One of my favorite summer pastimes is indulging in the abundance of fruit. There’s just no better way to celebrate the flavors of the season than to feast upon the (literal) fruits of your local farmer’s labor.
Below are five must-haves for summer munching. Whether you cook ’em, bake ’em, grill ’em or simply devour them as-is, this tasty produce is at its peak and ripe for the picking, so enjoy!
1. Apricots, Plums & Pluots
Stone fruits signal the official arrival of summer. Branch out from the traditional apricots and plums with the pluot, a plum-apricot hybrid that’s super sweet and tasty. One cup of sliced stone fruit has about one quarter of your daily vitamin C, which helps the body form collagen – the main protein in connective tissue – in bones, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels.
When selecting stone fruit, look for plump, firm skin that is unbroken and free of blemishes. Ripen at room temperature and then refrigerate or eat immediately for a delicious snack.
Or for an easy complement to grilled pork or lamb chops, simply cut the fruit in half (removing the pit) before brushing with equal parts honey and Dijon mustard and grilling until browned on both sides.
Versatile and popular, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries – not to mention the more exotic boysenberries and olallieberries – can be eaten as picked or require very little effort to prepare.
Not only are they packed with vitamins and nutrients, but a diet rich in colorful berries may help reduce your risk of several types of cancer, thanks to their phytochemicals and flavonoids.
Choose ripe, vibrant-looking berries that are firm with no mushy spots or mold.
For a healthy summer dessert topper, puree two cups of berries in a food processor with two tablespoons each of blackberry brandy and orange juice, plus three tablespoons honey. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds, and just before serving over frozen yogurt or angel food cake, mix the sauce with one cup of fresh berries.
I first tried fresh figs a few years back while traveling in Italy and immediately fell in love with them – so much so that I ended up dragging my unsuspecting husband through several fruit market detours there to get my fix. Since they’re so delicate and perishable, fresh figs are something of a rarity here in the States.
If you do happen to stumble upon them, keep two things in mind: 1) Buy without hesitation (trust me!), and 2) Avoid specimens that are shrunken, oozing from splits, leaking milky liquid from the stem or generally overly-squishy.
For an appetizer (or dessert) fit for any foodie, try quartering fresh figs just down to the base before filling with blue cheese crumbles and drizzling with local honey.
Summer picnics would not be complete without big, juicy watermelons. Whether tossed in a fruit salad, chomped on as thick slices or scooped directly from their makeshift rind bowl, it’s delicious, refreshing and hydrating. The same goes for cantaloupes and honeydew, which are all satisfying, nutrient-dense and low in calories.
When perusing fruit at the market, keep in mind that ripe watermelon has a hollow sound when knocked on, and cantaloupes and honeydew should have a strong, sweet aroma in the top part, along with a bottom that’s elastic to the touch.
Make a simple, yet sophisticated, dessert by de-rinding and cubing or balling melon before tossing with a half cup of chopped fresh mint and drizzling with local honey.
5. Peaches & Nectarines
Originally native to China, peaches come in both white and yellow varieties, with the white flesh having a lower acidity level. On average, nectarines (with recessively-smooth skin) tend to run smaller and sweeter, but both are wonderful for snacking.
Pick fruit that has a good all-over color and is neither too hard nor too soft, but go more on smell – the more your mouth waters from the sweet aroma, the better the fruit will be.
Kick your brunch up a notch with this fun drink: Add two peaches, two nectarines and one mango (all sans skins and pits) in a blender and pour in enough of your favorite fizzy mixer (ginger ale, tonic water, sparkling mineral water, etc.) to just cover the fruit before blending until smooth. Slowly add more mixer until you get your preferred consistency, garnishing with fresh mint and a floater of champagne.
To load up on fresh fruit at your local farmer’s market, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Smarter Living: Eat Local” site here to find information about markets around the country, as well as which produce is currently in season around the U.S.