As summer sets in, I'm getting excited about all the delicious fruits that are coming into season. There’s just one problem: they all seem to play by their own rules when it comes to how to best store them for freshness, knowing when they're ripe, and salvaging them once they’re past their prime. Regretfully, I’ve tossed out many a mushy avocado and tasteless peach because I somehow missed the window for eating them and/or didn’t store them properly.
How can one avoid this wastefulness and enjoy these summer fruits, even if that means repurposing them after they’ve “gone bad”? Lisa Samuels, registered dietitian and founder of The Happie House gave us the rundown on several star summer fruits.
- When they’re ripe: “You can tell mangoes are ripe by the color of their skin. When they are more on the green side, they are not yet ready to be eaten,” says Samuels. “A ripe mango will appear reddish/yellow in color. The softer the fruit, the riper it is. It also releases a sweet smelling fragrance from the stem-end.”
- How to store: “Harder, unripe mangoes can sit out on the counter at room temperature until ripened; don’t refrigerate them before they ripen,” says Samuels. “After they ripen, you can store mangoes in the fridge. The typical shelf life of a mango is about seven to 14 days, but may vary.”
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Make a puree. You can freeze that in ice cube trays and use for smoothies, or you can portion it out and save for things like mango cheesecake or a chilled mango daiquiri. You can also portion the puree into popsicle molds.”
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Ripe avocados typically have darker skin; however, the most common way to determine their ripeness is through texture,” says Samuels. “The avocado should yield to gentle pressure when squeezing it. Another way to determine if an avocado is ripe is to look at the stem end. If you go to move the stem and it doesn’t come off, the avocado is not yet ripe. If you move the stem and the flesh underneath is green, it’s good to go and will make a deliciously bright green guacamole, [but], if the stem flesh under the stem is brown, the avocado is overripe and will most likely contain brown spots on the flesh inside.”
- How to store: “When stored at room temperature on the countertop, avocados take about four to seven days to ripen. As soon as you notice the avocado [is ripe], you can put in the refrigerator. The best way to extend the shelf life of an avocado is to refrigerate in a plastic bag, which will extend the shelf life to about four to seven days. Without the bag, a ripe avocado will last in the fridge for three to five days.”
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Make a face mask [by combining] an avocado with an egg white and lemon juice. [Overripe avocados] also make a wonderful hair conditioning treatment when combined with olive oil and honey. You can also use it as a replacement for butter or mayo on toast, or use them in baking for brownies or as a base for chocolate mousse (they make baked goods creamy and moist and are a great way to add nutritional value to dessert!).”
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Watermelons have a thick rind, so it is often difficult to tell when they’re ripe,” notes Samuels. “The first way to tell is by looking at its ‘field spot.’ This is the spot that has had contact with the ground during the fruit’s growth, and is located on the belly, or the wider part of the watermelon. In an unripe watermelon, this spot is usually white; once the fruit ripens, it turns a yellowish color. Another way to find a ripe watermelon is to ‘knock’ on it. One that is ripe will have a hollow sound to it. It takes about two weeks for a watermelon to ripen, and has a shelf life of seven to 10 days uncut on the counter.”
- How to store: “Once you cut a watermelon, it’s best to store it in the fridge. It will stay for about three to five days in there,” says Samuels.
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- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “When a watermelon is a little past its prime you can puree it for popsicles, watermelon soup, watermelon juice for smoothies, punch, a cocktail or watermelon sorbet,” says Samuels. “You can even use the rind and pickle it for a delicious, healthy snack.”
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Peaches can be deceptive. Sometimes, even though they feel and smell ripe, when you bite into it there is a lack of flavor and an odd texture,” notes Samuels. “The first sign of a perfectly ripened peach is the color. They should be more of a deep gold color and not as red. Another way to tell if a peach is truly ripe is to look at the skin; if it is shriveled or wrinkled around the stem end of the peach, it is perfectly ripe and ready to eat. Also, contrary to other fruits, the texture of the peach will be soft to very soft when it’s ready to eat.”
- How to store: “Unripe peaches should be left on the counter at room temperature until they are ripe. Ripe peaches can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days, but they are best when eaten right away. If you store a ripe peach in the refrigerator for too long, it becomes dehydrated and that changes the texture of the flesh inside. If you can’t get to all your peaches at their peak ripeness, the best thing to do is freeze them.”
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Peel and slice and freeze on a baking sheet before transferring to a plastic bag (to avoid clumping). These frozen peach slices are very versatile and can be used in anything from smoothies to cobblers and pies."
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Ripe strawberries are totally red in color. They also emit a sweet smell.”
- How to store: “Strawberries can be stored in the refrigerator for three to seven days,” says Samuels. “It’s best not to wash them all at once, and only do so before you’re ready to eat. Washing them all at once will shorten their shelf life.”
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Aside from using them in baked goods such as pies, tarts and muffins, you can also use overripe strawberries to make jams and jellies, strawberry ice cream or sorbet, and strawberry butter (combine strawberries with softened butter in a blender)," says Samuels. "You can even dry the strawberries for a healthy version of a fruit snack (place in the oven at 225 for two to three hours, or place in a dehydrator).”
- How to know when they’re ripe: "Cherries can vary in color from deep red to yellow to pink; when the fullest [color] expression of the cherry is evident, they are ready to eat. Ripe cherries should also feel firm,” notes Samuels.
- How to store: Samuels recommends storing cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about one week.
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Overripe cherries can be used to make pies, jams or cherry juice," Samuels suggests. "You can also use them as a sauce for cheesecake, or create jams and jellies.”
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Blueberries do not ripen after harvest, so they must be ripe when purchased,” notes Samuels. “Ripe blueberries are all blue; there is no redness in them. The chalky white coating should also be present: this is a natural protector for the fruit. Avoid blueberries at the store that have been exposed to misters.”
- How to store: “Blueberries should not be washed prior to storage. Only wash them right before eating, because the water on the surface speeds up degradation," says Samuels. "Blueberries last longest when stored in a bowl and covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for about two weeks."
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: “Blueberries that are a little past their prime are perfect for freezing and can stay frozen for up to a year. You can also can or jar them, or make them into a sauce,” says Samuels.
- How to know when they’re ripe: “Raspberries are ripe when they have a bright vibrant color (whether they are of the red or golden variety). They should also be nice and firm in texture," says Samuels. "Avoid purchasing raspberries that are dented or bruised or mushy — these are most likely past their prime and on the way to spoilage. Also, be sure you are purchasing berries that have not been exposed to moisture. You can check the bottom of the container to make sure there is no dampness or mold.”
- How to store: “Store raspberries in the fridge in a breathable container (they typically are purchased in a container with slats at the bottom). Do not store them in a crisper because the air may be more humid, which is damaging to raspberries," explains Samuels. "They will keep for about two to three days in the refrigerator.”
- How to enjoy when they’re overripe: Samuels suggests using overripe raspberries in baking: "Of course pies and cobblers are delicious), but you can also use them in brownies, or with other chocolatey delights,” she says.
Clean each fruit and disinfect the fridge
Certainly the last thing anyone wants is to get sick, so be sure to wash your fruit well no matter how thick its rind, and keep it separate from other types of food (especially meat) if storing in the fridge.
“The refrigerator fruit and vegetable compartments are actually among the germiest places in the kitchen,” says Lisa Yakas, senior product manager and a microbiologist at NSF International, a global public health and safety organization. “So, if you are going to keep your fruits in the refrigerator, make sure [it] has been properly cleaned and disinfected first.”
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