Cue the sauce, chutney, cocktails, muffins, and more as you embrace mellow fruitfulness.

Credit: Randy Harris

Right under our noses, the apples, pears, and plums in our fruit bowls turn from beautiful, bright, and shiny to less appealing with each passing day. Then, all of a sudden, there's a point at which we find ourselves avoiding them, looking away as we walk past the bowl on the countertop in search of a better snack. Maybe their soft spots have gotten larger, or they've developed a few wrinkles in their once-taut skin. A pang of guilt comes over us. How could we spend so much money on fresh fruit and then throw it in the trash (or compost) without a second thought? What about those resolutions of eating a healthier diet? Not to mention the larger problems of the planet; shouldn't each of us be doing our part to minimize food waste?

If you're like most people, you'll try to postpone your feelings of guilt by placing the apples and pears with that half basket of almost mushy berries out of sight in the crisper drawer, in the hopes that it will add a few days to their desirability. You'll use them somehow, you swear to myself. But as the days go on, you're even more likely to forget they're rolling around in the dark recesses of the refrigerator. They may be homely, and even a little bit embarrassing, but very ripe berries and fruit can still be useful. In fact overly ripe fruit is at its sweetest and most fragrant stage, and is most often very edible. Even though strawberries develop wet spots and bruise easily, those bruises are safe to cook and eat, unless a layer of white mold has developed on them. Go ahead, use those overripe berries in a quick strawberry jam.

Brown bananas, soft apples—who cares if they look bad when they've been puréed and folded into a muffin, or simmered into a jam? There are many reasons to appreciate an apple that's attained a few wrinkles; use one in your breakfast, grated for muesli or chopped into small pieces and stirred into yogurt with a spoonful of honey and a sprinkle of mixed seeds. Or simply simmer apples that are past their best in apple cider or water and use for baking or eating as is. (And remember that apple sauce can be frozen.)

We all know we can make banana bread, banana muffins, and banana cake with over-ripe, brown bananas, but did you know that you can freeze a banana (whole, unwrapped) and it will be held in that perfect state until you're ready to thaw it and bake (or not thaw it and use it for a smoothie)? You probably know you can hull strawberries and pit cherries and put them in bags in the freezer. They won't be picture-perfect when they come out weeks or months later, they might freeze in a clump—but they will be soft and ready to use in many recipes. In fact, frozen and very ripe berries can be interchangeable, so if a recipe, like this Raspberry Applesauce with Chia, calls for frozen berries, your extra-ripe ones might work just as well. (You might need to add an extra splash of water to compensate for the liquid the frozen berries exude.) Soft aromatic very ripe plums also have many uses; they make the best jam, chutney, relish, and compote.

Quick fixes for a small amount of overly ripe fruit abound. Preserve that half pint of berries or cherries by tossing them into a small saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water and a teaspoon or two of sugar. Bring it all to a simmer and stir until soft and saucy. Then cool and store this sauce in your refrigerator to enjoy another day with ice cream or pound cake. Or muddle a couple of very soft, juicy plums, some cherries, or blackberries into a cocktail, put up your feet and relish the moment.


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