By Carolyn Malcoun, contributing food editor for EatingWell Magazine
There's one time of year when fruit really grabs my attention and that's summertime! Even though many fruits are available year-round, as a contributing food editor for EatingWell Magazine I know that picking fruit at its peak means it tastes better and has more nutrients—and can cost less too.
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I'm oh-so-excited because my favorites are ripe and in season right now. I recently nibbled my way through a half-pint of raspberries on my way home from the supermarket. Sweet strawberries and fragrant peaches incite me to—gasp—bake shortcakes and cobblers. Pureeing watermelon into juice is the perfect summer drink, whether alone or jazzed up with some soda water and a little vodka. And I have a special soft spot in my heart for blueberries, as one of my first dates with my husband was picking blueberries at a berry farm.
Here are some expert tips on shopping for and picking the best ripe fruit so you get the most flavor and nutritional bang for your buck, plus delicious summer fruit recipes!
Raspberry Recipes to Try: Moist Lemon-Raspberry Muffins and 16 More Fabulous Summer Raspberry Recipes Why we love raspberries: Beyond enjoying raspberries on their own, we love them in pies, chutney and even wine. Health benefits of raspberries: One cup of raspberries has 64 calories and is a great source of fiber—some of it soluble in the form of pectin, which helps lower cholesterol—and an excellent source of vitamin C. The gorgeous red color is from anthocyanins, an antioxidant. How to pick ripe raspberries: Choose juicy-looking, brightly colored raspberries, as raspberries do not continue to ripen once picked. If the hulls are still attached, don't buy the raspberries—they were picked too early and will be sour. As with all berries, check raspberries for signs of mold or spoilage. How to store raspberries: Fresh raspberries are fragile and highly perishable. Store raspberries in the refrigerator and use within 2 days. To wash raspberries, gently spray with a fine mist just before using—the weight of water pouring from a faucet may crush them.
Strawberry Recipes to Try: Luscious Strawberry Shortcake, plus More Sweet and Savory Strawberry Recipes Why we love strawberries: Nothing beats the flavor of a juicy, sun-ripened strawberry right off the plant. Health benefits of strawberries: Just 1 cup of strawberries has a respectable 3 grams of fiber and more than a full day's recommended dose of vitamin C—an antioxidant that helps keep skin healthy. How to pick ripe strawberries: Choose plump, bright red strawberries, as white- or green-tipped strawberries are lacking in flavor. Strawberries should be free of mold and bruises. Leaves should be attached, green and fresh-looking. How to store strawberries: Store strawberries in the refrigerator. Discard any strawberries that show signs of mold—it spreads quickly to other berries. Wash the strawberries gently in cool water just before you plan to eat them, leaving the leaves on until after they are washed.
Peach Recipes to Try: Creamy Peach Custard Pie, Peach-Blueberry Cobbler and More Amazing Peach Desserts Why we love peaches: We dare you to take a bite of a perfectly ripe peach and not smile when the fragrant juice dribbles down your chin. Health benefits of peaches: Besides amazing flavor, peaches are packed with natural goodness, including vitamins A, C and potassium. They also give a healthy dose of antioxidants, beta carotene (which gives them their deep yellow color) and flavonoids, which may help slow the aging process and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and heart disease. Plus with only 60 calories per peach and plenty of fiber, they are a calorie-counter's dream. How to pick ripe peaches: Use your nose! Choose peaches with a "peachy" scent, slightly sweet and flowery. Ripe peaches will give a little when gently pressed. The red or blush color on the skin is a characteristic of variety, not ripeness. Avoid any that are overly green—they were picked too early and won't ripen properly. How to store peaches: If your peaches aren't ripe, set them in a single layer on the counter, not stacked, and allow to ripen for a day or so at room temperature. Once ripe, transfer them to the refrigerator and use within a week.
Watermelon Recipes to Try: Bring a batch of Watermelon Salsa to your next picnic or try one of these other refreshing watermelon recipes. Why we love watermelon: Full of tangy sweetness, watermelon is refreshing without being filling and is surprisingly good for you. Health benefits of watermelon: Watermelon averages 40% more of the cancer-fighter lycopene per serving than tomatoes. Lycopene in watermelon is easily absorbed without cooking, unlike that in tomatoes, and is relatively stable when the fruit is stored and refrigerated. A 1-cup serving of watermelon also provides 17% of the daily value for vitamin A, 20% of the daily value for vitamin C, along with vitamin B6, beta carotene, thiamin and potassium—all for just 46 calories. How to pick ripe watermelon: Watermelon should be firm and symmetrical, without bruises, cuts or dents. It should feel heavy for its size and have a creamy yellow spot where the melon sat on the ground to ripen in the sun. Precut melon flesh should be dense, firm and appear moist. How to store watermelon: Wash whole watermelons in clean, running water and dry before eating to remove surface dirt. (When purchasing cut watermelon, wash and dry the rind of the watermelon.) Watermelon temperature should be maintained—if it is purchased at room temperature, it should be stored at room temperature. If the melon was refrigerated at the supermarket, do so at home as well. Cut melon should be refrigerated immediately, either in a covered container or with cut surfaces covered with plastic wrap to prevent the flesh from becoming mushy.
Blueberry Recipes to Try: Wake up with a plate of Blueberry-Ricotta Pancakes or try one of our other amazing blueberry recipes. Why we love blueberries: Fresh blueberries burst with flavor, especially straight from the berry patch, and they deliver a hit of sweetness to any dish. Health benefits of blueberries: One cup of fresh blueberries has 83 calories; they are a good source of fiber and an excellent source of vitamin C. They're rich in cancer-fighting anthocyanins, compounds that give the berries their blue hue and also fight tissue-damaging free radicals and inflammation. Animal studies suggest that anthocyanins in blueberries may help protect memory. How to pick ripe blueberries: Choose plump and firm blueberries. If you purchase blueberries from the grocery store, be sure to avoid those with signs of mold at the bottom of the package. How to store blueberries: Cover and refrigerate blueberries. To freeze blueberries, wash them and pat dry. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid. Pack frozen fruit into sealable plastic bags, taking care to remove air from the bags. Freeze for up to 1 year.
What's your favorite summer fruit?
By Carolyn Malcoun
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Carolyn Malcoun combines her love of food and writing in her position as contributing food editor at EatingWell. Carolyn has a culinary arts degree from New England Culinary Institute and a degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin--Madison. Carolyn lives in Portland, Maine, and enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking and running in her free time.
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