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of Food Reflections
July/August 2004
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Summer Fruits & Veggies: Q & A

Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator
University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension - Lancaster County

"The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture." ~ Thomas Jefferson

Whether you grow them or purchase them, fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of the summer scene. Salads, fresh fruit smoothies, and cold veggie soups are some of the flavors of summer. Health experts recommend eating five to nine servings a day of a palette of colorful fruits and vegetables.

The following 10 tips can help you enjoy fruits and vegetables at their most flavorful. Recipes at the end can add to the enjoyment, too!

1. Which Fruits Continue to Ripen After They're Picked?

Apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plantains and plums continue to ripen at room temperature after they're picked. To speed their ripening, put them in a loosely closed brown paper bag or ripening bowl at room temperature. (NOTE: Ripening bowls are sold at many stores that sell home kitchen supplies.) Plastic bags don't work for ripening. Once fully ripened, fruits may be stored in the refrigerator to lengthen their storage time.

Though the outside skin of a refrigerated banana will turn dark brown, the inside will remain light-colored.

Fruits that should be picked or bought ripe and ready-to-eat include: apples, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, pineapple, strawberries, tangerines and watermelon.

2. How Can I Keep Cut Fruit from Turning Brown?

Keep cut fruits, such as apples, pears, bananas and peaches, from turning brown by coating them with an acidic juice such as lemon, orange or pineapple juice. Or use a commercial anti-darkening preparation, frequently called a "fruit protector" such as Ever-Fresh (TM) or Fruit-Fresh (R). Follow the manufacturer's directions.

Cut fruits as close to serving time as possible. Cover and refrigerate cut fruit until ready to serve. Avoid leaving cut fruit at room temperature for more than two hours.

3. Can I Freeze Bell and Sweet Peppers Raw?

If you've picked a peck of peppers and have too many to eat, try freezing them.

Peppers are one of those foods that can be quickly frozen raw without blanching them first. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), hosted by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, offers these guidelines on freezing bell and sweet peppers raw:

Select crisp, tender, green or bright red pods. Wash, cut out stems, cut in half and remove seeds. If desired, cut into 1/2-inch strips or rings. Good for use in uncooked foods because they have a crisper texture, or in cooked foods. Package raw, leaving no headspace. Seal and freeze. <>

NOTE: To make it easier to remove only the amount of frozen bell or sweet peppers needed at one time, freeze sliced or diced peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet with sides. Transfer to a "freezer" bag when frozen, excluding as much air as possible from the bag.

Storage Time for Fruits and Vegetables

To extend the time frozen foods maintain good quality, package foods in material intended for freezing and keep the temperature of the freezer at 0 F or below. It is generally recommended frozen vegetables and fruits be eaten within eight months for best quality.

4. Can Tomatoes Be Frozen Raw?

Like peppers, tomatoes can be frozen raw. Frozen tomatoes are best used in cooked foods such as soups, sauces and stews as they become mushy when they're thawed.

NCHFP offers these guidelines for freezing tomatoes:

Select firm, ripe tomatoes with deep red color. Wash and dip in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen skins. Core and peel. Freeze whole or in pieces. Pack into containers, leaving l-inch headspace. Seal and freeze. Use only for cooking or seasoning as tomatoes will not be solid when thawed. <>

TIP: Dip just a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water or the water temperature may be lowered too much to remove the skins without overheating the tomatoes. Place hot tomatoes in a colander and rinse under cold water to make them easier to handle. A knife with a serrated edge works best for cutting tomatoes.

For More information on Freezing Fruits and Vegetables ...

Visit the NCHFP's Web site for guidelines on freezing additional fruits and vegetables at

5. How Do I Substitute Fresh Herbs for Dried Ones?

A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use three times as much as you would use of a dried herb. When substituting, you'll often be more successful substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs, rather than the other way around. For example, think potato salad with fresh vs. dried parsley!

Store fresh herbs in an open or a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you don't have access to commercial perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.

To extend the freshness of herbs, snip off the ends of the stems on the diagonal. Place herbs in a tall glass with an inch of water, like cut flowers. Cover them loosely with a plastic bag to allow for air circulation. Place them in the refrigerator and change the water daily. Herbs may last a week or more stored this way. NOTE: The flavor of herbs may diminish the longer they're stored.

Unlike dried herbs, fresh herbs are usually added toward the end in cooked dishes to preserve their flavor. Add the more delicate herbs -- basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, marjoram and mint -- a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it's served.

The less delicate herbs, such as dill seeds, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking. Obviously, for some foods, such as breads, batters, etc., you'll need to add herbs at the beginning of the cooking process.

Fresh herbs can be added to refrigerated cold foods several hours before serving. Allowing time (at least a couple of hours, if possible) for cold foods with herbs to chill helps the flavors blend.

For more information on cooking with fresh herbs, visit

6. Should Fruits and Vegetables Be Washed before They're Put Away?

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that we wash our fresh fruits and vegetables when ready to eat them rather than when they're first purchased or picked. Here are some FDA guidelines for safely handling fruits and vegetables:

  • Thoroughly rinse raw fruits and vegetables under running water before eating them. Don't use soap, detergents, or bleach solutions.

  • If necessary -- scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush to remove surface dirt.

  • Try to cut away damaged or bruised areas -- bacteria can thrive in these places.

  • Any bacteria on the outside of fruits can be transferred to the inside when the fruit is peeled or cut. To prevent this, thoroughly rinse fruits that require peeling or cutting - such as cantaloupe and other melons -- under running water before eating them.

