Fruits

3. Fruits

Fruits are the most delightful of foods. They are also of great nutritional value because they possess most of the essential minerals and vitamins necessary for optimal health.

A variety of fresh fruits are available throughout the year. Fortunately, bananas are always in season. They are a staple part of the Hygienic diet, being high in nutritional value and even containing 1.1% protein, about the same as mother’s milk. Most other fruits have a season in which they are most economical and flavorful.

Good watermelons start coming in May. Pineapples and strawberries are also in season at the same time, and the oranges and pears are still available and reasonable in price.

In June, a plethora of fruits appear: a variety of all kinds of melons, peaches, cherries and berries. As oranges and pineapples dwindle—around July—the grapes, nectarines and plums come in. All through the summer, you have a veritable horn of plenty of many varieties of fruit.

Then, in the fall, the apples are in season, along with the citrus and pears, while the grapes are still available.

The information in this lesson about the peak seasons of specific fruits and how to choose them wisely will help you not only to get the best for your money, but also the best for your health and nutrition.

Since the average diet is too high in protein, adding fruit to the diet is beneficial. A fruit diet is “cleansing” because it is lower in protein. This results in the cells drawing upon the body’s store of nutritional reserves, and initiating the elimination of the accumulated wastes and poisons, much
of which are the by-products of the over-consumption of protein. The fruit, though, is not itself cleansing; it merely causes less burdening of the body than most food, and allows the body to do its own “cleansing.”

Fruits contain large percentages of sugars and free acids that are favorably utilized by the body, unless consumed in greater amounts that can be processed efficiently.

Claims are made that certain fruits have “curative” or “magical” properties—that such fruits as apples, apricots, papayas or grapes will “cure” what ails you. Hygienists know that food is used for its nutritional value, not for some hoped-for special influence on the body. Apples, apricots, papayas and grapes are excellent fruits and should be used, along with other varieties of fruits, as they become seasonally available.

3.1 How to Judge and Select Fruits

General Suggestions:

  1. Buy in season when quality is highest and prices lowest.
  2. Don’t buy more than you will use before they perish. The sooner you use your ripe fruit, the more flavor and nutritional value it will contain.
  3. Don’t buy damaged fruit unless damage is slight and you will use it immediately.
  4. Handle displayed fruit carefully so you don’t ruin it for others.
  5. Fruit should be eaten when ripe—not green or overripe. Some fruits may be purchased green and ripened at home. This information will be included under specific fruits.

The trouble with many fruits available today is that they are picked while still immature and thus never have a chance to develop properly to their full potential of taste and nutritional value.

The season for marketing fruit has been overextended, and out-of-season, expensive and tasteless fruit is often available. Don’t buy fruits out of season.

Unfortunately, most fruits are grown in soil that is fed chemicals to increase productivity, and the fruit is sprayed with chemical pesticides. The thick rind of pineapples, melons, bananas, mangos and avocados gives the underlying flesh natural protection against most of the chemical sprays. For other fruits, you cannot do much more than give them a thorough washing and scrubbing, and hope for the best. Peel them, if you like. If you must peel your fruit, don’t cut too deeply; try to discard the thin skin only. The greatest concentration of nutrients is just under the skin.

Grapes and cherries have no protection against high levels of chemical residues. Don’t eat large quantities of these fruits unless organically grown, and don’t eat them every day, in season.

Apples, pears and plums are commonly waxed to give them a glossy look—it is best to peel them.

Fruit is most luscious if it is picked from the tree when it is just at the peak of its ripeness. Wherever you live, try to have and nurture some of your own fruit trees. No store-bought fruit can approach freshly picked ripe fruit for flavor and quality.

Whenever possible, buy fruit from the farmer—you may get fruit almost as good as you could grow yourself. You might even be fortunate enough to find a local organic fruit farmer.

Most people are dependent on markets for most of their fruit. It is necessary to cultivate the ability to judge the ripeness and quality of the fruit you buy. This ability will come with experience, though the best of us can sometimes still be misled.

There are several things to check. First, if it’s fresh, it looks fresh, not wrinkled or blemished. The color should be characteristic of the ripe fruit. If it is misshapen, it is usually inferior in taste and texture, and there will be more waste. Medium sizes are generally better than very large or very small.

Ripe fruits, regardless of whether they belong to the acid, subacid or sweet classification, possess a certain sweetness, and, in most instances, it is possible to judge ripeness by appearance, fragrance, touch, and, of course, taste.

Unripe fruit is highly indigestible and usually quite unpalatable. It may contain starch and other carbohydrate substances which are distasteful and unwholesome. Overripe fruits may be even worse. When decay begins, the sugar is changed to carbon dioxide, alcohol and acetic acid (fermentation) and the fruit rapidly deteriorates in wholesomeness, nutritional value and taste. It loses water and becomes spongy, mealy and insipid.

Fruit is potentially alkaline, that is, it produces an alkaline ash after it has passed through the process of digestion. If the fruit is of poor quality, or unripe or overripe, especially if it is fermented, it produces an acid reaction in the body and its absorption creates many unpleasant symptoms, such as nervousness and insomnia, as well as digestive and “allergic” problems.

If fruit doesn’t taste right, discard it. It is better to “waste” some food than to waste your health.

Since vine-ripened fruit is too soft to withstand much handling en route from farm to supermarket, most fruit bought in the market was picked when mature (we hope!) but not yet ripe. Most of the fruit available in supermarkets is not intended to be eaten immediately, but needs a day or two at room temperature to fully ripen. Problems in attaining proper ripeness occur when fruit is picked before it is fully mature. Usually, an indication of the beginning of the ripening process is a signal to pick the fruit for marketing.

