_4 The Incomparable Fruit: How to Select, Prepare, and Store Fresh Fruit

Serves: 5



When it comes to making smoothies, being well-informed about the wide variety of fruits available for creating the perfect smoothie is as important as purchasing the right blender (which we'll discuss in "Making the Untimate Smoothie: Equipment and Techniques"). You will be pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is to determine whether these delectable packages of flavor are ripe or not. Which fruits should be gently pressed to determine their resilience or softness? Why does the weight or density of specific fruits indicate their degree of juiciness or ripeness? How does simply smelling a fruit and basking in its sweet aroma help determine its ripeness? Read on to unravel these and other mysteries of the produce department.

I hope that as you become more familiar with the fabulous array of fruit available, the excitement of making smoothies will inspire you to create your own recipes with some of your favorite fruit that I may not have included. With such a delicious bounty of fruit to choose from, this is going to be one of the tastiest adventures of your life.

Apples are believed to have originated in Central Asia and Caucasus, but they have been cultivated since prehistoric times. They were brought to the United States at the beginning of the seventeenth century and later to Africa and Australia. Today, there are over 100 varieties of apples commercially grown in the United States.

Apples are a small, round fruit that can be red, green, or yellow. They have a firm, crisp flesh. Some apples have a sweet flavor with a hint of tartness, while others are less sweet and more tart. Most apples are delicious when made into a smoothie, but your flavor preference will determine the best one for you.

Selection: When choosing an apple, look for one that is firm and crisp with a smooth and tight skin. Most important, the apple should have a sweet-smelling aroma. Avoid any apple that has bruised or blemished skin. Another consideration when choosing apples is to buy the organic variety whenever possible. Most nonorganic apples are heavily sprayed with pesticides and later waxed to preserve and keep them looking fresh. Because of this, you might find a worm in some organic apples. These unwelcome visitors can be removed when the apple is cut, thereby removing any health or aesthetic concerns. Wash and dry all apples well, whether organic or not.

The apricot is a round or oblong fruit measuring about two inches in diameter with skin and flesh that are orange-yellow in color. It is a very sweet and juicy fruit with a single, smooth stone. The apricot is native to North China and was known to be a food source as early as 2200 B.C. Apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A, potassium, and iron.

Selection: When choosing apricots, look for those that are well-colored and firm but yield slightly when gently pressed. Avoid any that are green or yellow in color because this may indicate they are not ripe, while soft ones are probably overripe. Wash apricots and keep them refrigerated until ready to use.

The banana has been around for so long that, according to Hindu legend, it was actually the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. It is also believed that the banana was widely cultivated throughout Asia and Oceania before recorded history and that the Spanish colonists introduced banana shoots to the New World in 1516. Bananas are a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, and B2, as well as potassium.

Selection: Although bananas are picked when they are green, they are not allowed to ripen until they get to market. When choosing a banana, look for one that is completely yellow. The riper a banana, or the more yellow its skin, the sweeter it is. Bananas that are yellow but have green tips or are yellow with brown spots also are ready to eat. Green bananas will ripen at room temperature in two or three days, or you can place them in a brown paper bag to ripen. If you add a tomato or apple to the bag, the bananas will ripen even faster. Once ripe, store bananas at room temperature or in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

The blackberry is a small black, blue, or dark red berry that grows on thorny bushes (brambles). These berries are oblong in shape and grow up to one inch in length. The United States is the world's dominant producer of blackberries. Blackberries are at their peak in flavor and availability from June through September, but they may still be found in some supermarkets from November and on into April. They are rich in vitamin C and fiber.

Selection: When choosing blackberries, look for ones that are plump and solid with full color and a bright, fresh appearance.

Native to North America, the blueberry has the distinction of being the second most popular berry in the United States. It has been around for thousands of years but was not cultivated until the turn of the century. Today, 95 percent of the world's commercial crop of blueberries is grown in the United States. Blueberries are at their peak in flavor from mid-April to late September. They are available in the southern states first and gradually move north as the season progresses. Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber.

Selection: When choosing blueberries, look for ones that are plump and firm. Avoid any that appear to be dull because this may indicate that the fruit is old.

Cherries are small, round, red to black fruit that grow on a tree. There are numerous varieties, but all of them fall into one of three categories: sweet, sour, or a hybrid of the two. Cherries grow in the temperate zones of Europe, Asia, and the Americas. It is believed that they originated in northeastern Asia and later spread throughout the temperate zones in prehistory carried by birds who ate the cherries and later dropped the stones. They are a source of vitamin C and fiber.

