Choosing and Using Produce at High Altitudes
For many types of produce,there is no difference at high altitude, but others will ripen faster, or differently, or spoil sooner. The listing here only includes those which we have noticed differences in.
Cantaloupe – Look at the stem end, and make sure it has been broken from the melon, not cut. When they are ripe enough to pick, they will break from the vine. And then smell it. Riper melons smell better. Look for dents in the side – not scars on the surface, they don’t hurt anything, but darker dents. Dents mean it is getting overripe and may be spoiling, but at high altitude, cantaloupe will always begin to get spots in it before it fully ripens. When you bring it home, usually when it has about three 1″ dents in it, it is ripe enough to eat. The dents are spoiled spots – it will always start to spoil before it softens – and when you cut it up, those spots will just pull out smoothly from the fruit. Don’t let it get lumpy all over though, or it may spoil into the seed cavity, and then the entire cantaloupe may be overripe and unpalatable.
Cucumbers – Squeeze the blossom end. If it is soft, then the cucumber is over-age, and starting to go hollow inside. A fresh cuke will be firm. Cukes tend to mold in the refrigerator faster than at low altitude, so freshness is more important.
Pears – Usually the yellower they are, the riper they are, but the riper they are, the more delicate they are! Fully ripe Bartlett pears require extremely gentle handling – other types are less delicate. If you buy them green, then you’ll need to ripen them in a paper bag. At high altitude, don’t buy green ones, they will spoil from the inside before they ripen fully. Ripe pears also have a more intense smell. Buy yellow pears, and make sure the bagger puts them into a separate bag where you can make sure that they do not get mashed – don’t even bag them with the bananas!
Apples – Hold the top of the apple in your hand, with your thumb and forefinger circling around the stem end – just above the wide part. Squeeze and see if the apple gives, in toward the stem. If the apple compresses any, it is not firm and crisp. Apples tend to spoil faster at high altitude, but will keep well for 2-3 weeks.
Bananas – Pick up the bunch and look at the back of them. Most bruising on bananas occurs on the back side. Look at the blossom end, and buy bananas that are full at that end. Bananas that were picked earlier will have a skinny end, those that were picked when riper are fuller. Bananas ripen and spoil faster at higher altitudes. Bananas will also go spotty outside before they spoil though – they will still be firmer inside than they appear from the outside. Handle bananas very carefully. Ask the checker to bag them by themselves, and then be very gentle with them.
Tomatoes – Look for skin blemishes, and for a red color. Pinker tomatoes are generally less ripe. Tomatoes can develop spots and spoil more quickly at high altitude. Pink, hard tomatoes won’t ripen further – they will develop spots and spoil first. Vine ripened tomatoes are unquestionably better in flavor, and will last 1-2 weeks unrefridgerated at higher altitude.
Lettuce – Look for signs of wilting, or drying out. Either one signifies overage. Lettuce will often dry out more at high altitude.
Oranges – Oranges can be judged by appearance, they should be yellowish orange, and not green. The skin should be plump, and not dried out. Surface scarring does not affect quality. Oranges will dry out more easily at high altitude than in many places. They may spoil within 2 weeks, or start to dry out. If they dry out, they will last a few weeks longer.
Pineapple – Choose the yellowest pineapple you can find. It should be yellow, or a deep golden color, with no tinge of brown or gray. Brownish or grayish spots indicate the beginnings of spoiling. At high altitudes, pineapple has the same issues as cantaloupe and pears – buy it as ripe as you can find, because while it WILL ripen, it will start to spoil before it is fully ripe if it is very green when you get it. Pineapple spoils from the outside in, and it will run down into the fibers toward the center of the pineapple, so if it has a few spoiled spots, it is simple to use a knife to cut them out when you cut it up.
Grapes – They should be firm and full. Look at where the grape joins the stem. This is the first place to spoil in grapes, and dents around the stem indicate that they are past their prime – grapes that are starting to spoil around the stem can be trimmed and salvaged, but better ones are preferable. At high altitude, grapes will not last more than 2 days out of the fridge, and will usually only last 3 days or so in the fridge. Grapes may also wither and start to dry out when they are no longer fresh.
Peppers – Peppers should be shiny and firm. Aged peppers look dull, and feel soft, and may have brown or black dents in them. Keep peppers in the fridge for best usage, and use them within 1 week. At higher altitudes they may spoil a little faster.
Squash and Zucchini – Summer squash and zucchini should be firm, and shiny. The duller it is, the older it is. The blossom end should be firm, and not soft. At high altitudes, these vegetables develop dented spots in them when they are overaged and nearing spoilage.
Potatoes – Good potatoes are often harder to obtain at higher altitudes, and prices are often higher, so you are dealing with a lower quality produce to begin with. Buy the best potatoes you can – no sprouts, least amount of visible blemishes on the skin, no spoilage, etc. Keep them in a cool place, but do not keep them in the fridge – they develop a citrusy flavor if refrigerated. Russets will keep best. Potatoes will spoil faster at high altitude.
Most differences are slight, and while almost all produce will age a little faster at high altitude, these are the ones that show the most noticeable difference, and the ones which require greater care in handling or selection.