Kitchen Hints and Tips - Fruit

If you are making a fruitcake, roll the dates, figs, etc. in flour so they will cut more easily, then cut them with a scissors instead of a knife.

To "age" candied fruit fast for baking fruit cakes, muffins, cookies, breads, etc., microwave 1/4 cup brandy or any liqueur in a 1-quart bowl on HIGH for 30 seconds. Stir in 1 cup candied fruit or raisins and heat on HIGH for 2 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

To keep fruits from discoloring after they are peeled, cut the pieces into a bowl of salted water (about 1 tablespoon to a quart of water). This works well with apples, peaches, pears, avocados and other produce.

Any fruit that has a tight thin skin over a juicy interior, such as peaches, pears, apricots or tomatoes, can be easily peeled if they are blanched in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Prevent fresh fruit from getting crushed in your grocery bags. Simply blow air into the plastic bag containing the fruit and tie it so that the air cannot escape. When the fruit is packed in the paper bag, the air in the bag acts as a cushion for the fruit on its ride home.

Prevent fruit from turning brown by dissolving two crushed vitamin C tables in a bowl of cool water before adding fruit.

Toss fresh fruit with lemon juice, and it will not darken. The juice of half a lemon is enough for a quart or two of cut fruits.

Ripen quickly by placing them in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple. Set in a cool, shady spot and make sure there are a few holes in the bag. The ripe apples gives off a gas, ethylene, which stimulates the other fruit to ripen.

Shake raisins and other dried fruits with flour before adding them to dough or puddings so the fruits won't sink to the bottom during baking.

Apples
Instead of throwing away the peels, saut them in butter, then spice them with sugar and cinnamon.

When making caramel apples, stick them into a piece of Styrofoam after dipping. They dry without sticking and store nicely in the refrigerator.

To keep the skins of baked apples intact, make slits around the apple in several locations with a sharp knife. As soon as the liquid produced by cooking has an easy way to escape, it will not burst its way out elsewhere.

To keep a cut apple from browning, apply bottled lemon juice over the cut surface then wrap the partial apple tightly in plastic wrap.

To keep apple pieces or slices from browning, cut them into a bowl containing either lightly salted water or some lemon juice mixed with water.

Avocado
To speed the ripening process, put the avocados in a brown paper bag and leave them at room temperature for a day or two. When ripe, store in the refrigerator to keep from ripening further.

As soon as you cut an avocado, pour bottled lemon juice on any portion you don't plan to use, leave the seed in the unused portion, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. It will keep without darkening for at least a few days.

Bananas
Use overripe bananas to make delicious banana bread.

Slice bananas with a pastry blender. It makes the task faster, and all the slices are neat and uniform.

Slice bananas and add to egg whites and beat until stiff for a wonderful substitute for whipped cream.

If you have an abundance of ripe bananas, put them in a blender with a little lemon juice. Make a pur e to freeze and use later for banana bread or topping.

Bananas may be stored in the refrigerator. The cold will turn the skin brown but will not damage the fruit inside. This will also slow down ripening. This is the only way you can keep them for any length of time.

Dip bananas in lemon juice right after they are peeled. They will not turn dark and the faint flavor of lemon really adds quite a bit.

Ripen bananas fast at room temperature in a paper bag.

If bananas have darkened, peel and beat slightly. Put into a plastic container and freeze until it's time to bake bread or cake.

Berries
Store berries in the refrigerator without washing them. Wash and hull just before serving.

Citrus Fruit
Do not discard rinds of grapefruit, lemons, oranges and limes. Grate rinds and put into a tightly-covered jar and store in the refrigerator. Grated rinds make excellent flavoring for cakes, frostings and such.

Create beautiful "rose" garnishes from orange and grapefruit peels. Start at the top of the fruit and cut a continuous 1-inch wide strip of peel around the fruit with a sharp paring knife. Roll peel tightly, skin side out, to form a "rose." Hold the "rose" together by pushing a wooden pick through it. These can be made ahead of time, wrapped and stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Coconut
To prepare a fresh coconut, puncture the "eyes" with an ice pick of clean screwdriver and drain out the coconut milk. Put the entire coconut in a shallow pan and bake for about 1 hour at 350 F. When it is cool enough to handle, hit it hard with a hammer, and the shell will part. The meat can then be pulled out in chunks with a table knife. Peel off the brown skin. Shred coconut, put chunks of coconut with a little coconut milk into a blender or food processor. Store shredded coconut in the refrigerator.

Cranberries
Freeze them before grinding or chopping. There will be less mess.

Dried Fruit
Dates and other sticky dried fruit will cut or chop easily if put in the freezer for 1 to 2 hours.

