I love fresh fruit. It's one of the reasons I eagerly look forward to summer. But it can be a great disappointment if the fruit we buy is not flavorful and juicy. Why does this happen so often?
Probably the main reason is our eagerness to enjoy the fruits we love. Sometimes we rush things and don't wait for — or don't know — the peak of the season. So here's some information that may save you disappointment.
Some fruit continues to ripen after picking, while others ripen only on the plant. Some get sweeter after picking; others never do. Here are some tips on how to tell which is which.
Soft berries such as strawberries, blackberries and raspberries never ripen further after they are picked. Neither do cherries, citrus, grapes, olives, pineapples or watermelon. While the texture of blueberries may improve a bit after picking, their sweetness does not change.
Figs, melons (other then watermelons), apricots, nectarines, peaches, passion fruit and persimmons may become juicier and even improve in color and texture after picking, but their sweetness does not change.
This is an important point, because if these fruits have been shipped, they have been picked very green to lessen damage sustained in the shipping process. Unfortunately, while they may change color, they won't improve in sweetness or flavor. If you want juice-dripping-off-your-elbow goodness in peaches, for example, wait for the locals, which ripen in the Rogue Valley later in the summer.
By the same token, although you may see watermelons in the market now, they have been picked green. I suggest waiting until late summer for those grown locally. Or at least look for melons from Hermiston in Eastern Oregon, where great watermelons are grown. Because they aren't shipped very far, they can be picked later in the ripening stage.
You may have gathered by now that shipping dictates a great deal about what we see on produce shelves, including fruit stands. Just because it's a fruit stand, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean the produce is local. Ask about its origin.
Apples, pears, kiwis, mangos and papayas increase in sweetness after they are picked. However, humidity levels are critical for this after-picking process, so if you have one of these trees in your yard, be sure you can keep the fruit at the proper humidity.
Two fruits — bananas and avocados — are unique in that they ripen in all ways after picking.
Although we don't live in citrus-growing country, here is a tip on how to buy them. Select oranges and other citrus by weight only — the heavier the better, as that indicates juiciness. The color of an orange's skin does not indicate its ripeness. Green on the skin means there were leaves, or maybe another orange, blocking the sun's direct rays, but oranges don't need sun on the skin to ripen.
So if you like your fruit sweet and juicy, practice patience and wait for the peak of the season.
And buy locally grown when possible. It's worth it!
Coming up: Master Gardener Janet Rodkey will teach a class on growing a winter vegetable garden. Summer is the time to plan and start that process. The class will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. The cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.