Most ripe fruits have lost all traces of hard spots, but are not mushy. Many ripe fruits exude a delightful, but delicate fragrance. As a rule, you should buy fruits which are almost ripe, and eat as soon as flavor peak is reached (or refrigerate when ripe and eat as soon as possible thereafter).

Bananas, avocados and some other fruits may be purchased green and ripened at home. Fruits which are to be ripened at home may be “displayed” on trays on the kitchen counter during the day, and put into brown paper bags at night, to shelter them from insects. To accelerate ripening of very hard fruit, put it in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana (day and night). Apples and bananas emit a kind of natural ethylene ripening gas.

Most fruits will be discussed specifically in this lesson. When available, varieties of specific fruits are listed, no attempt is made to list every variety grown. For such complete listings, see Rodale’s How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method. Some exotic tropical fruits which are not generally available in the marketplace are omitted, principally because no first-hand information is available about them, other than that which is included in Dr. Esser’s Dictionary of Man’s Foods and other reference books which give no marketing information.

Specific Varieties of Fruits (alphabetically):

Apples

The peak season for apples is October through March. The principal varieties of eating apples include Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Pippin, Golden Grimes, McIntosh, Jonathan and Winesap. The peel is rich in vitamins, but, if purchased in the supermarket, it will probably be waxed and contain pesticide residues. In fact, I myself never use commercially grown apples. It is my understanding that more pesticides and chemicals are used on apples than on any other fruits, and that the tree itself is poisoned, so that any insect that bites the apple will die. The human who eats the apple will survive, but I choose not to eat such apples.

Winesap, McIntosh and Golden Grimes apples are available in the fall, Jonathans and Delicious in the winter. Delicious apples are the sweetest.

Apples should be firm and crisp with bright and shiny skin. Color is a sign of maturity in apples—high
color indicating maturity—and only apples picked when mature will have good flavor and texture. Apples that yield to pressure on the skin will have soft, mealy flesh. Bruised areas are usually a sign of rough handling or exposure to frost.

The apple is an excellent food, nutritionally speaking. It is also one of the most practical, since it can be shipped and stored for many months, though, of course, long storage results in some loss of nutrients.

Apricots

The peak season for apricots is June and July. Apricots are a nutritionally excellent food but they have a very short season and a very short life. Look for (but you will seldom find) plump, juicy-looking apricots, with a uniform golden-orange hue. When ripe, they will yield slightly to gently pressure. If the fruit is hard, pale yellow or greenish yellow, these are indications that it was packed
too soon and will never progress to the proper ripeness and delicious taste. They will simply become mushy or rot.

Larger apricots tend to ripen more quickly. Avoid fruit that is green at the stem end. Apricots are ripe when they turn from yellow to orange.

Once I found a crate of “just-right” large apricots at the wholesale market in Tampa, in time to be served at a Hygienic luncheon for the members of our local American Natural Hygiene Society chapter. That was about seven years ago, but I still remember the luscious taste. It is almost impossible to find such apricots in the markets, unless you happen to be in the right place at the right time, and know enough to recognize and quickly acquire them. Apricots are rarely found in the markets at their best, because of premature harvesting.

Ordinarily, we must settle for sun-dried, organically grown soaked apricots, which are an acceptable substitute, and much better than the disappointing “fresh” apricots usually available. Buy dried apricots from Jaffe Brothers or at a health food store. Dried fruit sold at supermarkets has usually been treated with sulphur dioxide or hydrogen peroxide, to preserve the fruit and retain the bright color. These substances destroy the value of the food and cannot be washed off, since the chemicals are absorbed into the fruit.

Experiments conducted by dr. H. W. Wiley, formerly chief chemist of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, demonstrated that the use of sulphurous acid in food is always harmful. It degenerates the kidneys, retards the formation of red corpuscles, and destroys the vitamins in the fruits.

Avocados

California avocados are available all year, with a slight peak in December through June. Florida avocados are available July through March. California avocados have a thinner skin and are more buttery and less watery than Florida varieties; they also have a better flavor and contain perhaps twice as much protein.

It is very important to eat the avocado when just ripe, when it has a buttery consistency and a mild flavor. When unripe, it is hard and practically inedible. It is best to buy your avocados hard and firm, so that ripening conditions can be controlled. Ripen at room temperature in a tray on your kitchen counter—this usually takes two or three days. When there is a slight yielding to gentle pressure on the skin, it is time to enjoy them. Dark avocados are somewhat soft to firm when ripe—if very soft, with black spots, they are usually rotted. Green avocados are softer when ripe (while still retaining their characteristic green color).

Select avocados of uniform color and free of cracks. Irregular brown markings have no effect on the inside of the fruit. Don’t buy avocados with dark, sunken spots in irregular patches or cracked surfaces, which indicate decay. By law, avocados cannot be picked before a date that is supposed to insure that the fruit will be mature before being harvested, so commercially grown avocados should always ripen properly. With careful handling, they do ripen properly most of the time, although sometimes you get a “bad batch” which darkens and rots.

Fortunately, the thick, tough skin of the avocado affords some protection against chemical sprays, though it is true that the roots of the tree itself are bound to absorb chemicals from the fertilizers and sprays. The rule for avocados is the same as previously indicated: Use organically grown fruit whenever you can get it—otherwise, do the best you can. But, with avocados, at least the flesh has not been exposed to poisonous sprays.

An interesting fact about the avocado: An acre of land will yield a larger amount of food when planted to avocados than it will when planted to any other tree crop known at present. (Dr. William L. Esser)

Dr. Esser maintains that the avocado is one of the most valuable foods which nature has given to man and is of special value to vegetarians. It is higher in protein and fat than any other fruit (except nuts). Of course, the fat is more digestible than animal fat. In Guatemala, the avocado is used in place of meat. (Avocados, though botanical, members of the fruit family, are also classified as fat/protein food.)