Selection: When choosing cherries, look for those that are dark, plump, and firm. Store them in the refrigerator and wash them just before using.

The kiwifruit (or kiwi) is about the size of a plum and grows on a vine. It has a brown fuzzy skin and a luscious sweet-and-sour emerald-green pulp that surrounds a cluster of black seeds. The kiwi originated in the 1600s in the Yangtze River valley in China and was called "Yangtao." In 1906, Yangtao seeds were sent to New Zealand, where the fruit was renamed Chinese gooseberry. In 1962, the Chinese gooseberry was shipped to the United States, where it was again renamed the "kiwifruit" in honor of New Zealand's famous national bird. Kiwi is high in vitamin C. Selection When choosing a kiwi, look for one that has a sweet aroma and is plump and firm, yet will give slightly when pressed. Kiwi will ripen at room temperature in three to five days. When ripe, store the kiwi in the refrigerator for a few days.

The mango was cultivated in India and the Malay Archipelago about four thousand years ago. In the 1700s and 1800s, European explorers introduced the fruit to other tropical areas. Mangoes were first grown in the United States sometime in the early 1900s.

The mango resembles a peach in appearance but is more elongated in shape. It has a thin, leathery skin that can be yellow or red in color. The skin surrounds a very aromatic and juicy pulp and a hard inner pit. Mangoes are rich in betacarotene and vitamins A and C.

Selection: When choosing a mango, look for one that is very fragrant, plump around the stem area, and gives slightly when pressed. Mangoes can also be ripened at room temperature. Wash and dry them well before using.

Melons, surprisingly, are members of the cucumber family. They grow on vines that can be up to seven feet long. There are two distinct types of melons: muskmelons and watermelons. In the muskmelon category are the summer melons, cantaloupe and muskmelon, and the winter melons, including the casaba and honeydew. All melons are high in vitamin C.

Selection: When choosing a melon, look for one that is unblemished, firm, and free of any soft spots. Pick up a few melons and choose the one that is the heaviest for its size. Also, smell the stem end of the melon to see whether it has a fresh, melon aroma. If it has no aroma, then the fruit is not ripe. Melons should be washed and refrigerated until ready to use.

Fresh oranges are widely grown in California, Florida, and Arizona and are available all year long. The two major varieties are the Valencias and navel. Two other varieties grown in the Western states are the Cara Cara navel and the Moro orange (similar to the blood orange), both of which are available throughout the winter months. Oranges are very high in vitamin C.

Selection: When selecting an orange, look for one that is heavy for its size and firm. Avoid oranges with a bruised skin, indicating possible fermentation, as well as those with a loose skin, suggesting they may be dry inside. Although oranges can be stored at room temperature for a few days, their flavor is best when kept refrigerated. Wash the oranges before storing them.

The papaya has a smooth skin that can be green or greenish yellow in color. It surrounds a flesh that ranges in color from yellow-orange to salmon. It has a slightly elongated shape, similar to that of an avocado, and contains many edible seeds. Its flavor has been described as musky peachy-apricot. Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Selection: When choosing a papaya, look for one that is heavy for its size and gives slightly when pressed. Also, the papaya should have a pleasant aroma. If the skin is spotted, this will not affect the flavor. Papayas are at their peak during May and June. Wash the papaya before using.

Grown since prehistoric times, peaches were first cultivated in China. They were later introduced into Europe and Persia. It is believed that the Spaniards brought peaches to North, Central, and South America. The Spanish missionaries planted the first peach trees in California.

Numerous varieties of peaches are available, and they are broken down into rough classifications. An example of one type of peach is the "freestone," so named because the pit separates easily from the peach. Another type is the "clingstone," because the pit is firmly attached to the fruit. Freestones are most often found in the supermarket because they are easy to eat, while clingstone peaches are frequently canned. Peaches are available almost year-round and are a good source of vitamins A and C.

The nectarine is a smooth-skinned variety of the peach. Nectarines are high in vitamin C.

Selection: When choosing nectarines, look for those with bright red markings over a yellow skin. Avoid any with wrinkled skin or those that are soft and bruised. The nectarine should yield gently to the touch and have a sweet aroma.

When picking peaches, look for ones that are relatively firm with a fuzzy, creamy yellow skin, and a sweet aroma. The pink blush on the peach indicates its variety, not its ripeness. Avoid peaches with a wrinkled skin or those that are soft or blemished.

The peach should yield gently when touched. To ripen peaches, keep them at room temperature, out of direct sun, until the skin yields slightly to the touch. Once ripe, wash the peaches and store them in the refrigerator in a single layer for up to five days.

