An online newsletter about food, nutrition & food safety for consumers
Summer Fruits & Veggies: Q & A
Henneman, MS, RD, Extension Educator
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 lancaster.unl.edu/food/spiceherb.htm#fresh
6. Should Fruits and Vegetables Be Washed before They're Put Away?
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." <www.floridatomatoes.org/handling.htm>
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 <www.avocado.org> offers this simple, three-step process for peeling/pitting an avocado:
For more information on using avocados and a simple guacamole recipe, go to lancaster.unl.edu/food/ciq-avocado.htm
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 <www.5aday.gov/recipe-mango_and_melon_salad.shtml>:
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
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