The principal difference between avocados and nuts is that avocados are about 75% water, and nuts contain only about three to five percent water. Further, all nuts except the almond (and the coconut and chestnut, which are not classified as true nuts) are acid in metabolic reaction, while avocados are alkaline. The diet should predominate in alkaline foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables—perhaps 80% should be alkaline in reaction. However, the high fat content of the avocado should be a signal that it should not be used excessively. One-half of a medium-sized avocado at a sitting should be adequate, and they should not be used every day.

Bananas

Bananas are available all through the year. It is best to buy them green for ripening at home, where ripening conditions can be controlled. Bananas are usually “gassed” to facilitate ripening. Sometimes it is possible to buy “ungassed” bananas, but it is somewhat doubtful whether they truly have escaped the gassing process. They may have been acquired before having been subjected to “ripening chambers” in this country, but is my understanding that some of the fruit has already been gassed on the vessels carrying them from the tropics.

Bananas, at least, have a good protective skin, so the flesh isn’t exposed to chemical sprays. I usually buy the greenest bananas I can find. I put them in a brown paper bag overnight, and expose them to air during the day (on my kitchen counter).

Select bananas free from surface bruises, with skin intact at both tips. Ripen at room temperature. When the skin is bright yellow speckled with brown, the starch will be changed to fruit sugar, and the fruit will be tender, sweet, and easy to digest. Fruit that ripens with brown speckles may not have been gassed, as I have been told that gassed bananas ripen with dark streaks and blotches instead of the brown speckles. I have found that speckled fruit uniformly delightful in taste, so I am inclined to give some credence to this speculation.

Don’t buy bananas which are bruised, discolored, or dull and grayish, which means they have been held in cold storage and will never ripen properly. Sometimes bananas that are ripe and ready for eating are sold at reduced prices. We usually are glad to get them, though they must be used that day or the next day. Overripe parts can be cut away; the rest is fine.

We have two stools of banana trees in our yard (in Florida) and harvest small, flavorful bananas some years (when the previous winter’s frost has not been too severe).

Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Mulberries, Loganberries, and other small berries

Peak season June through August. Although they differ in shape or color, these small berries, which often grow wild, are similar in general structure and buying considerations. Freshness and ripeness are prime concerns. Good bright color for the species, plumpness and tenderness, indicate ripeness. Usually, however, the problem is over-ripeness. The berries are also easily mashed. The small containers of berries are expensive and may contain a large percentage of moldy, spoiled berries. If the container is stained or wet, don’t buy it. Don’t wash the berries until you are ready to use them. They are very fragile and perishable and won’t keep long. Ripe raspberries drop their cores, leaving little hollow cups. Blackberries don’t. When blackberries are red, they are not ripe.

Cactus Fruit (Prickly Pear)

Fruit season August-September. Available occasionally. Cactus fruit grows on a very large type of cactus. The fruit is smaller than an average sized pear, purplish in color, and covered with small thorns (or spines). The edible, juicy, pulpy fruit is red, and somewhat enjoyable, but not necessarily worth the trouble of dealing with its thorny coat, which makes it difficult to assess its ripeness. I have not seen the thornless variety developed by Luther Burbank. The taste of cactus fruit is slightly tart and it has many fine seeds. It is necessary to cut out the areas with the little spines in order to handle the fruit.

Cherimoyas

This is practically unknown in most U. S. markets, because it is very delicate and does not withstand shipping. I am including it although I have not yet been successful in ever tasting this fruit. Dr. Esser says it surpasses all other fruits, and I encourage you to try it if you ever find it available to you. It is prolific in tropical countries, haying originated in Ecuador and Peru, and spreading to Mexico, the West Indies, Africa, India and Polynesia. Weak attempts to cultivate it in some parts of the U.S. have not been particularly successful. This fruit attains its highest perfection on the slopes of the Andes.

The shape of the cherimoya is irregular, sometimes round, sometimes cone-shaped. The skin is delicate, dark green when ripe. The edible part is whitish yellow, juicy and filled with many brown seeds. The taste reminds one of the pineapple, though it is perhaps more delicious and delightfully fragrant.

Cherries

The peak season for this fruit is June and July. Eating cherries appear in May, but one should wait until June for the dark, sweet, flavorful ones, which will also be priced lower by then. Small size cherries are not a good buy; the pit is the same size as in the larger cherries. The most important sign of maturity and sweetness in cherries is a very dark color. They should be bright, glossy and plump and the stems should not look dark and withered. Cherries decay rather quickly, and should be used soon after buying. If you see soft leaking spots or surface mold, don’t buy them. Tart cherries are not suitable for eating. Remember that cherries are heavily sprayed and have no tough, peelable skin for protection. Wash them thoroughly and eat sparingly—not every day during the season.

Citrus Fruits

Oranges

Peak season, December through June. Color of the skin is no indication of quality or ripeness. The skin of the first crops of mature oranges in November is green or greenish, but mature oranges are ready for harvest and eating, even when the skin is green. They are, however, not as sweet as oranges harvested a month or so later on. California growers “orange” their green fruit by gassing; Florida shippers put the oranges through a colored wax bath (a “non-toxic” food coloring and wax), because they believe the added color will make the fruit more saleable and the wax will improve the keeping quality. Some fully ripened fruit even turns green again late in the season. Lucky people who live near orange groves can get uncolored, freshly picked oranges, and, possibly, even organically grown oranges. Organically grown oranges are usually the sweetest.

Organically grown oranges are available if you want to go to the trouble and expense of having them shipped in. See addresses in an earlier part of this lesson.

