictured here are the Flavorellas and the rose-blushed apricot colored fruit is the Flavorosa. or is it the other way around?
Are you still with me? Because really all this is just pretext for what I really want to discuss. And that is: how in the heck do you pick a decent piece of fruit?
Part of the reason picking stone fruits is so difficult is because when they land in the bin at your Farmers Market they are what you should call mature. Which is not quite the same thing as ripe. If you were to wait to pick stone fruit once they were ripe you would not need a ladder. Because they would be on the ground. These fruits fall off the tree the moment they become ripe.
So stone fruits are picked when they are mature. You choose and buy them when they are mature, but not ripe. They have yet to go through the process of ripening. You take care of that at home.
Fruit that has been properly matured on the tree has all the components it needs to ripen into a lovely piece of fruit. Its sugars have developed but have not yet bloomed. So relying on a sweet aroma is not particularly relevant in choosing stone fruit.
So if you were trying to pick a good nectarine and you were faced with a rather firm specimen with out the heady aroma of a fully ripe piece of fruit, it’s easy for your head to think that this nectarine is not a good choice.
But it is quite possible you could take this nectarine home and it would ripen into a piece of perfection. And if this nectarine had been properly matured on the tree it is very likely that it has all it needs to ripen into that perfect piece of fruit you expect and deserve.
This is why grocery store stone fruits can be so hit and miss. Too many times they are picked before they mature, the sugars have not developed and they never properly ripen. The other sin of grocery store stone fruit is refrigerated trucks. Chilling is what causes stone fruit to become dry and mealy. You know that cottony texture that makes you want to spit the fruit out of your mouth. This is also the reason I will implore you not to store these fruits in the refrigerator until they are completely ripe (I said ripe not mature). It is fine to keep ripe peaches etc in the refrigerator. Mature peaches need to ripened on the countertop.
So how do you first choose fruit that has properly matured, and then get it home to ripen into the stuff of dreams?
Well the ripening is easy so I’ll start there.
Once you have the fruit home simply leave it someplace out of the way (so you are not tempted to eat it early) at room temperature. You’ll know it’s ripe when it starts to give a little to thumb pressure at the rim around the stem. Also fragrance is a good indicator. Ripe fruit is aromatic fruit. How long it will take is hard to say. It could be a day; it could be 3 or 4.
But choosing fruit that has been allowed to mature on the tree and develop its sugar content, is the first important step in getting fruit that will ripen into sweet and tasty mind-boggling beauties.
Which means this choice of yours is all about recognizing fruits with properly matured sugar content.
So how do you tell if the potential for great sugar content is there before it has even bloomed to the point to where you can recognize it through taste or smell?
Well, this is where the counter-intuitive part of the equation comes in. Fruit with fully developed sugar content is generally less attractive than the fruit picked too early. Weird, I know…
With smooth-skinned fruits like nectarines and plums high sugar content can be seen as splotches or freckles with brown crazing or crackling. These may also appear dull and matte rather than bright and shiny. Take a look at these photos. You can clearly see the freckles and splotches I am referring to on my pluots. Ironically these are the fruits that often get passed over for their perfectly glossy, clean-skinned brethren.
Peaches and other rosy colored fruit are a bit easier to choose because color can usually be a good indicator. Those that lean more to orange than gold tend to be sweeter. Notice the strong rosey orange tones that are evident in my apriums here.
But with all fruits, weight can tell you a lot. And this may be the easiest way to choose. If the fruit seems heavy for it’s size you can generally believe that it will be a good choice.
But knowing and understanding some of these other qualities sure can help a lot too. So go back and re-read this text. There won’t be a test per-se. But the next time you peer into the deep dark beauty of one of this summer’s Plums, Pluots, Plucots or Apriums– you’ll be glad you paid attention today.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD