Perfect Produce

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Perfect Produce

I am lucky enough to have been an observer and participant at some of the best people watching places around the world…the local farmers market. 

Early morning treks to a makeshift market outside of Machu Picchu, taking the dinghy ashore to a Wednesday morning market in Grenada, fighting the crowds at the spice and produce market in Cairo or stopping by Davis Produce on a Saturday morning as I drive to the beach at Tybee Island. 

The faces and languages of the cast may be different, but the play is the same no matter where in the world it is performed.  In my observations, I have noted five produce tester roles:  The smeller, The finger pusher, The thumper, The human scale and The inspector.  As an observer, I find the histrionics amusing.  As a participant, I find them a necessity.  I want to share with you some of my tips for picking the best produce.

They come to me through years of global people watching experience, a little four year “bought knowledge” and most importantly some smelling, pushing, thumping, human weighing and inspecting practice of my own.

THE SMELLER: 
**Figs- Choose plump figs that are heavy for their size and smell sweet.  Old figs tend to smell sour.
**Melons- Smell the stem end of a melon.  If it gives off a mild melon fragrance it is ripe.
**Pineapple- Smell the stem end of a pineapple.  If it gives off a bold pineapple fragrance it is ripe.
**Stone Fruits (peaches, apricots, nectarines) Choose those that are very fragrant and give slightly when pressed.
**Strawberries- Ripe strawberries have a very rich strawberry fragrance.  Choose those that have a deep red color are firm and free of any blemishes.

THE FINGER PUSHER and THE THUMPER:
**Apples- Look for crisp and hard apples with no blemishes on the skin.
**Avocados (Hass)- Should feel slightly soft.  Choose those that have a roughly textured skin, as those that have a smooth skin tend to have a milder flavor.
**Beets- Look for beets that are firm, attached to stems and have fresh green tops.
**Blueberries- Look for blueberries that are firm and plump.
**Cucumbers- Look for firm dark green cucumbers without any marks on the skin.
**Grapes- Choose grapes that are firm and have a white powdery looking finish; this is called the bloom and indicates freshness.
**Onions, Garlic, and Shallots- Look for those that feel very hard and have no green sprouts. 
**Watermelon-Choose a watermelon that has a firm dark green rind.  When thumped, a slight hollow sound is usually a sign of a full juicy melon.
**Winter Squash- Choose those that have a hard smooth skin.
**Zucchini- Choose those that have a firm dark green skin.

THE HUMAN SCALE:
**Eggplant- Choose an eggplant that is heavy for it’s size and has a smooth skin.
**Tomatoes- Choose tomatoes that are the heaviest, very fragrant and with a rich color.
**Citrus- Choose citrus that feels heavy for it’s size.

THE INSPECTOR:
**Broccoli- Choose heads that are dark green and color and buds are tight.
**Greens (iceberg, romaine, butter, kale, spinach, cabbage, mustard, watercress, radicchio and collards)- Avoid greens with any yellowing or brown spots.  Choose greens that are not limp, but crisp.  Heads of fresh greens should look like a bouquet.
**Mushrooms- Choose those that are not bruised, slimy or wrinkled.
**Raspberries- Choose carefully those raspberries that have no sign of mildew or mold.  Berries should be bright red in color and have a faint raspberry fragrance.
**Bell Peppers- Choose peppers that hat have a smooth skin free of blemishes.

No matter what your role in the production of “a farmer’s market”…smeller, pusher, thumper, human scale or inspector.  Get out and support your local farmer’s market and local growers.  Using the above tips choose the best fruits and vegetables that are in season in the region in which you live…. Did you know that fruits and vegetables locally grown tend to have more nutrients and flavor?  You can’t smell, push, thump, weigh or inspect that goodness. 

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Reader Comments:

I was always told to check for a light green bottom of a watermelon which shows it has set to ripen for a while.

By Joanna on June 17, 2009

it was so helpfull to get a list of all the things to look and do while getting fresh produce. I plan to keep your list in my purse for reference..thank you…

By jacqueline deisering on June 03, 2009

Great tips for buying produce. When I’m in the store, I think I’m getting a good melon, or strawberries, but when I get home, I am always disappointed. No taste.  I will try your tips.
Thanks, Karon

By Karon Cunningham on May 24, 2009

Thank you for all the info.  I never quite know how to choose the best produce.  I try to get what “looks” good & hope for the best!

By MelanieL on May 23, 2009

My mother and I often wondered how to choose fresh fruits and veggies. Often times are thoughts were incorrect! I will be updating her immediately! Thanks so much!

By AnnieSueSnowflake on May 22, 2009

Thanks, all your information is so helpful. I love summer for all the fresh veggies and fruit that you can buy at the farmers market. Fresh is so much better.

By Janet Pollard on May 22, 2009

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