Firm, heavy oranges are full of juice. Avoid lightweight fruit and very rough surface, which usually signifies a thick skin and a smaller orange. There are many varieties of oranges. In Florida, we get navels, temples, tangelos, valencias, tangerines, and pineapple oranges. There are several varieties of tangerine oranges, including the mandarin, the honey murcott and the satsuma. Tangerines are best when they are a little loose in their skins, but not pulpy around the ends. Tangerines peel very easily, the skin being very loosely connected. Temple and tangelo oranges are also rather easy to peel.

Florida oranges disappear from the market about May, but oranges from California are available all through the year. Several varieties of California oranges are usually available, including navels and valencias. Oranges grown in the United States outside of California, Florida and a small strip of southwest Arizona, must either be very hard varieties, or must have artificial winter protection or heating. Some oranges are thus successfully cultivated in southern Texas, the northern interior of California, and elsewhere. I have received brochures offering shipments of Texas oranges. Jaffa oranges from Israel are sometimes available.

Grapefruit

Peak season, November through April. Grapefruit are really available throughout the year, and are ripe and of consistently good quality, though the price will be higher when they are out of peak season. This is one fruit in which color and blemishes have little relationship to quality, although it is said that rusty looking marks on the skin are an indication of sweetness.

Grapefruit should be firm, thin-skinned and heavy for their size. The smoother the skin, the thinner. A coarse surface and pointed end are signs of thick-skinned, less juicy fruit, but it may still taste good. Wrinkled and rough skin will indicate tough, dry fruit. Skin defects are of no importance, except for large, soft, wet spots. If discolored at the stem end, or if the skin breaks easily, decay has begun. Popular varieties are Marsh, Ruby Red and Duncan. Although the Duncan has many seeds, it is the best in delicious flavor. Indian River (Florida) fruit is considered superior in flavor and quality.

Kumquats

Available in the south in the fall and winter. Some are suitable for eating, some only for making preserves. Some are ovoid, some spherical. A spherical variety native to Florida is very sweet and one can even eat he skin, which is thin, sweet and spongy.

Carambolas

The major crop becomes available in the spring and summer; they are sometimes available in November-December. Available mostly in southern markets. They are usually lemon-colored (unripe) and the clear, watery pulp is too tart and astringent, and they seldom ripen satisfactorily. When orange-colored, they are ripe and pleasantly acid-sweet, with an agreeable flavor. If picked at full maturity, they are good eating.

This fruit is somewhat of a novelty to behold. It has a waxlike surface with deeply ridged sides, and when hanging on the tree, carambolas resemble lanterns. A cross-section or slice of the fruit is star-shaped, since the fruit has an oval, five-angled shape. Carambolas are not citrus fruit, but are acid fruits resembling the citrus in appearance and taste of the flesh.

Lemons

Available throughout the year. Peak season May through July. The habitual use of this strongly acid fruit is not advisable. It can not only cause erosion of the dental enamel, but it tends to retard digestion. Use of lemons in salad dressing is less objectionable than vinegar, but it is better not to use salad dressing at all. Recipes for salad dressings made without vinegar or lemon will be given in Lesson 26. Lemons with a rich, yellow color, reasonably smooth skin and heavy for their size are the best.

Limes

Available year-round, peak season June-July. Comments about lemons also apply to limes.

Cranberries

Peak season, October through December. Cranberries are not recommended for use as food because they contain considerable quantities of malic and benzoic acids. Benzoic acid is a white, crystalline acid used in perfumes, dentrifices and germicides, and to season tobacco. Cranberries cannot be enjoyably used in their natural, raw state unless considerable amounts of sweetening are used, or unless combined with other sweeter fruits, such as oranges. Cranberries are classified as acid fruit, but are best excluded from the diet.

Currants

Not usually available, except in the dried state, or in jellies and jams. Currants grow wild and in gardens in temperate climates. The wild species are small and very sour, but the larger garden varieties have an agreeable acid flavor. The currant resembles a tiny grape, or when dried, a small raisin. There are three varieties, red, white and black. The red variety is richest in mineral content.

Dried Fruits

Available all year. Dried fruits are rich sources of natural sugar, plus all the vitamins and minerals in the fresh fruit. The drying process preserves the fruit by removing about 50% of its water. Almost all of the nutrients remain. Dried fruit is particularly high in iron.

Select only fruit which has been sun-dried, and which does not contain sulfur dioxide or other additives. Fruit which has been dried by artificial dehydration (heat evaporation) is usually dipped into a sulfur dioxide bath to keep it from darkening. Golden raisins, and any dried fruit that is light in color, have been treated with sulfur dioxide. Almost all dried fruit is fumigated during storage or shipping. Dates are usually, pasteurized to prevent molding. Preservatives are not necessary in these products, but some processors add sorbic acid as a preservative, and some add corn syrup or honey to keep them
from drying out. Don’t buy any dried fruit that contains sorbic acid, sweeteners, or any additives.

Dates

Dates usually only reach us in the dried state. The Calavo and Dromedary brands, available in supermarkets, don’t have any additives. The varieties available in health food stores usually don’t have any chemicals or sulfur dioxide, but they are sometimes honey-dipped. Some of the popular varieties are Deglet Noor, Medjool, Khadrawi, Barhi, Halawi, Zahidi and Bread dates. Some of the varieties are very large and of superb flavor, but they are seldom available, and quite expensive. I usually buy my organically grown dates from Jaffe Brothers, and “fill in” by purchasing a few at the health food store.

Figs

The two most popular domestic varieties are Calimyrna, the native California variety, which is light in color and sometimes large and succulent; and Black Mission figs, which are purplish black, with pinkish meat, and are usually small. Calamata strings, imported from Greece, are uncured. Smyrna and Kadota figs are sometimes available. We have a Kadota fig tree on our property, and get a large crop of figs of large size and excellent flavor. We eat figs every day when they are ripening, give large quantities away to friends and neighbors, and freeze the rest, without heating or sweetening. We eat them just barely thawed, and they arc not as good as freshly picked raw figs, but they are a welcome addition to our fruit meals in the winter. We buy organically grown dried Calimyrna figs from Jaffe Brothers, and sometimes buy dried figs from the health food store.

Raisins

Sun Maid Thompson seedless raisins (except the “golden”), and Sun Maid muscats, sultanas and currants, are sun-dried without the use of chemicals. S&W raisins (the dark kinds) are also free of sulfur dioxide. Monukka raisins are large choice raisins available in health food stores. I buy my raisins from Jaffe or Covalda or the health food store.

Apricots

Sun-dried, unsulfured apricots are usually very tough and dry and must be soaked overnight to make them palatable. I am very fond of soaked, dried apricots, because they have an excellent flavor and are less sweet than most dried fruit. If dried apricots have an even color and bright, attractive appearance, they have been sulfured.

Prunes

No unsulfured prunes are available in supermarkets, but some are available from Jaffe, Covalda and health food stores. Prunes are high in oxalic acid and their usage should be limited.

Dried Dark Cherries, Dried Bananas, Dried Apples, Dried Peaches and Dried Pears are also available at times. Select only unsulfured fruit.

Dried Litchi Fruit and Dried Carob Pods are also sometimes available. The dried litchi tastes somewhat like the raisin. The shell surrounding it looks like a small brown ball (the shell is red in the fresh state), and the fruit surrounds a large, hard seed. Dried carob pods are hard, stringy, and chewy, but if they are not too dry they have an agreeable taste. The color is dark brown and the dry fruit encloses a number of small, hard, shiny seeds. Carob powder (available at health food stores) is often used as a replacement when a flavor similar to chocolate is desired.

Fresh Foods, continued…

Figs (Fresh)

Peak season, July and August (but rarely available). Figs should be plump and fairly soft, but not mushy, and with no breaks in the skin. The softer they are without being rotten or fermented, the sweeter they will be. If they are fermented, they will smell vinegary. Buy for immediate eating—they are extremely perishable. Figs can be green, yellow, pink, violet, brown or black. In chemical composition, the fig closely resembles that of human milk, especially in regard to the proportion of mineral salts. (See article on figs in this lesson.)

I have found fresh figs for sale about five or six times in my entire life, where I have lived in Indiana and Florida. They may be available more often in other areas of the country. Now that we have our own Kadota fig tree, we enjoy this delicacy regularly; we have one major crop in the spring, and a minor crop in the fall-winter season. We harvest enough to share with friends and neighbors, and put some in our freezer to enjoy during the winter. Our Kadota figs are green until ripe, when they swell, turn yellow and soften. (See “Dried Fruits” for additional information about figs.)

Gooseberries

Seldom available. The wild varieties are covered with spines, but the large cultivated varieties are completely smooth. American varieties are mostly inferior in size and quality to European species, some of which are almost as large as hen’s eggs. Really good ripe gooseberries have a delightful, acid-sweet taste, but I have never found these good gooseberries.

Grapes

Peak season, July through November. The most common varieties are Thompson seedless (early green), Tokay and Cardinal (early bright red), and Emperor (late, deep red). Other varieties are Ribier (dark blue), Red Seedless, Concord, Catawba, Salem, Delaware, Jessica, Muscadine, Malaga, Muscat and Sultana. The first grapes will not be as sweet as those available later. Green grapes are sweetest when the color has a yellowish cast. Red grapes are best when deep red. All grapes should be well-colored, firm and plump, and still attached to the stem. Look for the powdery “bloom.” Avoid bunches with small undeveloped berries (they’re sour). When the best grapes are available, around early fall, we find Thompson and Red Seedless to be the sweetest and most flavorful, with Ribiers running a close second. Later in the season we have to settle for Emperors, which are usually fairly good. We don’t care much for Tokays, but use them occasionally, because they are available late in the season when the other varieties are gone.

Grapes are nutritionally among the best of fruits, but it is too bad that they are so heavily sprayed that they should be eaten sparingly, after thorough washing. You might want to go to the trouble of peeling them, to at least get rid of the worst of the chemicals.

Kiwifruit

Available through the year. The New Zealand kiwifruit is about the size of a hen’s egg. It has a thin brown furry skin. Squeeze very gently to check ripeness—it should give a little. The kiwifruit is growing in popularity. If you have never tasted a kiwi, you are in for a treat. When cut in half or sliced, it has a surprising, unusual and attractive appearance—emerald green flesh, with tiny seeds clustered around a light, creamy center. It has a wonderful, delicate, strawberry-like texture and a fresh, tangy flavor all its own. This fruit was formerly known as Chinese Gooseberry. Although most of the kiwis are imported from New Zealand, California is also growing the fruit, with about a thousand acres now in production. The November 1, 1981 Florida Market Bulletin contains a picture of a pair of kiwifruit growing in Florida—it didn’t say just where. The article says that, as far as the editor could tell, these were the first pair of kiwifruit to be documented growing in Florida.

Litchi Fruit (Fresh)

Fruit season mid-June—mid-July, seldom available. The fresh litchi (also spelled lichee, lychee, leechee, lichi, laiche) is a grape-like fruit which hangs on the tree in beautiful red clusters, and is luscious when fully ripe. Some of the trees are grown in yards in southern and central Florida. The skin is a thin, leathery shell (hence the name litchi nut, which is often used), purplish-red to bright red when ripe. The flesh is white, similar to the grape, with a sweet taste, jelly-like consistency, and excellent flavor and aroma, surrounding a large hard seed.

