How to Choose Fresh Produce

Four Parts:Choosing Produce in SpringChoosing Produce in SummerChoosing Produce in FallChoosing Produce in Winter

Choosing the freshest produce makes a difference when the time comes to eat it. Succulent, juicy fruit and crisp, flavorful veggies peak at different times during the year, so it pays to know what's in season. If you're at a loss for what produce to choose at the grocery store, and during what season, read on. Choosing the right produce doesn't have to be a chore. It's actually quite fun!

Part 1
Choosing Produce in Spring

Produce What to Look For How to Store Dishes to Make
Apricot Uniform color Store at room temperature, or in refrigerator Apricot jam; apricot tart
Artichoke Firm, tightly-packed leaves; heavy, without discoloration Store in a closed plastic bag, refrigerated Steamed artichoke
Asparagus Firm, green spears Store in an open plastic bag, refrigerated Roasted asparagus
Avocado Slighty spongy, slight give; buy before avocado becomes ripe Keep at room temperature Guacamole; ceviche
Beet Firm beets; fresh, unwilted greens Store in open plastic bag, refrigerated Beet salad; roast beets
Carrot Deep orange color, crisp texture, and green tops Store refrigerated, in a closed plastic bag Glazed carrots; carrot juice
Cauliflower Florets tightly packed; bright white color Store refrigerated, in a closed plastic bag Cauliflower curry; fried cauliflower
Cherry Shiny, firm but not tough, deep red or yellow Refrigerate; do not wash until ready to eat Cherry pie; cherry juice
Peas Firm pods, plump but not bursting Refrigerate in an open plastic bag Peas pulao; pea soup
Fava Bean Firm, clean, fuzzy pods Cook and eat immediately for best taste Puree with olive oil for crostini
Radish Firm, smooth, and even-colored Refrigerate in open plastic bag Radish curry; takuan
Rhubarb Speckled red, pink, or green stalks; firm and crisp Remove greens, eat within four days Rhubarb pie
Spinach Bright, green leaves; flat or wavy leaves Wrap in damp paper towel and store in refrigerator crisper Cream spinach; spinach casserole

Part 2
Choosing Produce in Summer

Produce What to Look For How to Store Dishes to Make
Berries Fragrant aroma, firm feel; check for mold Store at room temperature if using same day; refrigerate in paper towel-lined bowl Blueberry coulis; fruit compote
Corn Fresh, silk; unwilted leaves; plump kernels Store in crisper, use ASAP Grilled corn; corn fritters
Cucumber Firm skin; English varietal is smooth, while Japanese varietal is wrinkled Refrigerate away from apples and tomatoes cucumber salad
Eggplant Smooth, shiny skin; the smaller, the sweeter Refrigerate in crisper Eggplant parmesan; eggplant dip
Fig Ripe when soft; best when almost shriveled, but without mold Store in towel-lined, closed plastic bag, refrigerated Fig spread; fig syrup
Garlic Firm, tight heads without sprouted green tops Store in dry, cool, dark place (not refrigerated) Caramelized garlic; hummus
Green Bean Crisp, bright, not shriveled Store in crisper Stir-fry green beans
Melons Honeydews: creamy yellow skin; Cantaloupes: tan, but not green skin; Except for watermelons, all melons should smell sweet at stem end Unripened, store at room temperature; ripe, store in refrigerator Juice, cut, or make into soup
Nectarine Slightly spongy; color not green Store at room temperature Grilled nectarines
Onion Firm, even color Store in a cool, dark place (tied-off in pantyhose) Caramelize; French onion soup
Plum Steady color, slightly springy to touch Refrigerate Plum cake
Potato Even color; no sprouts; smaller tend to be more flavorful Store in cool, dark place (tied-off in pantyhose) Gnocci; hash browns; baked potato
Strawberry Plump, red berries with bright, green stem; no trace of mold Store in crisper; use as soon as possible Strawberries and cream
Summer Squash Unscratched, not limp; juice coming out of stalk for truly fresh squash Store in crisper Grilled squash
Tomato Firm but not hard; fragrant; cracking on skin doesn't matter Store at room temperature, out of sun Caprese; gazpacho; pasta sauce

Part 3
Choosing Produce in Fall

Produce What to Look For How to Store Dishes to Make
Apple No bruising, soft spots; the firmer the better Store in crisper or at room temperature Cook with Rome beauty, Braeburn, McIntosh; Eat Fuji, Pink Lady, or Granny Smith
Arugula Deep green, fragrant; no yellowing Line plastic bag with paper towel and store in refrigerator Rocket pesto
Broccoli Florets tightly packed together; sweet aroma Refrigerate in open plastic bag Steamed broccoli; broccoli beef
Brussels Sprouts Buy while still on stalk; avoid yellow or brown leaves Refrigerate Sauté with bacon
Fennel Firm bulbs, all white Refrigerate with stalk attached Cook in pizza or couple with sausage
Autumn Squash Should contain no soft spots Store in a cool, dark place Butternut squash soup
Pear Best when firm but gives slightly at stem Store in crisper or at room temperature Pears in maple syrup; poached pears
Persimmon Hachiya: slightly squishy when ripe; Fuyu: firm and orange Store at room temperature Bake in bread pudding
Pomegranate Heavy, deep color, with a few cracks Store at room temperature Grenadine; pomegranate lemon bars
Sweet Pepper Glossy skin; firm and crisp Store at room temperature Roasted pepper; pickled peppers
Sweet Potato Firm, smooth skin without any soft spots or divots Store in a cool, dark place, as one would onions or other potatoes Sweet potato fries

Part 4
Choosing Produce in Winter

Produce What to Look For How to Store Dishes to Make
Broccoli Rabe Fully green, with no sign of yellow Store in closed bag in refrigerator Steam, sauté, blanch or roast
Cabbage Firm; color between shiny and matte Store in crisper Sauerkraut; cabbage rolls
Celery Root Tops are fresh and firm; trim off stems and skin before storing Refrigerate in open plastic bag lined with damp paper towel Cream of vegetable soup
Mustard Green, Kale, Chard Rich, dark leaves with no yellowing (except for rainbow chard) Refrigerate in open plastic bag lined with damp paper towel Pasta with Swiss chard
Leek White stalk and vibrant top Store in crisper, wash thoroughly before using Vichyssoise
Parsnip The whiter, the fresher Store in crisper Roasted maple syrup parsnip
Rutabaga Smooth, firm skin Store in cool, dark place Vegetarian stew
Turnip Greens should be unwilted and look fresh Store at room temperature (keeps for a while); wash thoroughly before using Sauté turnips or pickle them

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Categories: Food Selection and Storage