by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO- The harvest has begun. If you’ve been a gardener and raised your own produce in the past, you know what to look for. For all the others, here are some hints to choosing the cream of the crop.
Watermelon – When watermelon is in season, it’s easy to choose one. Some people rap on the melon with their knuckles. If there is a “hollow” sound, the melon is overripe. If the stem end yields to pressure from your thumb, it’s a sign the melon is ready to eat. Check the round spot on the melon where it sat on the ground while ripening. If the spot is white, it’s not quite ripe; if it is yellowish, the melon is ready.
Cantaloupe – If you can smell the sweetness of a cantaloupe, it’s ready to eat. Some people press on the stem end to see if it is soft, but the smell test is the best. Avoid melons with soft spots, which are signs of being overripe. When a cantaloupe is ripe, it will not keep well, even in the refrigerator. Consume right away.
Peppers – They should be firm. Beware of brown spots, which can signal rot on the inside of the pepper.
Sweet corn – Choose smaller ears, which have slightly smaller, tender kernels. Press your thumbnail against a kernel at the tip of the ear. If it pops, take the ear home. If it is pliable, the ear is slightly dried out and will be tough. Those large beautiful kernels, by the way, are impressive but promise to be tough. Fresh sweet corn should be boiled 5-7 minutes – any longer and it will become, you guessed it, tough. Don’t be scared off by a worm in the silk end of an ear of corn. You can snap off the end, and the rest of the ear will be fine.
Tomatoes – Smell the tomato. If it smells like a real tomato, buy it. If it has little to no aroma, it will have little to no taste. Vine ripened tomatoes may have a few insect nibbles or may not be perfectly shaped, but if you overlook the imperfections you will be rewarded with exquisite taste.
Eggplant – Only buy the freshest eggplant – ask the vendor if it was picked within the past 12 hours. The older the eggplant, the more bitter the taste. Look for glossy fruit. A brownish tint means the fruit is overripe.
Cucumbers – A typical slicing cucumber should be 6-8 inches long and firm. If either end is puckered, the cucumber is slightly dehydrated and could be bitter. Large cucumbers are impressive, but they may be older, less crisp and have larger seeds. If the skin is turning yellow, the cucumber is too ripe.
Buy local when you can, and enjoy the harvest over the next eight weeks.