Here in North Carolina the state’s 50,000+ farmers produce over 80 different kinds of commodities. This includes over 50 different types of produce, making NC one of the most diverse agricultural states in the country! (You can’t beat our fresh fruit and vegetables, IMHO!)
To see what fruits and veggies are in season, and find the freshest produce in your area, check out your state’s department of agriculture website. This information is good to know not only because in season produce is less expensive, it is also much more flavorful.
I always know my produce is fresh because I get it through The Produce Box!
The Produce Box is a fantastic service in North Carolina that provides boxes of fresh produce, meats, dairy, and bakery items directly from local farmers and other small business owners. Each week there is a different selection, depending on what’s available and in season, and unlike a CSA, you choose exactly what, and how much you want to purchase. It’s like a farmer’s market brought right to your door. (Want to become a member? Check it out here! Use my referral link and we will both receive a $10 credit!)
It’s easy to pick fresh produce, as long as you know what to look for. These helpful tips will make choosing the perfect fruit as simple as can be! And after going through all that trouble to pick the perfect fruit, make sure you are storing it properly to savor the flavor as long as possible.
How to Pick and Store the
Freshest Summer Fruit
When choosing berries look carefully to make sure they are ripe. Ripe berries will be firm, plump, free of mold, and bright in color. Dull or wrinkled skin can be a sign that the berries are not fresh.
Check the bottom of the container to make sure there isn’t leakage from damaged berries that may be hidden. If you find any moldy or mushy berries remove them so the mold won’t spread to other berries.
One of the most widely-recommended ways of keeping berries mold-free is to leave them unwashed until right before you are ready to use them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always insure mold-free berries, because you have no idea how long the berries were sitting around before you picked them up.
When you rinse berries in a bath of vinegar and water, you can extend their shelf-life by several days. The vinegar will eliminate any mold and bacteria from the berries.
In a large bowl, mix 1 cup vinegar and 3 cups water and wash your berries. Dry them as thoroughly as possible.
Use your salad spinner–lined with a few layers of paper towels or napkins to protect the berries–to wick the water from your berries. Spin about 15 seconds, or until they are completely dry.
Place a single layer of berries in a paper towel-lined, sealable container and leave the lid partially open as to avoid trapping moisture. Crowding them on top of one another can crush the berries.
No vinegar? A 30-second dip in hot water (between 120 and 140°F) will also destroy bacteria and mold spores.
Dry and store in the same way as above.
Berries freeze well, and will last about 10 to 12 months if properly stored. (Don’t want to freeze your berries? Check out this amazing Triple Berry Cheesecake dessert!)
You can tell cherries are fresh by looking at the stems. Pick cherries with intact green stems. While cherries without stems may still be fresh and sweet, the hole where the stem was can allow the cherries to rot more quickly.
Cherries are highly perishable and do not ripen after being picked.
Avoid cherries that are too soft. The fruit should feel firm and look shiny, the skin should not be wrinkly or bruised.
Keep cherries out of the sun. Cherries lose more quality in one hour at room temperature than a whole day in the refrigerator.
To keep cherries fresh, place them into the refrigerator as soon as possible. Store in a plastic bag to keep them from absorbing flavors from other items in your fridge.
Cherries will keep for 3-5 days and up to two weeks in the fridge. Keep them dry while storing as moisture makes them spoil faster.
Do not wash cherries until you are ready to consume them.
Sweet red cherries should be a deep, dark red color. They should be firm. Wrinkling near the stem means the cherries have sat around. While they may still be sweet, they are most-likely not very fresh.
Rainier Cherries have a yellow and reddish skin and are extra sweet. They are larger and less firm than sweet red cherries. Brown flecks, or red or pink blush indicates sun exposure, which leads to sugar accumulation.
Cherries freeze well. They last about 10 to 12 months if properly stored.
Cantaloupe and Honeydew
Melons are water-rich fruits and should feel heavy for their size.
Choose a melon with a dull looking appearance and free of bruises, soft spots, cracks and moldy patches. A shiny outside is an indicator of an under ripe melon.
For cantaloupe the rind underneath the net-like texture should be golden or orange in color. Avoid melons with a greenish or white color.
Honeydews should be pale yellow to light lemon in color, not overly green.
Store under-ripe melons in a perforated paper bag at room temperature. Adding an apple to the bag will help ripen the fruit over.
Whole melons should be left at room temperature until ripe.
A ripe melon will give slightly when pressed on the stem end, and will produce a delicate fragrance from the blossom end — once it does so, store in the refrigerator.Once ripe, place whole, uncovered melons, in the refrigerator. They will keep for about 5 days.
Keep ripe melons away from other fruit so that the ethylene gas (a naturally occurring gas) they produce does not speed up the ripening process.
To store melon halves, leave the seeds in to help keep it fresh, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. They will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
Cantaloupe and Honeydew freeze well. For best quality, eat or puree within nine to 12 months.
Pick a firm, symmetrical watermelon, free from bruises, dents, and cuts. The underside should have a creamy yellow spot where it sat on the ground to ripen in the sun (once picked watermelons will not get any riper).
Watermelons need to be stored in the refrigerator to keep their juicy flesh from drying out and becoming fibrous. Watermelon can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, depending on how long ago it was picked.
When storing a cut melon, wrap the cut side in plastic, and it should keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days. The plastic wrap prevents absorption of flavors from other foods in the refrigerator and will keep its flesh moist.
Have extra watermelon that will not keep any longer? Cut into cubes, place in an airtight container, and pop it in the freezer. When thawed the flesh will be mushy due to its high water content, but the frozen cubes are perfect for smoothies or fruit purees. For best quality, eat or puree frozen watermelon within nine to 12 months.
Peaches & Nectarines
Peaches and nectarines should be bought firm, and stored at room temperature. Unripe fruit will be very firm to the touch with little fragrance.
Ripe fruit will have a fragrant aroma and flesh that is slightly soft. Avoid fruit that has cuts, tan spots, or is rock-hard or mushy. Don’t worry so much about the color, it has more to do with variety than ripeness.
Until fully ripe, the best place to store the fruit is on the counter at room temperature until they reach your desired ripeness. Store unwashed and stem-side down, preferably in a single layer to avoid bruising.
For faster ripening, store in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter. Check after a day or two to keep from becoming overripe.
Only place in the refrigerator when ripe, as chilling will result in mealy and flavorless fruit.
Peaches and nectarines can be frozen. Use frozen fruit within 8 to 10 months.
Unlike other fruits, pears ripen from the inside out, so if the pear is soft on the outside the inside flesh may be overripe and mealy.
Ripe pears should be stored in a refrigerator.
Keep unripe pears at room temperature. You can place pears in a brown paper bag to speed up the ripening process. This traps ethylene which pears produce as they ripen. Bananas and avocados placed next to pears will also increase the ripening process.
To determine if a pear is ripe, check the neck of the pear daily. Apply gentle pressure to the stem end of the fruit. Once it gives slightly, it is ripe and ready to enjoy.
Pears freeze well. Use within eight to 10 months.
Do you have a favorite summer fruit?