When cutting dates and other sticky dried fruits, dip knife or scissors into hot water now and then.

Grapefruit
A pinch of salt makes a sour grapefruit taste sweeter.

Kiwi Fruit
Do not add kiwi fruit to gelatin molds. They contain an enzyme that stops gelatin from setting. Use them, however, to garnish molds just before serving.

Lemons
To get the most juice out of a lemon, soften it first by pressing and rolling it on a countertop.

When buying lemons look for the smoothest skin and smallest points on the ends. These will have better flavor and more juice.

Don't cut open a whole lemon for just a little juice. Insert the tines of a fork or a skewer through the skin and squeeze out the amount needed. Then wrap the lemon in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need it next. It'll stay fresh for one to two weeks.

Wrap a small piece of cheesecloth around the cut end of a lemon before you squeeze. You won't have to search for seeds later.

An elegant way to serve fresh lemon with fish is to wrap each lemon half in a small square of cheesecloth, then tie with string, with a sprig of fresh herb or parsley for a pretty look. This controls the "squirt" and traps the seeds.

Submerging a lemon in hot water for 15 minutes before squeezing will yield almost twice the amount of juice.

Store whole lemons in a tightly-sealed jar of water in the refrigerator. They will yield much more juice than when first purchased.

Remove the zest from a lemon and store it in a jar containing about a half cup of vodka. The zest will not spoil and will be available for use whenever you need a little bit, and the vodka will pick up a lemon flavor (use it in dessert sauces or in seafood dishes).

To keep them for a considerable length of time, coat them lightly with paraffin, using a small brush. When you want to remove the paraffin, heat slightly, and it will roll off.

Limes
Store, wrapped in tissue paper, on lower shelf of the refrigerator.

Olives
Extend the refrigerator storage time of an opened can of olives by pouring olives into a glass jar, then filling the jar with vegetable oil and covering the jar. The oil will preserve the olives and it can be used for cooking when the olives are gone.

You can also extend the refrigerator storage time of an opened can of olives by leaving them in their brine, then adding a layer of oil on top.

Oranges
Put them in a hot oven before peeling them, and no white fibers will be left on them.

Oranges can be peeled more easily if blanched in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Cool, then the peel slips right off.

Thin-skinned oranges are better for juice, while thick-skinned oranges are better for eating in sections.

Orange will yield more juice if you first press and roll them on the countertop.

You can get orange sections without white membrane clinging to them if you cover the unpeeled orange with boiling water, let stand 5 minutes, then peel.

Peaches
Peaches will ripen quicker if you place them in a box covered with newspaper.

Peach skins can be removed smoothly with a potato peeler.

Pears
To ripen pears faster, put an apple in the same bag.

To ripen pears, refrigerate them for several hours. Then remove them from the refrigerator and place on your countertop where they will ripen evenly at room temperature. If you wish, chill again before serving.

Pineapple
If you want to include pineapple in a gelatin dish, use canned or parboil fresh pineapple for 5 minutes. Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that prevents the gelatin from setting.

If you buy a pineapple that isn't quite ripe, peel, slice and place in a pot. Cover the fruit with water and add sugar to taste. Boil a few minutes, cool and refrigerate. It will be fresh tasting and crunchy.

Wash fresh pineapple thoroughly before paring. Cover parings with water and cook until soft. Use strained juice for making jelly.

Rhubarb
Cook fresh rhubarb for sauce with just whatever water adheres to the stalks after washing — don't add any more water. Add sugar to taste.

Strawberries
Never hull them until they have been washed or they will absorb too much water and become mushy.

They will stay red if you add two tablespoons of vinegar to each quart of berries when canning or freezing.

They will stay firm for several days if you store them in a colander in the refrigerator, which allows the cold air to circulate between them.

Tomatoes
To peel tomatoes easily, drop the whole tomato into a deep pot of boiling water for about 20 seconds. Remove and run under cold water. The skin should now slip off quite easily.

Place unripened tomatoes with other fruit, especially pears, to speed up ripening.

Freeze tomatoes that are getting too ripe. They will get mush, but that won't affect the taste of soups or stews.

To ripen tomatoes, add a whole lime to unripened tomatoes in a paper bag and store at room temperature for a few days. Limes are an excellent source of the ripening agent ethylene oxide.

Store tomatoes with stems pointed downward and they will retain their freshness longer.

Sunlight doesn't ripen tomatoes. It's the warmth that ripens them. So find a warm spot near the stove or dishwasher where they can get a little heat.

To ripen green tomatoes, place them in a brown paper bag and put the bag in a dark cupboard. You will have red tomatoes in a few days.

Save the juice from canned tomatoes in ice cube trays. When frozen, store in plastic bags in freezer for cooking use or for tomato drinks.