Loquats

Peak season January-April, but seldom available in markets. They are grown in yards in southern and central Florida. We have one in our yard which yields a large crop of excellent fruit. The loquat is sometimes called the Japanese Plum, looks more like a small apricot, and tastes slightly acid, or subacid when totally ripe. Loquats are one to three inches in length, have a pale yellow to orange color and somewhat downy skin. The flesh is also yellow to deep orange in color, and the fruit generally contains three or four seeds. The loquat is very juicy and has an excellent flavor when fully ripe.

Mangos

Peak season, May through August. Mangos can be bought green and ripened at room temperature. It is best to select mangos which are starting to show some signs of ripening, rather than totally hard and green, or totally ripe. Completing the ripening at home under controlled conditions will usually result in better-tasting fruit. The color of the flesh varies from light lemon to deep apricot. In the best varieties, the flesh is smooth and juicy, with an excellent flavor. Such a properly ripened mango, eaten at the peak of its rich, pungent flavor, is delectable. The flavor is somewhat reminiscent of peaches, but much more exotic.

The Haden is a superior variety. The Kent is notable for its smooth texture. In some of the less desirable varieties, the flesh is full of fibers and the flavor unpleasant. The excellent Haden fruit is plump and oval-shaped and often has a rosy blush. When ready to eat, it is yellow and orange, only slightly firm, yielding to gentle pressure. The Haden has a fair amount of fiber, but excellent flavor. The Carrie is a large, green variety of good flavor and texture, and is fiber-free. It turns a paler green and develops dark speckles as it ripens. When ripe enough for full flavor and enjoyment, it is slightly firm, yielding to pressure. Mangos have a tough peel which is a good protective coat against sprays.

Melons

Cantaloupe

Peak season, June through August. Medium to large cantaloupes are usually sweeter and tastier than small ones. Heavy fruit will be juicier, but not necessarily sweeter. Pleasant aroma is the key to ripeness and superior flavor. The melons should yield to pressure, especially at the blossom end. The network of veins in the rind should be thick, coarse and stand out in bold relief, and the rind color should be a yellowish shade, not green. Avoid cantaloupes with smooth spots. If a cantaloupe was not mature when picked, some of the vine stem will adhere to the fruit. In order to be sweet, the mature cantaloupe must be free of the stem, with a smooth, shallow depression where the stem grew. If the melon is mature when picked, it will reach excellent eating quality if ripened at room temperature for a few days.

Don’t buy overripe melons, indicated by widespread softening. They will be tasteless and watery. Small bruises are not significant, but large bruises will affect eating quality.

Persian Melons

Peak season, August and September. These melons are a variety of Musk Melon, and look like oversized cantaloupes, but are somewhat rounder with a finer netting. They can be grouped with cantaloupes for selection and use information. As the Persian melon ripens, the dark green rind under the netting turns lighter green and the rind gives under light pressure. Avoid those with dark or greenish black netting. Persians have a dark orange flesh.

Casabas

Peak season, July to November. They are best in September and October. Casabas are not netted like the cantaloupes, nor smooth like the honey dews. Instead, they are profusely marked with longitudinal corrugations. Skin color varies with the variety. Golden Beauty casabas are pointed at the stem end, with green skin that turns to yellow at maturity. They will have a yellow-gold color and a slight springiness at the blossom end when fully ripe. The ripe flesh of a casaba can be either white, yellow or orange in color. Although sweet flavored, the flesh is not as sweet as a honey dew, nor does it have the musky aroma and flavor of the cantaloupe. Casabas do not “slip” from the vine at maturity; rather they are harvested by cutting the stem when the melons are reasonably mature and held in storage until the blossom end becomes soft. The flesh of an unripe casaba tastes like a cucumber.

Crenshaws

Peak season, August and September, although available July through October. The crenshaw (not cranshaw) is a variety of the casaba. It is a slightly wrinkled, dark green fruit that turns pale yellow-tan at maturity. It has shallow furrows, but the rind is much smoother than that of the Golden Beauty casaba. When fully ripe, it is golden yellow, yields to slight pressure, and has a strong, sweet aroma. The flesh of the ripe crenshaw is a rich orange color, and it has a juicy, rich, rather spicy taste. The crenshaw is large, up to nine pounds, with a rounded blossom end and pointed stem end.

Honey Dews

Peak season, July through September. The best honey dews start coming in July. Before then, the tendency is to pick them too soon and they never progress to the lovely, delicate sweet flavor that is characteristic of a good honey dew. This melon is quite large and may be oval to round in shape. The rind is smooth and firm. When at the peak of flavor, sweetness and ripeness, honey dews are creamy white with yellow areas—with no green at all—and have a velvety surface and a sweet aroma. It is best to buy honey dews fully ripe, rather than to depend on ripening them at home. If there is “give” at the blossom end, and the color is right, take it home and use it in a day or two. Patches of slightly raised netting mean exceptional sweetness. If honey dews are stark-white or greenish, or if they feel hard, or look shiny and smooth, they were picked too soon. The flesh should be light green and very juicy, and sweet! A good honey dew is the queen of melons. Small damaged areas will not lead to further deterioration, if you plan to use the melon immediately.

The smaller round Honeyball melon has much the same characteristics as the honey dew, except for its size.

Watermelon

Peak season, May through August. Look for a slightly dull green appearance (not shiny and not really dull), with a velvety bloom on the rind. Dark green or shiny watermelons are unripe. The underbelly, where it has rested on the ground, should be yellowish or amber, not stark white or greenish. The melon should be symmetrical, with full, round ends. These signs are not totally reliable, but if used as a criterion, will usually result in the selection of a good melon. Some people use the thump test—a flat, dead sound when thumped is said to indicate ripeness. If the melon is cut, it is easier to choose—select firm, juicy flesh, with a good red color and no white streaks or mealy or softening areas; seeds should be dark brown or black.

