I don’t think there are more “summery” fruits at the end of summer than watermelon and peaches, especially when planning budget meals. Professional chefs are using seasonal fruits in their menus and these creative masters have come up with many fabulous recipes. The good news is, most are easy enough for you to duplicate in your kitchen.
Take peaches, for example. You can simply cut a fresh, firm peach in half, remove the pit and set on a grill for a few minutes to get those nice grill marks. They serve as wonderful accents to any summer meal.
Then there is watermelon. It can stand alone, sliced and seeded, for the dessert. But there’s so much more you can do. The knack is picking the right melon.
Watermelons come in several sizes. Choose a watermelon for the size you will need; too large and you’ll never use it all. You’ll also need to decide between organic and non-organic, seedless and those that contain seeds.
Because watermelons are mostly water, they should seem heavy for their size. Turn it over, inspecting for bruises, discolorations, cuts or dirt. The skin should be firm all over, with no soft spots that would indicate bruising or an overripe watermelon.
Color is important. You want a melon that is medium to light green (but not yellow). Look for a light yellow ring on the bottom of the melon. This ring changes color as the watermelon ripens on the vine. If this ring is greenish or white, the watermelon is not ripe yet. Since watermelons do not continue to ripen after they are picked, make sure it is ripe when you buy it.
Before eating, chill the watermelon in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, depending on size. Watermelon is one of those perfect foods. It is healthy, contains no fat or cholesterol and can be used as a side complement or a light, refreshing dessert.
Choosing peaches is a different challenge. Look for smooth skin, without cuts or bruises, to ensure freshness. Fresh peaches should be firm but somewhat soft when you put pressure on them. The nose test: Their sweet aroma is unmistakable.
For peaches that are fresh but still a little hard, you can store them in a brown paper bag at room temperature to ripen. These peaches will not be as sweet as those that are already completely ripe.
You can buy fresh local peaches from July to September, but August is their peak freshness and sweetness.
Ilene Spector is a local free-lance writer who writes a monthly Food Talk column and a twice-monthly cooking column for the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES.