Grantee Blog 2020

Pick Garden State Fruits and Vegetables

Finally the summer is here!

Garden State’s humid and hot summer weather can be called by some a curse and by others a blessing. Jersey summer does not only give you an excuse to go down the shore, but also gives you the opportunity to find out why New Jersey deserves to be named the Garden State. Not only because of the Victory Gardens from the time of WW II, but mainly because NJ in spite of being one of the most urbanized states, is a home to farms that continuously grow excellent produce.  The summer warmth and humidity creates a perfect environment for the best tomatoes in the Nation! There is a reason why our home state sometimes goes under the name of Tomato State. The best time to look for these Jersey treasures is in the months of July and August. What do we look for when buying tomatoes? Perfect tomatoes are heavy for their size, slightly firm when pressed, and still have green stems attached. These are the ripest and juiciest. Once you bring tomatoes home, keep them on the countertop, not in a refrigerator. Cold temperatures can slow the ripening process and affect the flavor and texture of your tomatoes. The exception will be cherry or grape tomatoes that can be stored in the fridge to preserve all the good qualities.

Tomatoes and cucumbers pair well in salads. When shopping for cucumbers look for ones that have lively green skin, with no wrinkles and are firm when touched. Stay away from cucumbers that are turning yellow, as they are too ripe and their flesh will be stringy. Pick smaller, prickly cucumbers if you planning to make pickles.

Melons, close relatives of cucumbers, due to their water content are an excellent snacking choice for hot summer days. A ripe cantaloupe should have a yellowish cast to its rind, it also should have a smooth, round, depressed scar on the stem end, and should have a sweet melon aroma. Ripe honeydews have a creamy yellow color and are tacky to the touch. Ripe watermelon will give a hollow sound when patted with your hand and have a creamy yellow spot on the bottom. Always scrub melon rinds under running water before cutting.

With the last days of spring and the first days of summer, you will be blessed with berries, including:  strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and Jersey blueberries. The best sort of berries come directly from the vine or bush. If you can’t pick your own and are shopping for berries at the market, look for those that are packed loosely, not bruised and overripe. To prevent any type of berries from getting soft or moldy, don’t wash them until you’re ready to serve. Bought too many berries? No worries, you can freeze them on a tray so they don’t stick together, then transfer to a ziplock bag, and keep in the freezer. Pea size blueberries have the most intense flavor.

Summer brings a whole variety of stone fruits. Cherries are the first of them. Look for round and shiny fruit, without bruises. Just like with berries, don’t wash them until ready to serve to prevent them from getting soft and moldy.  Apricots, peaches and plums will come next. Pick fruit that are not bruised and not overripe, unless you will serve them right away. Keep them in a closed brown paper bag on the counter, until they soften. They can be stored in the fridge for a few days before serving.

Pears and apples usually come later in the summer. Pick apples that are rich in color and aromatic, with skin free of bruises and blemishes. Apple peel contains the most nutrients.

New Jersey farmers grow great asparagus. When you are buying asparagus look for spears with dry, tight tips. Always select a bunch of spears of similar size, that way they will cook evenly.

Summer squash is an excellent pick for a light supper. Smaller zucchini and eggplant are usually creamier and hold more flavor. Look at the list of fruits and vegetables available in New Jersey, to learn more about local produce and to learn how to shop for them. Check also for recipes that are calling for local fruits and vegetables.

Should you look for organic?

Fruits and vegetables without rind or inedible peel, can increase your exposure to pesticides. It will be wise to buy organic, however some pesticides can penetrate through the rind or peel and can get to the flesh of the fruit. Just keep in mind that if the choice is between eating fruit grown with pesticides and not eating fruit at all, you better off eating the fruit.

Why shop local?

With all we hear about global warming and climate change, eating locally grown produce seems to be a lot smarter choice. A lot healthier for the Earth and environment, just by lowering the carbon print. By choosing locally grown produce we support local farmers and community businesses. We become responsible partners with farmers in caring for the land providing us with the food, as well as caring for each other.

Eating local and seasonal food sometimes requires changes in your routine. Get creative and flexible with your cooking. Try new and different fruits and vegetables. You might need to look for substitutions in your recipes. Be conscious where your food is coming from. Find a way to connect with your food, grow a garden for example. You can start with just one tomato plant in a pot. Find connections with people growing and selling food. Buy directly from local growers. Prepare for winter by stocking your pantry with homemade preserved fruits and vegetables. Avoid convenience food.

Shop local, eat smart and be healthy.

About the Grantee

County of Bergen, Division of Senior Services

Bergen County Division of Senior Services is the lead agency for the Bergen County’s Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC). The Division helps older adults, individuals with disabilities over the age of 18, and caregivers access the complex, long-term care, community-based, health and human services.