Fruit: Is it “Ripe”?

Why don’t grocery store tomatoes taste like the flavorful ones we get from farmstands and our backyard?  Why don’t nectarines found in the store in February every taste like the ones in July?

Fresh Blueberries & Plums

Fresh Blueberries & Plums

It all comes down to understanding ripeness.  Ripeness in fruit is not based on color alone. Color will change as a fruit becomes ripe (red bell peppers are mature green bell peppers) but color alone doesn’t indicate that a fruit is ripe.  Some fruits such as tomatoes are known as being “climacteric”, meaning they will change appearance in response to climactic conditions.  A tomato will change color on the counter or window sill.  Starting off at green it will go to white, then gradually shift to pink before turning a reddish color and all the while it gets softer but not necessarily more flavorful.  This my friends is called decomposition….not ripening!

Ripeness is based on the percentage of sugar in a fruit.  The more mature a fruit is the sweeter it will be.  Have you noticed that some people despise green bell peppers but like red ones?  The red peppers are more mature and therefore have developed more sugar.  People who like red peppers will usually say that it’s because they’re sweeter….because they’re ripe.  That final flush of color, combined with aromatic compounds and build up of sugar  is Mother Nature’s way of advertising that it’s time to eat!  If it doesn’t smell like the fruit that it is, it probably isn’t going to taste like it either!

Ripe Tomatoes

Ripe Tomatoes



Smoked Tomato Bisque

This is a soup recipe from my friend Christina Tenney.  I worked with her at the Disney Institute where she was tasked with the responsibility of preparing our homemade soups and all of the sauces for the restaurant and banquets.  This was one of my favorite soups that she made.  We would  often joke that we could share a tub of creme fraiche alone for lunch. 

The tomatoes in for this soup can be grilled directly over hot coals – this will give a darker & richer looking soup with a slightly charred flavor.  I like to use a “Smoker Bag” – a disposable double foil pouch containing wood chips that allows you to smoke foods in your home oven without smoking up the house or any messy clean-up!  You can find them at grilling store and other locations that sell wood chips.

If you are unable to find Crème Fraiche you can also use sour cream however it will not be as smooth.  Mascarpone cheese works well in moderation but do not add it while the soup is boiling hot.

 Yield:  Approximately 2 quarts
6 ripe red tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 ½ tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
1 cup V-8 vegetable juice
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup sun-dried tomato pesto or tapenade
1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Set oven to temperature noted on smoker bag or get briquets glowing red (or set gas grill to “high”).

Place tomatoes in smoker bag and place in oven for 20-30 minutes.

While tomatoes are smoking, heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot and add olive oil, onions, shallots, and garlic.  Saute until sweet aroma develops and they start to caramelize.  Add the canned tomatoes, V-8 juice, and stock.  Bring to a simmer.

When tomatoes are finished smoking place them and all of the accumulated juices into the soup pot. Continue to simmer until the tomatoes start to break up.  Puree the soup with a hand blender until completely smooth.  While pureeing, add the sun-dried tomato pest and continue to mix until blended..  Finally, add the crème fraiche while blending and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.  Reheat gently if soup of a hotter temperature is desired.  If using sour cream instead of crème fraiche, be careful not to bring to a simmer or the sour cream will curdle.