Enjoy summer's rainbow of fresh produce

July 18, 2000

Enjoy summer's rainbow of fresh produce

Summer boasts some of the best produce around - from melons and sweet corn to green peppers and tomatoes, peaches, pears and nectarines. In summer, we can think of it as "a rainbow-a-day for better health."

The fresh fruits and vegetables that now line the supermarket aisles, or the ones you will find at roadside stands, create a feast of colors for the eyes and a feast of nutrients for the body. There, among the crimson cherries and purple cabbages, you'll find nutritious foods even your kids will love.

When selecting produce for your "rainbow-a-day," keep these tips in mind:


Ripe cantaloupe will be uniformly flesh-colored on the outside, with little or no green; honeydew will have a velvety feel and a yellowish-white to cream rind color. A stem that is still attached indicates the melon was picked before it was ripe. This is also true for peaches, oranges and nectarines. Honeydew and cantaloupe are ripe when the ends of the melon yield slightly to pressure and they emit a distinctly sweet fragrance. Melons can be stored for several days in a cool place away from sunlight.


When selecting peaches, look for a soft, cream-to-gold undercolor. If you're planning to eat the peaches right away, select fruit that has begun to soften and smells peachy. Be careful not to squeeze peaches when checking for firmness. They bruise easily and rapidly decay. Firm-ripe peaches may be kept at room temperature for a few days to fully ripen. Keep fully ripe peaches refrigerated until ready to use. Avoid purchasing green or shriveled peaches, as they will not ripen properly.


Pears are ripe when they yield to gentle thumb pressure at the neck. For greater variety of color in your rainbow, try purple eggplant and red cabbage. The beautiful purple color of this cabbage - as well as red grapes, blackberries, blueberries and cherries - is from a pigment called anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant. These vegetables can be stored in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for several days.


When choosing peppers, either red or green, look for ones that are well shaped, firm and glossy. Red peppers will be sweeter than green. Skin should be taut and unwrinkled, stems fresh and green. Check for soft or sunken areas, slashes or black spots. Peppers should be free of cracks. Store unwashed in a plastic bag in refrigerator for up to 1 week.


Look for solid heads of cabbage with no more than three to four loose leaves. Leaves should be clean and flexible, but not limp. Keep the cabbage whole until ready to use and keep it cold in the refrigerator crisper. Keeping cabbage cold helps it to retain vitamin C.


Sweet corn is best when it has been kept in the shade and cool. Husks should be fresh-looking, tight and green - not yellowed and dry. Peel back a strip of husk - kernels should be tight and plump. Young corn will have small kernels at the tip of the ear.

Fresh silk will be moist, soft and a light golden color - not brown and brittle. To best enjoy fresh corn, the sooner the better is a rule of thumb. Refrigerate as soon as you get home, if you are not cooking immediately.

For safety's sake

Wash all produce before eating. Some produce, such as apples and cherries, can be washed before storing in the refrigerator. Others maintain their crispness best if washed just before serving.

Invite your child to eat a rainbow! Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day is the best way to get the important vitamins and minerals we need.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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