A Guide to Summer Fruits and How to Cook With Them
Take advantage of the season's rich bounty of fresh fruit.
As the temperatures rise and you spend your days trying to cool down by the pool, don't forget about the bounty of summer produce arriving at your local farmers' market and grocery store! This guide to summer fruits will help you beat the heat and take full advantage of all the season has to offer. Learn how to choose, store, and use these sensational summer fruits.
Apricots are available beginning in late spring and running through early summer. These delicate stone fruits don't travel well, so it's best to pick them up at your local farmers’ market. While they resemble peaches, they're smaller in size and more tart in flavor. They're popular for use in jams because their skin is rich in pectin (which gives jams and jellies their thick consistency). And of course, ripe apricots are perfect for pies, tarts, and cobblers.
Choose It: Ripe apricots should be soft to the touch, giving slightly when you press them. When ripe, they have an orange-gold color with a hint of redness. Avoid apricots that are extremely hard and/or green in color. Overly ripe apricots will have shriveled skin.
Store It: Store ripe apricots in an airtight container or plastic bag and refrigerate to keep them from spoiling too quickly. For best results, eat them or use them within three days. Unripe apricots can be stored in a brown paper bag (not plastic) for two days to help them ripen.
Blackberries have a fairly short season: midsummer to early fall. But they freeze well for year-round use in smoothies and baked goods! They have a sweet flavor with a hint of tartness that makes for mouthwatering cobblers, pies, and more.
Choose It: Look for blackberries that are plump with a uniform, deep purple to black color. Avoid berries with green or white patches — they don't ripen after they're picked.
Store It: Store blackberries in their original container in the low-humidity crisper drawer of your fridge. Do not wash them until you're ready to use.
Blueberries are kind of a big deal in the summer. These berries are native to North America, and their growing season is from May through October. It only takes a handful of them to create an explosion of fresh flavor and color in pancakes, muffins, pies, and more.
Choose It: Choose blueberries that are plump and dent-free. Ripe blueberries will be uniformly blue. Make sure your blueberries are ripe when you pick them. As is the case with other berries, blueberries won't ripen after picking.
Store It: Good news: blueberries are relatively sturdy compared to many of their berry counterparts. Store them in your fridge in the original container (preferably at the front so you don't forget about them) for up to a week. Don't wash until you’re ready to use. You can also freeze them for up to a year.
This bright and juicy fruit can be hard to find at peak ripeness, but when you do they're irresistible. Get cantaloupe in season June through August. Cantaloupe is best served fresh to really show off its sweet flavor. Try tossing it in a fruit salad, enjoying it in a smoothie, or use it to make a fruit salsa.
Choose It: That old wives' tale is right — you should tap on the melon to determine if it's ripe. A ripe cantaloupe will sound hollow when tapped, and it will surprisingly heavy for its size. You should even be able to notice a sweet aroma coming from them.
Store It: Ripe, whole cantaloupe can be stored in the fridge for up to five days, while already cut cantaloupe will last for 3 days when refrigerated in an airtight container. If your cantaloupe is not quite ready, it will continue to ripen with time. Leave it on the counter for up to two days to reach peak ripeness.
Ripe, sweet cherries (such as the Bing and Rainier varieties) are synonymous with summer. They come and go with the season: they're ready to harvest starting in May and ending in August. They add a burst of flavor to any dessert, but it wouldn't be summer without a fresh cherry pie.
Choose It: Ripe cherries are plump, and bright without blemishes. Some varieties are lighter in color, this doesn't mean they're not ripe. They tend to cultivate in groups, so try to purchase ones with the stems still attached if possible.
Store It: Cherries will stay fresh in the refrigerator for anywhere from three days to two weeks. Simply store them in a resealable plastic bag for optimal freshness. Don’t wash them until you're ready to eat or use them. To freeze them for extended use, pit them, place them on a baking sheet in the freezer, and transfer into a freezer bag once frozen.
Fresh figs can be hard to find — they have a short season in early summer and a longer one in late summer through fall. They have a sweet flavor (almost like honey) and a squishy texture. Because of their sweet flavor, they make a great companion to savory foods.
Choose It: Because they are so fragile, fresh figs will be hard to find unblemished. You are fine to buy figs with a few wrinkles or even splits. Wrinkled skin and a bent stem indicate ripeness (and better flavor). Avoid figs that are oozing or appear too squishy.
