Make the most of the rest of your summer harvest

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gardens are abundant and farmers' markets are overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of us try to get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables into our daily diet, and now is the ideal time to experiment with produce.

"Everything tastes better when you get it fresher," said Judy Lueders, nutrition and health education specialist for the University of Missouri Extension Service.

Offerings from produce stands, farmers' markets or a backyard can result in something elegantly simple — an exquisite tomato sandwich — or something as complicated as homemade ratatouille.

Creative cooks work wonders with zucchini, putting it in recipes from stir-fries to salads to breads. Fresh green beans are delicious raw in salads, just barely blanched and marinated in a vinaigrette, or steamed and served hot.

"Corn has natural sugar," said Lueders. "The longer it's off the stalk the sugar converts to starch. It's going to be sweetest when you get it fresh."

Pick fresh foods early in the morning, Lueders advises, or buy them early at the farmers' markets, optimally from stands in the shade. The longer it has been out of the field or in the sun, the faster it ripens and loses its freshness.

Store produce at home in the refrigerator to keep it fresh longer. A row of tomatoes sitting on the window sill will look good, and they taste better at room temperature. But, Lueders said, "if you have an abundance, it's better to refrigerate them."

READ MORE FROM TBY: Find more stories from The Best Years in the Sept. 2 issue of the Southeast Missourian.

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