Tom has asked me to do a blog about how to tell whether fruit and vegetables are ready to eat or not. This is quite tricky because whilst it’s usually pretty obvious when something is under or over ripe, knowing that something is ready to eat can be problematic.
General rule is that if the produce is blemished or has changed colour then it’s probably past its best. I don’t include bananas in this statement. While many people think that bananas should have perfect yellow skins, that actually means that they’re under ripe. A few black spots mean that it is going to be more easily digested. Uncle Johnny (Grandma’s brother) lived in Nigeria for a few years and he refused to eat any banana which didn’t have a black skin – he was firmly of the belief that only at this point could it be properly digested. I’m not sure I agree with him – I prefer bananas to have some shape. Also bananas should be kept apart from other fruit and vegetables (never put them in the fridge) otherwise the other fruit will ripen to the point of being unusable.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand – for soft fruit like peaches and apricots, there should be some give when you press the fruit. Too hard and you’ll have tummy ache; too soft and it’s past its best.
For berries, you want even colour – it is not natural for strawberries to be half-white. Raspberries, brambles/blackberries, blueberries and the various colours of currants should still be separate – when they start sticking together in their packaging, they’re not worth eating. Also look to see whether there is mould at the bottom of the packaging – if there is, don’t buy.
Watermelons – I love buying watermelons. Pick one up and put it close to your ear. Knock it gently – the deeper the sound produced, the riper the fruit.
All other types of melon – gently press the bottom and see how much give there is. Many are sold under ripe in the UK and there must be some give.
Pineapples – if there’s green in the skin colour, then it isn’t ripe and won’t have much juice.
Mangos – run your thumb over the skin. There should be some give. Don’t buy very blemished mangos.
Apples – I do not care about bruised apples. If you do, you need to buy unblemished fruit. When the skin wrinkles, it’s past its best.
Avocados – these are really tricky. When you touch them and you leave an imprint, they are far too soft and may well be brown inside. When you touch them and there is no give, they are too hard. If you shake it and it rattles, the stone’s separated from the flesh and you shouldn’t buy. But finding an avocado that is ready to eat can be problematic. Generally you want a little give in the flesh when you press it, but sometimes they are tricky buggers and they are soft on the edge and hard inside. You can ripen an avocado by putting it in a brown paper bag with a banana or a tomato – it should ripen overnight. If you’ve already cut into it, leave the stone in and wrap tightly in cling film before you put in the paper bag.
Green vegetables (eg broccoli) will change colour as they become too old. Buy only as much as you think you need. They don’t keep too well.
Cucumbers – the darker the green the better.
Root vegetables start to sprout when they’re old. I have heard conflicting views about eating sprouting potatoes – some claim they’re dangerous, some that they’re fine. Basically I would eat them while they’re fresh – only buy what you need.
Onions and garlic sprout green shoots and this makes them bitter. Cut through the middle and remove and throw away the shoots – use the balance. I know that garlic often gets lost at the bottom of the fridge or doesn’t get used immediately, so it can be hard to avoid these shoots.
When all else fails, smell the fruit or vegetable, if it doesn’t smell right, don’t use it.
I think this covers everything in Fruit and Vegetables 101 – normally I would sign off with Enjoy! but it doesn’t seem appropriate today, so I will leave you with the words of Nico’s doctor in Edinburgh after diagnosing him with Freshers’ Flu, ‘Try to eat your five a day and it doesn’t count if it’s on a pizza.’