Nutrition Column – Colorado Peaches and Pears are Summer’s Delight

Thanks to our warm summer days and cool nights, Colorado’s peaches and pears are among the best. Although you can get some varieties of Colorado peaches in early July, it’s not until mid-August that the juiciest and best-known varieties are at their peak.

Peaches and pears are not only good to eat, they’re good for you. A medium-size fresh peach contains less than 50 calories and is a good source of beta carotene and other carotenoids, fiber and phytochemicals. Pears are a little higher in calories, supplying 100 calories per medium pear, but they also are rich in fiber.

When selecting peaches, don’t depend entirely on that glowing blush as a sign of ripeness. Blush (the red color) depends on variety. A soft, creamy-to-gold undercolor is the best indication of a ripe and flavorful peach. Aroma also tells; a ripe fruit will smell "peachy."

If fresh peaches are to be eaten immediately, select fruit that has begun to soften. Be careful not to squeeze the peach when checking for firmness. Peaches bruise easily and develop decay rapidly. Firm and ripe peaches may be kept at room temperature for a few days to fully ripen, then refrigerated until ready to use. Avoid purchasing green or shriveled peaches because they will not ripen properly.

Today’s peaches need not be peeled, especially when served fresh for fruit plates and salads. This is because most peaches are de-fuzzed by machinery soon after picking. Leaving the skin means less work for the cook and is a smart choice from a nutritional point of view. Much of the full, deep flavor and nutrients in peaches are found in the skin.

Unlike peaches, pears are picked hard and green. Tree-ripened pears develop coarse flesh and a sandy or gritty texture. Most retailers display pears that have begun the ripening process but are still firm enough to keep from bruising easily. Pears are ripe when they yield to gentle thumb pressure at the neck.

If the pears you have purchased are hard, place them in a bowl and ripen at room temperature in a low-light location. If your ripening place is too light, put the pears in a paper bag to ripen, away from heat and full sun.

Once ripe, pears lose their peak quality quickly and are subject to bruises from handling. They are best eaten right away or processed for later use. Refrigeration will slow the ripening process considerably. Surface blemishes and brownish skin russeting do not interfere with quality. Soft, watery spots are an indication of over-ripening or rough handling.

How much should you buy? Count on three to four medium-sized peaches or pears or approximately two cups of sliced or diced fruit per pound. If you’re buying by the bushel, one bushel equals 48 pounds to 50 pounds and yields 18 quarts to 25 quarts of canned fruit.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension