Fruit in the bowl: But will it ripen?

Summer is fresh-fruit season — a time we look forward to all year. Why is it, then, that we often are disappointed by the flavor of the fruit we buy? Knowing the nature of some fruits may help us to make better choices, not only for better flavor, but to save food dollars.

Some produce continues to ripen after picking, while other produce ripens only on the plant. Some fruits get sweeter after picking; others never do. Here are some tips on how to tell which is which.

Soft berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.), cherries, citrus, grapes, olives, pineapple and watermelon never ripen further after they are picked.

Apricots, blueberries, figs, melons (other than watermelon), nectarines, passion fruit, peaches and persimmons will improve in some ways after picking. That is to say, they will improve in texture and juiciness and perhaps even color after picking. They do not improve in sweetness, however.

Apples, kiwi, mangos, papayas and pears increase in sweetness after they are picked. Humidity levels are important if they are to be kept for a long time.

Two fruits are quite unique in their ripening habits: Bananas ripen in every way after harvest; avocados ripen only after picking.

Here's more information on selecting fruit, whether at the supermarket, growers market or in your own backyard: Select oranges and other citrus only by weight — the heavier the better. The color of an orange's skin does not indicate its ripeness. Green on the skin means there were leaves or other oranges blocking the sun's direct rays, but oranges don't need sun on the skin to ripen.

Strawberries can have a very disappointing flavor when they reveal a white interior. Commercially, strawberries have been bred to have a bright red color on the outside in order to appeal to the consumer. Strawberries that are red inside don't tend to ship well, however, so the firmer white interior means less spoilage in shipping. In my opinion, it's better to wait for the locally grown, flavorful, red-all-the-way-through berries.

If you wonder why raspberries are so expensive, it's again because of the shipping and spoilage issue. Raspberries crush easily, so there is a high risk of spoilage. They're really not hard to grow, so if you're fond of raspberries, you might want to find room for a patch in your own backyard.

Although watermelons ship quite well, they often appear in the market far ahead of the season. Again, waiting for the watermelons from Eastern Oregon — that's where Hermiston is — will make the wait worthwhile for a juicy, truly ripe treat.

Fruits like peaches, nectarines and apricots are picked very green if they are to be shipped, because they sustain less damage when they're hard. But, as mentioned above, they don't improve in sweetness or flavor.

In short, waiting for fruit to be truly ripe in its own season is the best choice. And buying it where it was raised so that it doesn't have to be shipped long distances will really give you the best fruit of all. When buying fruit, ask where it came from. Fruit stands don't necessarily sell locally-grown produce, you know.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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