Thursday, 5 April 2012

On green fruit.

I've noticed a trend lately in retail fruit: it's just not ripe when picked.

It's obvious with tomatoes, because despite the bright red colour (easily changed using ethylene, which is how they naturally redden themselves when picked so i'm not too fussed bout that) have absolutely no flavour and the texture is unpleasantly foul. This year I performed a test on a green tomato I knocked off the plant - I put it in a bowl with red ones and waited until it went fully red (about a week - it was a pretty hard green). Even that one, which I knocked of incredibly green, tasted far better than the bought ones, so god knows how green they pick them or how long they keep them before we see them.

For limes (even lemons), tahitian limes should be light green/even turning yellow, smooth skin, soft and full of tart but not bitter juice, not dark green, rough skin, hard, with difficult to extract bitter juice - that means it wasn't ripe when picked. Most of the time they've been picked so green they have barely a couple of teaspoons of bland juice in them. Even kaffir limes - which you don't normally use the juice for - I knocked a few off my plant today which are nicely ripe - more juice in these than the tahitian limes I bought last time (although the taste is a bit unpleasant for me so I don't use it for eating, or haven't found a way to yet).

Cucumbers - they're so green they don't even have seeds yet. And as a result the texture is too hard, the skin too soft, and the taste too bitter - and they spoil very quickly. Last year I picked some old cucumbers that I kept growing for seeds. A fairly thick skinned variety. I kind of forgot about them even though they were sitting on the kitchen counter next to a rice cooker (in the sun most of the hours of winter) - about 6 months later one started to rot and I chucked it in the ground where it grew.

The same for button squash. A couple of years ago I had a ton of them, and when picked just as the skin loses its rubbery feel they tasted a lot better, were a lot bigger (above tennis ball sized) and lasted much longer when picked. They were nice enough just to eat fresh. Yet the ones in the shops are picked about a 4 days too early (which makes them super-green as they ripen quickly), are overpriced, wont keep and taste so bitter you need to cook them to make them palatable.

Seedless watermelon? They've just been picked before they're even ripe so the seeds (and sugars) haven't developed yet (sister was told this by a watermelon grower): i.e. bland tasteless textureless crap.

It's obvious some of this is to try to keep the product looking good for market, particularly when it's then kept for months in cold storage. Some of it is for pest control. But the weird ones is where it is for customer expectations: e.g. the button squash, limes, seedless watermelon, and cucumbers.

And then there's the other extreme which are to cater to market desires - over-sweet varieties of fruit that just don't taste very nice and can't keep because they don't have enough acid in them. e.g. strawberries - usually giant, bland hollow things that simply taste like shit. I have some strawberries growing and they're not much better either - usually tiny, and as soon as they get ripe something eats them or they seem to just dissolve into nothingness.

Or mandarines - giant floppy skinned fruit that's easy to peel, seedless, but quickly starts to taste bad because the fruit doesn't have enough acid to keep it fresh. My mandarine tree has a huge crop again this year after a couple of years of sfa - fairly small, smooth very thin skinned fruit. But it's fantastically tart, loaded with sugar, and juicy - almost like a valencia orange, and last forever on the tree. Something I can definitely put up with a few seeds for.

About the only thing still reliably good is a nice big granny smith apple - good flavour, texture, and they last really well. Pity even eating small amounts of fresh apples just gives me a belly-ache and nausea (I don't know whether it's psychosomatic or because of the acid: when I was staying in Mexico city with Federico they didn't seem to eat anything until mid-afternoon, one day I was so hungry I had an apple on an empty stomach and felt very unpleasantly nauseous for the rest of the day - and I haven't been able to eat apples without a similar reaction since).

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