By Expat Chef
A lot of the articles on this site talk about the glorious TASTE of local produce, but rather than take our word for it, allow me to bore you with the details. If you want the full explanation, you should seek out the essay, “Ripeness is All,” in Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything.
I have to admit, I find Steingarten most abrasive as a judge on Iron Chef America, but his food writing is excellent, sort of “Alton Brown Goes to Harvard, but Remains Funny.” He often borders on obsessive, which makes for a great read. You won’t even realize you are learning.
In this essay, he describes fully the mechanics of ripening for fruits and vegetables. The short version is that no fruit or vegetable will ever attain its height of flavor, texture and aroma if picked before peak ripeness.
What this means is any fruit or vegetable that has to be shipped must be picked prior to its optimum goodness in order to be packed, shipped, stored and sold to you. Thus, you will never know the full flavor potential of your Five-a-Day unless you skip the “fruit commute” and buy local or grow your own.
Steingarten has devised his own five categories of fruit and vegetables based on their ability to ripen after picking, or not. They are as follows:
1. Fruits (and veggies) that will never ripen after being picked:
Blackberries, cacao, cherries, dates, grapes, grapefruit, lemons, limes, lichi, mandarins, olives, oranges, pineapples, raspberries, strawberries and watermelons.
This explains a lot and is the reason I ONLY make blackberry crumble with rosemary once a year using fresh local berries.
2. Fruit/Veggies that ripen only after it is picked:
Yes, there is one: Avacado
3. Fruit that ripens in color, texture and juiciness, but will NEVER improve in flavor or sweetness or aroma:
Apricots, blueberries, cantaloupes, casabas, crenshaws, figs, honeydews, nectarines, passion fruit, peaches, Persian melons, persimmons and plums
4. Fruits/Veggies that DO get sweeter after harvest, but will never develop proper aroma:
Apples, pears, kiwis, mangoes, papayas
These are great fruits for shipping because some, like apples, can be controlled for ripening in cold storage. A key to why they are available year round. However, as Steingarten points out, this process produces less sugars and flavor.
5. Fruit that ripens in all ways after harvest:
It’s a great article, even getting into the biochemical processes of ripening. I highly recommend giving it a read, perhaps while you are appreciating the full flavor and aroma of a locally harvested peach.
You can find the Expatriate Chef hanging out in her kitchen, reading Steingarten and watching Iron Chef America while licking the empty Blackberry Crumble dish.