Pear is the name of a tree of the rose family and its fruit. It is believed that pears were eaten by Stone Age people. However, the pears we are accustomed to eating were first cultivated in southeastern Europe and western Asia as early as 2000 B.C. Pear trees were first planted in the Americas in the early seventeenth century. Pears are a source of vitamin C and fiber.

Selection: Although pears are available year-round, they ripen better off the tree. This explains why they are often so hard when purchased at the supermarket. Many pears have stickers that tell you the stage of ripeness, such as "ready to eat" or "let me ripen for two days." Therefore, when choosing pears, look for ones that are firm and unblemished with a fresh pear aroma. Pears can then be ripened at home by placing them in a brown paper bag at room temperature for a few days. Once ripe, wash the pears and refrigerate them for two to five days.

The pineapple is a tropical fruit that is native to Central and South America. In 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered pineapples growing on the island of Guadeloupe and brought them back to Spain. In the 1700s, pineapples were grown in greenhouses throughout Europe. They are an excellent source of vitamin C.

Selection: When choosing a pineapple, look for one that has a fresh pineapple aroma and a crown with crisp, fresh-looking leaves and a brightly colored shell. Avoid any pineapples that have soft spots or are discolored. Wash the pineapple well.

It is believed that red raspberries spread all over Europe and Asia in prehistoric times. Because they were so delicious growing wild, it was not until the 1600s that raspberries were cultivated in Europe. Those that are cultivated in North America originated from two groups: the red raspberry, native to Europe, and the wild red variety, native to North America. Raspberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.

Selection: When choosing raspberries, it is always best to buy them when they are in season--usually starting in late June and lasting four to six weeks. If you are fortunate enough to have a local berry farm, take advantage of it by visiting at the beginning of the season to get the best pick. Select berries that are large and plump, bright, shiny, uniform in color, and free of mold. Avoid any that are mushy. Before refrigerating raspberries for up to one day, carefully go through the batch and discard any that show signs of spoilage. Wash the raspberries just before you are ready to use them.

Strawberries date as far back as 2,200 years ago. They are known to have grown wild in Italy in the third century, and by 1588, they were discovered in Virginia by the first European settlers. Local Indians cultivated the strawberry as early as the mid-1600s by the middle of the nineteenth century, this fruit was widely grown in many parts of the country.

The strawberry grows on a plant very low to the ground on a stem in groups of three. As the fruit ripens, it changes from greenish white in color to a lush flame red. The strawberry does not have a skin but is actually covered by hundreds of tiny seeds. Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C and fiber.

Selection: The best time to buy strawberries is in June and July when they are at their peak of juicy freshness. As with raspberries, if you are lucky enough to live near a strawberry farm, a "pick your own" day trip is a wonderful family outing as well as an excellent way to get the very best of the crop. Look for plump, firm, and deep colored fruit with a bright green cap and a sweet strawberry aroma. Strawberries can be stored in a single layer in the refrigerator for up to two days and washed with their cap just before you are ready to use them.

Freezing the fruit you plan to include in your smoothie is very important because the frozen fruit adds consistency to the final product and helps maintain an ideal icy cold temperature. Another reason you may want to freeze fruit is simply to store it for later use. Whether freezing for immediate use or for storage, the basic preparation is identical. When ready to freeze cherries and apricots (which should be cut in half and their stones removed) or berries, place them in a colander and rinse with a gentle stream of cool water. Pat dry with a paper towel. For a banana or kiwi, remove its skin and either slice it or freeze it whole and then slice it later before use. Before freezing oranges, remove the peel and as much of the skin as possible, and break each orange into segments. To prepare apples, peaches, nectarines, mangoes, papayas, pears, and melons for freezing, remove their peels and seeds or pits before cubing. When ready to freeze a pineapple, remove its top, the outer layering, and the core, and cut it into cubes.

Place the prepared fruit on a baking sheet, and freeze it for thirty minutes or longer, after which time it will be ready to add to the other smoothie ingredients. If freezing fruit to be used at a later date, transfer the frozen pieces to an airtight plastic bag large enough to hold them in a single later. Label and mark the date on the bag, and freeze for up to two weeks. Most fruit can be kept in the freezer this long without a loss of flavor. When you are ready to use this deep-frozen fruit, allow it to sit first at room temperature for twenty minutes.

This _4 The Incomparable Fruit: How to Select, Prepare, and Store Fresh Fruit recipe is from the Cook'n Ultimate Smoothies Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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