Fruit: Selecting and handling early summer fruit

Stone FruitsFreshly picked apricots are the first “stone” fruit of summer. Shortly after they appear on the market, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and then plums arrive. Prompted by the warmth of the early summer sun each ripens in its own time. Fruits have different ripening agendas, some stop ripening when they are picked, some ripen in color, softness, and juiciness but not sweetness, and the avocado alone doesn’t start ripening until after it has been picked. Most “stone” fruit will get softer, more colorful, and juicier but not sweeter after harvesting as long as they haven’t been picked too green.

Selecting is the first important step toward a great early summer fruit experience. Select fruit that is firm but not baseball hard and has no sign of green. Check the stem end for green as that area gets the least sun and is the last to ripen. These days everyone knows that fruit release ethylene gas as they ripen. However, the initial release of ethylene is timed by a gene and if the fruit has been picked too early, that process will never happen. On the other end of the ripening cycle avoid fruit that is brownish, wrinkled, has flattened spots, or is bruised.

“Stone” fruit is best kept unwashed until you are ready to use it. Cherries should go in the fridge immediately after purchase. Apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums can be kept at room temperature until they are ready to use. Check them frequently and use or refrigerate  (for use within 24 to 36 hours) when they are aromatic and give slightly when gently pressed.

If you would like to speed up the ripening process, do catch some of the ethylene the fruit produces. Remove any stems and put the fruit in a paper bag or wrap in a linen towel and set in a warm place in the kitchen. (Don’t use plastic as that traps moisture and can cause spoilage.) For faster ripening, add an apple or banana, or, if you are going to peel them for use anyway, cut a 1-inch slit in the skin to encourage greater ethylene production.

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