  • If buying fresh, cut produce, be sure it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice. After purchase, put produce that needs refrigeration away promptly. (Fresh, whole produce such as bananas and potatoes do not need refrigeration.) Fresh produce should be refrigerated within two hours of peeling or cutting. Leftover cut produce should be discarded if left at room temperature for more than two hours.

  • For more information:

7. What Is the Best Place to Store Tomatoes: The Kitchen Counter or the Refrigerator?

Don't give tomatoes the cold shoulder. Store them at room temperature (above 55 F) until they have fully ripened. This will allow them to ripen properly and develop good flavor and aroma. A ripe tomato is red or reddish orange, depending on variety, and yields to slight pressure.

The Florida Tomato Committee recommends storing tomatoes with their stem end up. According to the Tomato Committee, "The shoulders are the softest part of the tomato; leaving them stem-side down will almost always result in bruising of the product." <>

"Try to store tomatoes out of direct sunlight, because sunlight will cause them to ripen unevenly," advises the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 5 A Day program. "If you must store tomatoes for a longer period of time, place them (after they're fully ripened) in the refrigerator. Serve them at room temperature."

8. How Do You Peel and Pit an Avocado?

The California Avocado Commission <> offers this simple, three-step process for peeling/pitting an avocado:

  1. Start with a ripe avocado and cut it lengthwise around the seed. Rotate the halves to separate.

  2. Remove the seed by sliding the tip of a spoon gently underneath it and lifting it out. The other common seed-extraction method -- striking the seed with a knife -- is dangerous and not recommended.

  3. Peel the fruit by placing the cut side down and removing the skin with a knife or your fingers, starting at the small end. Or simply scoop out the avocado meat with a spoon. Be sure to sprinkle all cut surfaces with lemon or lime juice or white vinegar to prevent discoloration.

For more information on using avocados and a simple guacamole recipe, go to

9. What is the Easiest Way to Peel and Slice a Mango?

If you find yourself trying to tango with a mango, try this method, adapted from information provided by the National Cancer Institute 5 A Day Program <>:


1. Wash the mango. Cut the mango in half lengthwise by slicing off each fleshy cheek of the mango vertically along the FLAT side of the center seed.

cutting mango

2. Hold one mango half peel side down and score the fruit down to the peel (but not through it) in a tic-tac-toe fashion.

3. Hold the scored portion with both hands and bend the peel backward so that the diamond cut cubes are exposed

scoring mango

Cut cubes off peel, then remove any remaining fruit clinging to the seed.
cutting a mango

10. Where Can I Find More Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Information and Healthy Recipes on the Internet?

Visit these Web sites that represent government, non-profit and trade organizations that promote the 5 A Day program to encourage daily consumption of five or more fruits and vegetables:

Recipes Using Fresh Produce

    Makes 6 servings

    gazpacho6 large tomatoes
    1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
    1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
    1 medium-sized red onion, minced
    3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Juice of 1/2 lemon
    2 to 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (to taste)
    2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped or 2 teaspoons dried basil
    Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
    Tabasco sauce to taste

    To peel the tomatoes, submerge them in boiling water for 15 seconds. Place in a colander and rinse under cold water. The skins should slip right off. Core the tomatoes and gently squeeze out the seeds. Chop half of the tomatoes coarsely and puree the other half in a food processor. Combine the puree and chopped tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Blend the remaining ingredients with the tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving. Serve chilled; garnish with herbed croutons if desired.

    NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS PER SERVING: Calories, 99; Fat, 5 g; Cholesterol, 0 mg, Fiber, 3 g; Sodium, 20 mg.

    SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Chronic Disease Control and Health Promotion

    COOK'S TIP: Dip just a few tomatoes at a time into the boiling water or the water temperature may be lowered too much to remove the skins without overheating the tomatoes.


    Makes 12 servings

    fruit cup1 large mango, peeled & diced
    2 cups fresh blueberries
    2 nectarines, unpeeled & sliced
    2 cups fresh strawberries, halved
    2 cups seedless grapes
    2 bananas, sliced
    1 kiwifruit, peeled & diced


    1/3 cup unsweetened orange juice
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1-1/2 tablespoons honey
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    Dash of nutmeg

    1. Prepare the fruit.

    2. Combine all ingredients for sauce and mix.

    3. Just before serving, pour Honey Orange Sauce over fruit.

    NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS PER SERVING: Calories, 97; Fat, 1 g; Fiber, 2 g; Cholesterol, 0 mg; Sodium, 2 g; percent calories from fat, 6%.

    SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Chronic Disease Control and Health Promotion -- Recipe provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. <


    Serves 1

    Using frozen fruits helps thicken the smoothie. To freeze fresh berries, wash them thoroughly under running tap water, pat dry with clean paper towels and freeze in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Transfer to a freezer bag when frozen. Pour out as needed.

    • 1 cup unsweetened, frozen raspberries
    • 3/4 cup 100% orange juice (if you use frozen juice,
      don't forget to dilute first)
    • 1/2 cup fruit-flavored, low-fat yogurt (try peach)

    DIRECTIONS: Blend all ingredients well in blender, and drink!

    • Frozen strawberries, blueberries, mixed berries, mango, or peaches
    • Pineapple juice, orange-tangerine juice, and other 100 percent juice blends
    • Different yogurt flavors

    NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS PER SERVING: Calories, 204; Protein, 8 g; Fat, 1 g; Calories from Fat, 3%; Carbohydrate, 42 g; Cholesterol, 5 mg; Fiber, 6 g.

    SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Chronic Disease Control and Health Promotion

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Food Reflections is a FREE monthly e-mail newsletter from the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension and also is archived at It provides a "how-to" message on food, nutrition, or food safety for health professionals, educators, and consumers.

  • Author: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator.

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