Miscellaneous Melons

There are a number of other exotic varieties of melons, which are available from time to time. If in doubt, or inexperienced with these expensive melons, look for one that has been cut open.

Nectarines

Peak season, July and August. The nectarine tastes like a peach, but has the smooth, glossy skin of a plum. The color ranges from a red blush to completely red. If the color is rich and bright, it will be sweet. In recent years, I have found most nectarines to be dull in color, very hard, and impossible to ripen to an acceptable state. These nectarines have probably been picked too soon. If the color is right, but the fruit is too firm, it should ripen properly. The flesh of the ripe nectarine is yellow, like the yellow-fleshed peach. Don’t buy dull-colored or shriveled fruit, or fruit with evidence of soft spots or mold. I prefer peaches, but good quality, tasty nectarines, without the fuzzy skin of the peach, are welcome.

Olives

Since olives are not available raw, all of them having been either pickled or salted, and the bitterness having been removed by potash or lye, they are not recommended for use as food. Dr. Esser says it would be a fine food in its natural state, fully ripened on the tree and sun-dried, so that some of the bitterness would be naturally removed.

Papayas

Some of this fruit is available all year. Small Hawaian papayas are available most of the time. Larger Florida papayas are best during the months of July through October (or later), depending on the weather. Papayas are also grown in Texas, and some in California. The fruit on our papaya tree usually starts ripening in the late fall, and then it is a race between the ripening and the frost (which can kill all the fruit). Size and shape of Florida papayas vary; they may weigh from one-half pound to ten pounds. The flesh may be yellow to orange-red. Select fruit that has some golden yellow or orange streaks, which is a sign that it has not been picked too green and will be apt to ripen properly. If you select papayas with at least 35% of the skin streaked yellow, they will ripen completely in two to three days at room temperature. When a papaya is totally yellow to orange and yields to gentle pressure, it is ready for eating. Don’t buy mushy papayas, or fruit with dark patches, which signify age and decay. If not picked too soon and if ripened properly, the flavor is sweet and luscious. Otherwise, it may be bland and tasteless.

Pawpaws

Not usually available in markets. The trees usually grow in thickets along river banks in central U.S. valleys. We picked some in Indiana. It is an odd looking fruit, cylindrical with obtuse ends, from three to five inches long and from one and a half to two inches thick. The skin is brown, with dark patches when ripe. The flesh is creamy yellow, very soft, somewhat gritty and very sweet; it contains two to eight large glossy black seeds. It is somewhat similar to the cherimoya.

Peaches

Peak season, June through September. Select peaches with areas of yellow and no green at the stem, and that are fragrant, plump and fairly firm or beginning to soften. The best place and time to buy excellent, flavorful peaches is in Georgia in the summer. Don’t buy hard, green peaches which were picked too soon and will never ripen properly. Ripe peaches turn reddish instead of yellow and feel soft to the gentle touch. The flesh is usually yellow, though there are some white-fleshed peaches. If

you buy peaches that are ripe or almost ripe, you may find that they have deteriorated by the time you get them home. Don’t buy bruised peaches. Unless used immediately, they will soon be garbage. If possible, buy local tree-ripened peaches that are slightly underripe. If you can get them organically grown, good for you! Peaches are heavily sprayed, but they can be peeled, which helps somewhat. European peaches are said to be superior to American varieties. California produces more peaches than any other of the United States.

Our peach tree produces large quantities of delicious white-fleshed fruit.

Pears

Peak season, September through November. Cold storage Anjou, Bosc and Cornice pears are available as late as May. The more fragile Bartlett pears are available through November. Select firm unblemished pears. If they are too hard, they may not ripen, so there should be just a little “give” to slight pressure. Avoid wilted, shriveled pears. Spots on the sides or blossom ends indicate an overripe or mealy pear. A ripe, crisp pear is flavorful eating, but you probably will not enjoy a hard or mealy pear.  Some pears are somewhat gritty. This grittiness is not consistent by variety and may sometimes be found, in different varieties. The tiny seckel  pears available in the fall are an excellent flavor treat and are never gritty. The Bartlett—a medium early pear—is large, green to yellow, and is the most popular commercial pear, though its flavor is only medium, and it becomes quite mealy if not used at its peak of ripeness. It turns yellow when ripe. The Anjou is medium to large, has smooth green skin with a faint blush. The flesh is white and sweet, with a fine flavor. It is one of the later pears. The Bosc has a long, tapering neck and a russet skin. It is juicy, with a rich aroma and fine flavor. It is a late pear. The Cornice is a choice, flavorful pear of high quality. It is available in midseason, and is large, roundish, green-yellow to yellow, with a delicate blush. Pears are not usually waxed. Scrub well before eating.

Persimmons

The small native persimmon is seldom available in markets, but the trees grow wild, and if you can spot these trees, the persimmons are free for the taking in October, November and December. They are hardy, and grow in tropical or temperate climates. The fruit averages about one inch in diameter. The peak season for Japanese persimmons is October-November. They are grown in our southern states, appear in the markets in the fall, and are available for only a short time—a month or two. They are tomato- or conic-shaped, up to four inches in diameter and three inches high (sometimes wider than they are high) and orange-colored.  A thin,  membranous  skin  covers the orange-colored flesh.  Persimmons are astringent when green, but become sweet when fully ripe. The flesh, when ripe, is very soft (sometimes almost liquid) and of very sweet and pleasant flavor. Japanese persimmons may have as many as eight elliptic, flattened, dark seeds, or they may be seedless. Some varieties have dark flesh, which is crisp and meaty and never astringent. These are edible before maturity. Some of the entirely dark-fleshed varieties improve as they soften, like Hyakume and Yeddo-ichi; others are best when still hard, like Zengi. But the more common, light-fleshed Japanese persimmons, or those with mixed light and dark flesh, should not be eaten until they reach the custard-like consistency of full ripeness. The “puckery”  substance  in the  immature  persimmons  is tannin. As the fruit ripens, the tannin forms into crystals which do not dissolve in the mouth, and the astringency
disappears. When they are thoroughly ripe, persimmons are very soft and difficult to handle. They should be picked when still a little firm, and the ripening finished at room temperature. Most of the Japanese persimmons available in the markets are picked too soon, and though they will still soften and ripen at room temperature, they never attain the optimal flavor of the persimmon which is picked at the proper time, just before they are ripe.

