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GARDENING : Let Color Be Guide to Home-Grown Vegetables

October 29, 1994|JAMES E. WALTERS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Toughness or poor taste are not likely to develop in home-grown vegetables until there is a maturing or slowing of growth. So, since taste is the main reason for making the effort in the first place, it is necessary to closely monitor growth patterns.

Actually, developing the skill to determine prime quality probably is more valuable than learning how to grow vegetables expertly.

Determination is never easy. But certain basics help. And the skill is easily carried over to supermarket shopping.

With leafy vegetables, color is a good clue. Good leaf tissue is light green and darkens as it matures. Look also for firmness, tenderness and crispness. While every leaf is going to have its individual time, toughness and bitter taste won't be present until maturity starts. Harvest when leaves stop enlarging or stay about the same size.

Flower-bud vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes, should be compact and the buds tight. Again, color is a good guide. With discoloration, edible quality deteriorates. Broccoli buds should have a blue appearance. Maturity is near when they start turning green, pale green or yellowish green.

Leafy-head vegetables probably are at peak when enlargement of the head ceases. Cabbage heads should be firm and noticeably heavy. Harvest at the first sign of splitting. Lettuce should be firm yet yield to gentle pressure. Use the two or three outer leaves from each leaf-lettuce plant.

Root vegetables--radish, turnip, carrot, beet and parsnip--start to mature as soon as growth begins to slow. They are bitter, strong-flavored and fibrous at maturity. Golf-ball-size beets are the sweetest. Immature carrots are delightful after six to eight weeks of growth. When seed stalks begin forming, quality drops almost immediately.

Pick snap beans and peas before the pods reach maximum size and before the seeds inside reach full size.

Tomatoes are best when fully formed, plump, fairly firm and of uniform, red color. Those picked green never approach the flavor of those left on the plant. Unfortunately these days, many people don't have an idea of how great a vine-ripened tomato tastes. In case the movie of a few years ago made you wonder: the green ones really are tasty when fried.

Green peppers should be fully developed and firm. Many gardeners like red ones better, thinking they're sweeter. With both, watch for any sign of soft spots or wilting in the tissue. You want rigid flesh. Otherwise, they're going out of condition.

Eggplant should be full size, firm and have a uniform color with a shine to it. Dull color and soft spots are signs of maturity. It should feel firm all over when picked up.

Melons develop an obvious change in appearance and texture as they ripen. The overall sheen becomes brighter. Softening of the flesh starts at the blossom end. Ripeness is easiest to determine in muskmelon and cantaloupe. They become noticeably yellow and finally separate from their stem. Browning of vine tendrils and thumping for sound are not reliable indicators of watermelon ripeness. Look for a cream-to-yellow color in non-green parts of the rinds and a change elsewhere from dull green to a brighter green.

With asparagus, look for closed, compact tips and don't let them get too big. They start getting fibrous and tough about six to eight inches above the ground.

Skins of summer squash should be tender. Rinds of winter types need to be hard.

Cucumbers should be green. With yellowing, they start getting soft and sour.

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