Fruit is arguably nature's most bountiful gift to us. Certainly no other food group offers such a variety of colors, textures and flavors. Because of this rich variety, we can enjoy fruit in one form or another all year long. We'll reap many health benefits for doing so, too. In addition to tasting great, fruits provide us with soluble and insoluble fiber, sugars that are a source of slow-release energy, and powerful antioxidants like vitamins C and E. To take advantage of these benefits, we need to know when various fruits are in season and what signs to look for to indicate that they’re healthy and succulent.
Grapefruit (along with its cousin ugli fruit) ranks among the few that peak in midwinter, although it is available all year. A good grapefruit will appear round and plump and feel heavy. Avoid a soft, shriveling or brown specimen. Grapefruit can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator. Bananas, on the other hand, ripen off of the plant. For this reason, they should be bought while they're still firm and slightly green. Bruised and/or mushy bananas aren't as enjoyable to eat.
Spring brings us the family of sweet oranges, which includes navel, blood and juice oranges. They range in flavor from tart to sweet, with some striking a delicious balance between the two. Like grapefruit, oranges should be rounded, plump and firm, and preferably with thin skin. Watch for softness, irregular shapes, and especially mold.
During the summer months, many of the most tantalizing fruits grow and ripen. These include the various berries that are in season from May until September. Purchase berries loose, whenever possible, so that you can see exactly what you're getting. If they're boxed, make sure that the bottom ones aren't squashed. Cherries should look plump and glossy, with a deep red color. Avoid any that are mushy, cracked or shriveled. Cherries can be stored for a few days in the refrigerator. Peaches and nectarines peak in July and August. The best are firm but not hard; and though they appear in a range of hues from yellow to red, avoid any with traces of green. Watermelons arrive just in time to soothe us from summer's heat. The skin of a watermelon should look fresh – deep green instead of pale, though its underside might be yellowish. A healthy watermelon is a heavy and firm fruit, and will last for several days refrigerated.
Fall brings us apples, among the most popular fruits the world over. The best apples look crisp, plump and bright-skinned. Check for bruises and signs of rot, and avoid any that feel light. Apples can be stored for a couple of weeks in a cool, dry place. Grapes are also in season during this time, though imports make them available year round. Brown stems, bruises, softness and decay are all signs that grapes are passed their prime. Look for plump, firm fruit and greenish, pliable stems.
If we're fortunate enough to buy fruit fresh from a farm, orchard, or farmer’s market, so much the better. As a general rule (bananas are one of the few exceptions), fruits taste best and are most nutritious immediately after they've been picked. Otherwise, following a few visual clues will assure us that the fruit we're purchasing is the healthiest and freshest possible.