The small native American persimmons may also be harvested just before they are ripe, or they may be left hanging on the tree into the winter months. Even if frozen on the tree, the fruit is of excellent flavor when thawed. If the fruit is left to ripen and drop, it is at its peak, if it can be rescued quickly from the ground.

Pineapples

Peak season for this fruit is March through June. Good pineapples may also be available at other times during the year. Unless pineapples are mature when picked, they will not ripen properly. They may become soft, but never sweet. They may simply rot. Select pineapples that have begun to display some gold, orange-yellow or reddish-brown coloring. Some varieties are ripe when still green, but the best and most flavorful pineapples display the change in color from the base up, as they ripen. If the yellow color has spread to 15 or 20% of the fruit, then it’s ripe. A ripe pineapple should have a fragrant (but not fermented) odor and a slight separation of the eyes when ready to be eaten. The spikes should pull out easily and the fruit should be plump and heavy for its size. Soft spots or an unpleasant hint of fermentation in the odor are signs of overripe fruit. Pineapples with pointed or sunken eyes, dull yellow-green color and a dried-out appearance are immature. Fruit allowed to ripen completely before picking is a flavor treat most people in temperate climates never experience. A considerable amount of pineapples used to be produced in Florida, as much as half a million crates, but this Florida commercial pineapple has disappeared. Most of the fresh fruit now comes from Puerto Rico, Honduras and—especially—from Hawaii.  I have found Dole pineapples, air-expressed from Hawaii, to have the best flavor. They are the most expensive, but are almost always deliciously sweet and juicy. The  Dole Company maintains that all their pineapples are plant ripened and that the Dole pineapple is ripe and ready to eat—regardless of shell color. I still try to pick one which is turning orange-yellow—I believe they taste best; and I always pick one that has the characteristic pleasant fragrance.

Plantains

Available intermittently. These look like oversized bananas, but they must be cooked before they can be eaten. Green and yellow plantains are very starchy. They must turn black before they are mature enough to be sweet, and they must still be cooked.

Plums

Peak season, July through August. Varieties of plums differ in flavor and appearance. The skins may be green to purple-red and the flesh yellow to red. There are many varieties of plums, and sometimes as many as six to eight varieties are available at the same time. During the course of the season, as many as thirty different varieties of plums may be featured in markets. Some are juicy and hard; others are soft and sweet; still others have a rich flavor. Select unblemished plums that have good color for the particular variety, a slight glow to the skin, and that yield to gentle pressure. Most plums are picked prematurely and will never reach their optimal delicious flavor. Avoid immature fruit, which is hard and poorly colored. Even if it softens, it will be very tart and lack flavor. Of course, don’t buy overripe fruit which is soft, leaking and decayed. Plums are commonly waxed to give them a glossy look. It is best to peel waxed fruits. Plums should be eaten in limited amounts, because of their high content of oxalic acid.

Pomegranates

Peak season is in the fall. The fruit season is all year in south Florida. Fruit is picked after it has changed color to yellow and/or dark red, and is held in cold storage to ripen. If permitted to ripen on the tree, it may split. The fruit is round and flattened, irregularly six-sided, about the size of an orange. The tough, leathery skin encloses numerous small, red, juicy flesh bodies which contain small seeds. The flesh becomes quite sweet when thoroughly ripe. Some people don’t bother with the pomegranate, feeling it is too tedious and difficult to eat. A simple way to eat the pomegranate is to carefully squeeze or knead it until soft, without rupturing the skin, but liquefying the red, sweet flesh. Carefully puncture the skin to avoid squirting and suck out the delightful sweet-acid juice. When ripe, it is easy to rupture the flesh bodies with slight pressure of the thumb.

Rhubarb

Peak season, March through June. Rhubarb is not recommended for use as food, because it cannot be eaten raw; even cooked, it requires much sweetening, in addition, it is a poor food because it is quite high in oxalic acid. The plant bears red petioles (fruitstalks) with large leaves, and bears no fruit in the usual sense. The fruitstalks are cooked into preserves or sauce or pie filling, and, therefore, most people think of rhubarb as a fruit, although, botanically, it is a vegetable. Diced rhubarb is usually combined with strawberries or apples for pie filling. The leaves are not used at all, as they contain large amounts of oxalic acid salts which may be fatally poisonous. As indicated above, the fruitstalks also contain enough oxalic acid to be rejected as food.

Strawberries

Peak season is April through June. In the far south, strawberry plants may be set out either in the fall or early spring, but the fall plantings yield a small harvest. Strawberries are usually expensive and of poor quality when out of season. Medium to small berries are sweeter than large ones, as a rule. Select dry berries with stems attached, showing full, red color, bright luster and firm flesh. They should be all red, with no whiteness around the tip, and with a bright green cap. If most of the berries in a basket are of reasonable quality, it is probably the best available. Be sure to sort out any decaying or green berries as soon as possible. Don’t wash them until you use them.

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