Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
September is my favorite month because I get to spend all of my spare time in my two favorite places – the kitchen and garden. All of the season’s toil and sweat comes down to this month, the one where the harvest takes center stage.
If you’re new to gardening, learning when to harvest is trial and error; in eagerness, you pluck a tomato too soon, or in anxiety, leave it too long on the vine. Either way, your harvest isn’t rewarding – pick too soon and the flavor doesn’t develop, too late and the fruit is mushy and not as sweet.
When the garden is packed with roots, leaves, fruits and flowers, how to tell if one pepper is better than another or when a ripe-to-the-point-of-sinful cantaloupe is ready?
Taste and color are big clues in the maturity of what you’re picking, but all of your senses should be used when gauging ripeness, so feel the vegetable for signs it’s ready to harvest. Cucumbers may look green and pretty, but if their middles are soft and spongy, or the rind is hard, they’re overripe.
Whether slender or globe-like, eggplants should be shiny, uniformly deep in color with a bright green cap. Avoid those with dull color, a green tinge or brown discolorations; all of these are signs of bitter or old fruit. Eggplant becomes bitter if stored too long, so harvest it just before you need it or store it in the fridge for up to a week.
Sweet corn is a darling of the season, and fans love the creamy yellow, pearly white or bicolor ears of this hallmark of the summer. Watch your ears for the silk to turn dark brown and the ears filled to the tip with tightly packed, plump kernels. When lightly pressed, the kernels should ooze a milky juice. Corn with dry brown husks and indentations on the kernels are likely to be past their prime and the sugars have turned to starch. Super sweets, especially, lose sugar quickly. If you’re looking to freeze some, go with bi-colors or yellows.
Heirloom tomatoes pack plenty of taste in funky colors like striped, purple, pink, orange or white. Usually we can tell when they’re ready, but try growing a green tomato – one that never really colors up, and you’re reduced to tasting the tomato to learn when it’s ripe. Most of the time, those green tomatoes will blush slightly, so look for a color change and firm, glossy skin before tasting it.
Once you’ve mastered the tricks to telling ripeness, it’s easy to spot cantaloupes ready with melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. Look for well-defined grey-yellow netting over tan skin and a crack developing around the stem where it connects to the melon. Cantaloupes slip from the vine when ripe, and when this crack is two-thirds of the way around the fruit, your melon is perfect. At the store, follow your nose when choosing cantaloupe. Ripe ones smell like melon.
While bells are the best known sweet peppers, sweet bananas and Italian bull’s horn types add thrill to the grill and fresh salads. Long and lean, these may look like their chili cousins, but don’t have the spice. Pick peppers with deep, rich color that feel heavy for their size, and compost those with thin walls that give when pressed. But know what you’re growing before following my advice – some bull’s horn types have thinner walls that give when you press them. When harvesting those, keep the ones that are wrinkle-free and sleek.
Green beans are best when picked young, then cooled quickly to store in the refrigerator. The best snap beans are harvested slim while the seeds are small and not swelling. Clip your pods – don’t yank them – from the plant when they’re less than one-quarter to one eighth inch around and have bright color. Discard those that are spindly, blemished or limp or those that are stringy when snapped.
- Mutant Green Tomatoes Show Researchers Key to Stronger Red-Ripe Crops (prnewswire.com)
- Maria Rodale: Tomato Week: Easy Tomato Recipes & Tomato Plant Harvesting Tips (huffingtonpost.com)