Sniff, thump or squeeze your way to ripe fruit
Here’s the low-down on methods and secrets to picking perfect produce.
Artichokes. These majestic orbs have a mysterious quality to the uninitiated. The key to finding one with a soft and flavorful heart is the tightness of the leaves. The overall look of the vegetable should be rounded, not spiked. (A hint about cooking — they are done as soon as a leaf can be easily pulled from the heart.)
Berries. Avoid berries that are stuck together. Like the presence of mold, this is a sure sign that they’re not still fresh. Similarly, stay away from raspberries with black edges and strawberries dotted with blemishes.
Cantaloupe. Use your nose for this one. Take a sniff at either end of the melon, and if there’s a fragrant aroma, it’s ready to be eaten. Check to be sure the stem end has a smooth indentation.
Cherries. My mother taught me at a young age how to sift through the box of cherries to find the juiciest and sweetest among them. I was often left with the assignment of painstakingly picking each one while she finished shopping. Dark and firm ones, she told me, were the juiciest and firmest. These days grocers pre-bag cherries, not giving consumers an opportunity to handpick.
Peaches, nectarines and plums. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, look for stone fruits that are not too hard and not too soft. Too hard and they may not ripen, too soft and they tend to be mushy or overdone. If you can find even a hint of softness, they’ll undoubtedly ripen to perfection after a couple of days in a paper sack or on the windowsill.
Peppers—Like a baby’s bottom, peppers should be firm and smooth, with no wrinkles. Whether spicy or not, the most flavorful of peppers have the deepest color.
Tomatoes. It’s tempting to gravitate towards the prettiest tomatoes in the box, but beauty may only be skin deep –the tastiest tomatoes are typically misshapen and imperfect. They should be fully colored when picked—that’s when they have the ambrosia quality that we all crave.
Watermelon. Thump it with the palm of your hand to determine whether it sounds hollow. Also, check to see if there’s a yellow spot where the melon sat on the ground in the garden. If not, it was picked too early and may not be sweet and juicy.
Previously published in the Independent magazine.