Shop smart for vegetables and fruits in season

July 27, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Abundant, fresh fruits and vegetables can prompt summer buying sprees, but over-buying might drive food up costs, even when seasonal crops are lower in price.

Buy quantities that you can reasonably use within one to three days. For example, bananas ripen more quickly in warm weather. If you typically eat one banana a day, buy a two- or three-day supply so that bananas can be eaten before going bad. Be picky. Look for fruits or vegetables that are free of cuts, bruises or signs of mold.

Consider cost and use. If your family likes potatoes and you have a cool, dry place to store them, buying a 10-pound bag might offer convenience and savings. If potatoes are allowed to soften and/or sprout, however, the savings will be eroded by waste.

Allow fruits and vegetables to ripen. Produce might be harvested before it is fully ripe. Some will ripen during transport to the point of sale, but fruits and vegetables might need a little attention at home. If, for example, fresh peaches are fragrant but hard and not yet ripe, place them in a brown paper bag on the kitchen counter to ripen.


Check recommendations for food storage. Fresh-picked tomatoes will ripen on the kitchen counter at room temperature. For optimal flavor, serve fresh tomatoes at room temperature; cover and refrigerate any unused portion of the tomato after cutting.

Storing melons at room temperature also is recommended. Chill before serving, if desired, and, once cut, wrap well and refrigerate.

Wash fresh fruits and vegetables in cool running water before serving. If fresh from the garden and noticeably dirty, washing and drying before storage is recommended. Washing melons before cutting and slicing also is recommended, as melons grow on vines where they can come in contact with naturally occurring bacteria in the soil.

Use technology to your advantage. Read manufacturers' instructions for your refrigerator and freezer and heed the recommendations: Crisper drawers and some utility compartments are designed specifically to protect fresh produce.

Cover storage containers to reduce cross-contamination and accidental sharing of flavors.

Store freshly cut vegetables such as carrots or celery in a cold-water bath (covered) for a day or two to keep them crisp.

Browning can result when certain enzymes in freshly sliced fruits such as apples or peaches are exposed to air. Browning can be eliminated by adding ascorbic acid (marketed as "Fruit Fresh") or citric acid.

Buy too much? Freeze or can excess produce.

To learn more about seasonal fruits and vegetables, send a self-addressed, stamped (37 cents), business-size envelope to: Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Seasonal."

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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