Saturday, July 27, 2013
Farm Bulletin: When Good Fruit Goes Bad
This bulletin from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is a must-read for those of us puzzled when fruit goes bad in the bowl. I stand before you chagrined at my ignorance.
Nicely groomed and ready to yield us her fruits, the field looks beautiful. It is a farmer-ish thing to have one eye on the current harvest and the other on the primocanes that will produce fruit next year. They are strong and growing vigorously. Last year, a frost in mid May killed the first flush of primocanes and we will have a lighter crop as a result. In the swirl of dust and pump drama, we sowed the the chicories, escaroles and other cool season greens.
The storage of fruit is worth considering. In our industrial age, the tendency is to jam it in a refrigerator set at a temperature best suited to storing meat and dairy products, under 40°F (4°C). This temperature damages the fruit. The better temperature is around 55°F (13°C), the night-time temperature in the field. The primary spoilage factor in fruit is moisture, not heat. You can dry fruit to preserve it, but if it rains for an extended time, the fruit is soon a moldy mess. True, refrigeration cans slow the progress of spoilage organisms, but at the expense of flavor and aroma. If you want to store berries for a week, it is better to put the fruit into a freezer immediately.
Fruits are best kept in a cool, dry room with good air circulation. Put them in a wire mesh colander, not a bowl or plate. Unlike meat and dairy products, fruits are living tissues and they are respiring. If you put your cherries in a bowl, the moisture generated by respiration collects at the bottom of the bowl and the fruit starts rotting from the bottom up. In a colander, the heavier, moisture-laden air can drain away. We store tomatillos, harvested in September, until March stored in this manner. Peppers, tomatoes, plums, melons, squash all store better at a moderate temperature provided they have never been refrigerated. Peppers will last several weeks on the counter.
Our fruit is brought from the field to a cool, dehydrated room with a fan running to keep the air moving. Overnight, the dehydrators draw from the air between two and five gallons of water, depending upon how much fruit we harvest. As long as there is no free moisture on the fruit, and no existing mold, they will not mold. This gentle treatment maintains high fruit quality. Because the fruit is not chilled, when we bring it to the market, no condensation is formed on its surface when it meets the warm, humid air.
This early season fruit is the sturdiest and most intense. It has the highest levels of pectin and acidity, and is well constructed. If you are making preserves, this is the fruit to use. As the season progresses, the pectin and acidity levels drop. Because pectins can mask some of the components of flavor, later season fruit has a different character. For some, the reduced acidity makes the late fruit sweeter on the palate even though it has lower sugar levels. Many of you have heard our warning as the harvest of a fruit winds down: it is more delicate now and won't store well. For the Chester that warning will come about five weeks from now, or following a rainy period.