Store It: If you're planning to use fresh figs within a day of purchase, store them at room temperature for best results. You can also store them in the fridge for up to two days in an airtight container, but this may cause them to deteriorate slightly.
These little known berries are rising in popularity throughout the country. They're mostly available from specialty growers and farmers' markets. While they might look similar to grapes (they even come in red and green varieties) they are actually berries filled with tiny seeds. They have a juicy texture and a flavor that ranges from sweet to sour. Gooseberries are in season from May through August, peaking in July.
Choose It: Ripe gooseberries are red, with a sweet flavor and plump texture. Green gooseberries are less ripe, but they can still be enjoyed for their sour flavor — they can even replace Granny Smith apples in your favorite pie.
Store It: Store gooseberries in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Do not wash until you're ready to use them or eat them.
While you can typically find grapes at your local supermarket year-round, they grow best towards the end of summer. They're a rich source of antioxidants and potassium, and bursting with refreshing juice. They make a great addition to many salads, cheese boards, and more.
Choose It: Premium, in-season grapes will be plump, brightly-colored, and without blemishes.
Store It: Store grapes unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge. Don’t wash until you’re ready to use. Grapes can last up to two weeks in the fridge. You can also freeze grapes to extend their life, and frozen grapes make for a refreshing snack in the summer heat.
9. Honeydew Melons
Honeydew is in peak season in late summer and into early fall, from August to October. Honeydew melons get their name for their hint of honey flavor. They contain about 90 percent water, helping to keep you hydrated in the sweltering heat. Add these sweet melons to a savory salad or salsa. They can even be pureed and used for chilled soups or frozen ice pops.
Choose It: A ripe honeydew melon will have a waxy rind, and a surface that gives slightly to pressure. They should also feel heavy for their size.
Store It: Whole, uncut honeydew melons can be stored at room temperature to help them become softer and juicier. If it's already at peak ripeness or has been cut, store honeydew in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
If you're not familiar with huckleberries, it might be because they don't grow where you live. Huckleberries are a small reddish purple berry related to blueberries and cranberries that's commonly grown throughout the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. Their peak season is July through September. Like other types of berries, they're often used in pies, jams, pancakes, and more.
Choose It: Ripe huckleberries range in color from blue to purple. Leave the pink and green ones alone until they're ripe enough to be picked, because they won't ripen once they've been picked from shrub. They'll be soft and fragile to the touch when ripe, so be careful not to press them too hard.
Store It: Ripe huckleberries should be stored in an air-tight container and refrigerated for up to five days. You can also extend huckleberry season by freezing them on a cookie sheet and then transferring to a freezer bag for storage.
Lychee is a type of stone fruit native to Southern China. Before they're peeled, they somewhat resemble a strawberry, but their interior is milky white. People have compared its taste to that of a grape, watermelon, and even a pear. In the states they’re mostly used in cocktails.
Choose It: When choosing lychees go for fruit that has a bright red skin. Ripe lychees should give a little when pressed. Lychees won't ripen after being picked.
Store It: Store ripe lychees in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Use them within a week.
Everything about this tropical fruit screams summertime, from their sweet aroma to their juicy interior. Mangos are best found in late spring through the summer. Mango salsa is a welcome addition to both sweet and savory dishes alike. Mangos also make flavorful addition to smoothies and even baked goods.
Choose It: Unlike other fruits, the color of a mango is not an indication of ripeness. A ripe mango should have a somewhat strong, fruity aroma and should be slightly soft to the touch.
Store It: Mangos that have not yet ripened can be stored at room temperature to quicken the ripening process. Just-ripe mangos and cut mangos should be stored in the refrigerator. You can also store mango chunks in the freezer for use in purees and smoothies.
Nectarines are basically peaches without the fuzz. They're also firmer, more resembling the texture of an apple. They can be used interchangeably with peaches for grilling, baking, adding to salads, and more. Both peach and nectarine season runs from July through September.
Choose It: Like peaches, you want to pick a nectarine that has a red blush. Ripe nectarines should feel heavy in size and give just a bit when pressed.
Store It: Nectarines will continue to ripen after being picked, so store not-yet-ripe nectarines at room temperature in a paper bag to help them ripen. Ripe nectarines can be stored in the fridge in a sealed plastic bag for up to three days. You may also preserve them by canning or freezing.
This tropical fruit has a yellow-orange flesh and a sweet flavor comparable to a melon. Papaya is native to tropical America, with its origins in Mexico and South America. Today most papayas are from Hawaii or Mexico, with peak season being early summer.
Choose It: Papayas should be mostly yellow in color, with just a hint of green. They should be firm, but yield to pressure. Avoid overly soft, green, or blemished papayas.
Store It: Unripe papayas should be stored at room temperature in a brown paper bag to help speed up the ripening process. Ripe papayas on the other hand should be stored in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to three days.
For what it's worth, peaches are my personal favorite summer fruit (although, did I really have a choice growing up in Georgia?). As soon as the temperature starts to climb, these summertime fruits are the stars of the farmers' market. Peaches make great additions to baked goods, smoothies, salads, or simply grilled and drizzled with a little honey.
Choose It: A ripe peach will have a nice red blush and will start to give with a gentle press. You'll want to eat them when they're ripe, because that's when they're sweetest!
Store It: A perfectly ripe peach is best stored in the fridge (if you haven't already eaten it). Place it in a loose plastic bag and store it in the crisper drawer. If you have unripe peaches you can speed up the ripening process by placing them in a brown paper bag at room temperature. Frozen peach slices also make great year-round smoothie additions.
Pineapple is good for more than just being wedged on the rim of your tropical drink. Pineapples are available year-round, although they reach their peak from March through July. They make for a bright and sweet complement to savory foods, and a great addition to fresh fruit salads or salsas. I won't weigh-in on the pizza debate, but some say it makes a great topping...
Choose It: Ripe pineapple will have green leaves, firm shells, and a little bit of give when pressed. You can even put your nose to the bottom of the fruit to test the aroma — the more aromatic the better!
Store It: Pineapples will keep up to five days when refrigerated and stored in a plastic bag. If you're using them within 2 days of purchasing, you can go ahead and store them at room temperature.
Bite into a fresh plum when they're in season and you'll need a napkin. These stone fruits have a smooth skin and juicy flesh, and can come in a variety of colors. Toss them in salads or bake with them to bring out their flavor. They have a long growing season that runs right through summer: May through October.
Choose It: Choose plums that are heavy in weight with a sweet aroma.
Store It: Ripe plums should be stored in the refrigerator in an open plastic bag for up to two weeks. To fasten the ripening process, you can store unripe plums in a brown paper bag.
Raspberries are another summertime berry that you know and love. They're in season in mid-to late-summer, depending on where you live. But once you’ve got them, you need to act fast — these delicate berries don't last long. Raspberries can be used for a variety of things — they pair well with chocolate for decadent desserts or savory foods like pork.
Choose It: Go for raspberries that are plump. This delicate fruit can suffer a lot of damage during travel, so avoid cartons with smashed or rotten berries.
Store It: Keep raspberries in the container they came in, and refrigerate them. Avoid storing them in the coldest parts of your fridge, as this can cause frost damage. Raspberries will last up to three days in the fridge.
There's no other berry that has quite the reputation of the cherished strawberry. Peak strawberry season runs from April through June. You'll likely find the juiciest, most flavorful strawberries locally, but you can find them in any grocery store as well. Strawberries are a staple ingredient in a variety of desserts, but they can also be enjoyed as salad toppings or smoothie additions.
Choose It: Strawberries don't ripen after they're picked, so you'll want to go for the plumpest, shiniest, and firmest strawberries with a bright red color. Avoid strawberries that are missing caps or appear green or white in color.
Store It: Don't remove the stems or wash the strawberries until you're ready to eat them in order to preserve freshness for as long as possible. Store strawberries in the crisper drawer of your fridge in their original container. They'll stay fresh for up to seven days in the fridge, but can also be frozen for up to a year.
No matter how you feel about them, I don't think there's any doubt that watermelons are the champions of summer. They're mostly water — around 92 percent — making them your perfect hot-weather hydration companion. Blend them into a juice, chop them up in a salad, or simply bite straight into the wedge — just make sure you have plenty of napkins on hand. From May to September, these guys will be in peak season.
Choose It: Now this can be tricky...you might have to pick up the watermelon and give it a few taps, but there's a method to the madness. A watermelon should feel heavy for its size (cause it's full of water!) and have a yellow-ish splotch where it rested on the ground. You can also give it a tap on the underbelly. If you hear a hollow sound, you've got a good one.
Store It: Uncut watermelons can be stored unrefrigerated for up to 10 days, but make sure your melons are not subject to intense heat or cold. Cut watermelon should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 4 days.