Buy in season as much as possible, out of season fruit will either taste funny because it was forced to grow in the wrong climate, or will be old because it was shipped half way around the world. A good guide to what's in season is Romany's writeup below. Also, don't buy just because the price is low, fruit is perishable and low prices probably mean old fruit. Along the same lines, only buy what you need -- letting fruit rot in your refrigerator is like throwing your money away.

These are only fruits that I know about personally, so the list isn't even nearly complete. If you know about othes, node them!

Apples: Bruises are the biggest fault with apples; they are hard to see but have a horrible texture to accidentally bite into. Before buying an apple feel it all over for soft spots. If there's any doubt whether there is or isn't a soft spot, put it back. Also, a generally soft texture might mean the apple will be meally. Also keep an eye out for any holes in the skin surface -- who knows how they got there or how deep they go. Discolorations are part of some apples' natural appearance, if the texture of the colored areas is the same as the rest of the apple, it's probably fine.

Bananas: Well, first make sure you're not buying plantains, or you're in for a nasty surprise. Next, look at the coloring. Green means under-ripe, and the fruit will be hard to peel and not taste very good. Green ones will ripen if left at room temperature for a few days. Yellow, or yellow with some black areas means ripe, the perfect banana. The more black is visible, the lower will be the quality of the fruit, so avoid "well done" looking ones.

Berries: In my area, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries all come in closed plastic boxes. Since you can't feel the fruit, you'll just have to go by appearance. Fortunately, since the individual fruits are so small, damage is usually quite easy to see. Remember that if you can see one bad fruit from the outside, there are probably more on the inside. Shriveled or mangled berries of any kind are bad, and berry juice coming out of the box is a bad sign. Also, look for mold through the bottom of the box, it starts forming really fast after berries have gone bad. Uniformity of color is a good sign. If you can force open a corner of the box to get a berry to taste, do so -- the store won't mind as long as you end up buying fruit.

Cantaloupes (Muskmelon): Make sure that no stem remains, if the stem scar looks torn then the fruit was probably picked before it was ripe. All of the netting on the melon should be thick and have a texture like cork, while the skin underneath should be yellowish rather than green.

Citrus Fruit: Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc. Skin color of citrus fruits means nothing, so don't try to judge them by it. Instead, try to find a fruit that is soft to the touch and feels heavy for its weight. This indicates that it will be ripe and juicy, and sweet if it's a sweet citrus. If any of the fruit's skin is withered or wrinkled, its time has passed. Dull, dry skin is also evidence of excess aging, only in a dry climate rather than a humid one.

Cherries: Well, the really easy way to tell is to just eat one of each kind. Ooh, shoplifting, but again the store probably won't care if you actually buy some cherries. I know it seems like a pain, but inspect each individual cherry instead of grabbing a handful. When I look through cherries, two thirds of them are mushy, cut, leaking, or otherwise dysfunctional. With the kind of prices they charge for this fruit, it's very much in your interest to get the best ones.

Grapes: Bad grapes will be squishy or even wrinkled, avoid them. Good grapes are firm and reasonably well attached to the stem, avoid a bunch of grapes that have a lot of fruit missing. If in doubt, just eat one. Check the produce sign to make sure they don't have seeds, if you care. It sucks terribly to chomp into what looks like the worlds yummiest grape and hit a bitter seed.

Peaches, Apricots, Plums, etc.: My mom taught me the rule for choosing this kind of fruit. Feel the tip of your nose, get an idea of how firm it is and how much give it has. The fleshy sunken area that surrounds the fruit's stem should have the same consistency. If it's softer, the fruit is over-ripe. If harder, the fruit is under-ripe. This method hasn't failed me yet, and guarantees a great fruit experience. As always, look out for bruises and holes in the skin, and avoid wrinkled/shriveled fruit.

Pears: Fitch tells me in a /msg that pears can be chosen by pinching them near the neck. If they're soft there then they are either ripe, or will be soon.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb is not a fruit, people!

Strawberries: Don't fall for strawberries in a box/flat, they won't be as good as hand-chosen ones. Pick uniformly red strawberries, and select the smallest ones you can find. Make sure the stem cap/leaf part hasn't fallen off, if it has the strawberry is too old. Discolored and uncolored areas mean a young fruit, and strawberries won't ripen once harvested. Mushy, brown-red areas are bad, and will have to be cut off before the strawberry is eaten. As with berries, mold grows and spreads fast on decayed strawberries, so look for it.

Watermelon: Ack, there's no good way to buy a watermelon unless it's already cut. If it is, buy it if it has dark seeds, or white seeds if it's a seedless variety. Any pale or white flesh will not taste good, so buy a melon with as little of that as possible. Stringy, dry flesh means the melon is too old, and was probably aged after harvest. Yellow watermelon (yes, these exist) are rare, and are often only available from vendors who know what's up. They're also delicious, and have even more sweetness and watermelon taste than their red cousins. I've never been able to fathom why they aren't more popular, it must be an aesthetic thing.

Watermelon: Many people swear by the "thumping" technique, where you thwack it to hear how it sounds. A hollow sound is good. But it'll sound different depending on where you hit it, so it's better for entertainment than as a practical technique. It should be heavy for its size (it'll be more juicy). But best is to check the lighter-colored patch where it rested on the ground. You want it to be distinct and yellowish in color.

Cantaloupe: By far the best way is to smell the stem end. It should smell like... well, cantaloupe. Often, it won't smell like much of anything, which means it's pretty much tasteless. Or that your nose is clogged. Watch out, though, if it smells too strong -- it may be rotten.

A couple more tips re picking good melons and watermelons:

  • Make sure they're firm all over, with no dents or soft spots.
  • Rap them lightly with your knuckles - they should make a nice resonating hollow sound.
  • Most important of all - they should smell. A lot. Any fruit that you have to put right up to your nose and sniff hard in order to get the frangrance of is under-ripe, overpackaged, sprayed and refrigerated cack.

    With watermelons it is considered a mark of quality if the stub of the stem is still attached - I'm not sure if that's a mark of freshness (the stub will dry off in time) or just a superstition, though.

When faced with pears firm as crabapples or peaches that could dent someone’s skull if launched correctly, you'll most likely put them in a paper bag and let them sit on the counter for a day or two. Why? 'Cause that's what your momma taught you to do.

Apples, pears, peaches, plums, nectarines, and some other fruits produce ethylene, a natural ripening hormone. A paper bag will keep the gasses close to the fruit, which stimulates the ripening process. A paper bag is ideal as it still allows moisture in and out. If you were to attempt this with a plastic bag you might find a fuzzy mess where your Bartlett pears once were.

You can also take fruit that does not produce, or produces little, ethylene—such as kiwi or bananas—and place it in a paper bag with an apple and it will ripen quicker than it would have on its own. Ethylene can also 'save' stale bread: place the bread in a paper bag with an apple or two and it will regain its softness and flavor.

Lots of good tips by others here. Of course, it is hard to find certain fruits at peak ripeness at a supermarket, usually because the peak ripeness window is so short and the fruit is so fragile at that time.

Two of my favorites, to ripen at home:

Peaches, and this works for nectarines as well.
There is nothing better than a fragrant, juicy peach with skin that will pull off effortlessly. But a tender peach does not keep long or well, especially in a bin with 1,000 others. So, how to pick when they are all rock hard? Make sure that the peach, except for where it blushes red, is yellow. Some peaches are almost entirely red, so look at the stem end. Avoid peaches that are green, rubbery, wrinkled, or bruised.

If you choose a peach that has a base color of yellow, it will be as sweet as possible. Ripening at home changes the texture of the fruit, but not the sugar content, and a yellow fruit was on the tree longer than a green one. If you are impatient, a crisp peach is also good sliced into salads, added to sangria, and basically is an interesting substitute for raw apples in many places.

Mangoes
I adore a good mango. If you are lucky, you will find a ripe, or near ripe fruit at the store. It will yield slightly and without bruising when gently squeezed. The entire fruit will smell sweet and strongly of mango; stick your nose right up to it in several places. The skin will be cool and smooth. There is true tactile pleasure to be had in caressing a ripe mango. Check the stem end. If the nub of the stem falls off at the least provocation, it is beginning to be overripe. If the mango is turning light brown around the stem, with the color radiating outwards, that part has become overripe and the entire fruit becomes suspect. If the stem end is wrinkled, it is another sign that the mango is starting to head downhill.

Unfortunately, most of the ones in supermarkets are either attractive rocks or scary, yellowing near-raisins. I avoid the near-raisins. They may be sweet and delicious, but I've never had the courage to try one. Instead, I purchase firm ones and ripen them at home. Ahh, the impatient peeping into the bag every evening, the judicious gentle pinch, and the questioning sniff.... Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes, it is easy to pick a good candidate for home ripening. Don't go by color. Instead, smell it. As I said before, stick your nose right up to it and sniff in several places. If the fruit is approaching ripeness, the stem end will smell sweet. That isn't enough. If the opposite end smells pleasantly fruity and somewhat sweet, that mango is a keeper. It will ripen in a reasonable amount of time, and it will be sweet and juicy. If all the mangoes just smell like the box, well they will take a very long time to ripen, and may dry out before they ever get soft enough to eat. As always, try to avoid bruised, wrinkled, or otherwise depressed fruit.

As previously mentioned, use a paper bag to ripen peaches or mangoes. Place the fruit in one layer in a clean brown paper bag. This is particularly important if you are storing a large quantity of fruit, as the fruit's own weight can bruise individual pieces as they soften.

I like to place the bag on its side so I can fit in more fruit. I try to match the quantity of fruit to the size of the bag so there isn't too much dead space in the bag. Fold the open end of the bag closed up to the fruit, and keep it at room temperature or just a bit warmer. Add an apple if you want to accelerate the process. Check every day as some will ripen sooner than others. There is nothing sadder, after all that waiting, than a perfect peach going moldy or a mango turning brown.

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