How to Choose Fresh Produce

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There's nothing like eating the season's first crop of fruits and vegetables--biting into sweet, fleshy strawberries in the spring or tasting summer's succulent melons. Choosing the freshest produce possible is mostly a matter of eating in season--something we supermarket shoppers have lost sight of.

  • Break your produce shopping down by season. You can find most produce items any time of year, but some are best during specific seasons.

  • In spring, buy apricots, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, english peas, fava beans, radishes, rhubarb and spinach. It's best to ask a produce manager on the spot if something is worth buying. A few tips: Avocados should be slightly soft and squeezable. Apricots should have a uniform color and shape and be slightly soft, as well. Spinach should have bright green, crisp leaves.

  • In summer, by berries, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, figs and garlic. Berries usually have a nice aroma when they're ripe. If they appear fresh on the underside of the container (not mushy or moldy), they're probably safe. Eggplants should be shiny and firm, the smaller they are means they're younger and sweeter. Figs are best when they're ripe and soft, almost shriveled.

  • In fall, buy apples, arugula, broccoli, brussels sprouts, fennel, hard-shelled squash, pears, persimmons, pomegranate, sweet peppers and sweet potatoes. Broccoli shouldn't have any yellow spots, and should smell sweet--not like cabbage. Squash shouldn't have soft spots. Pears are best when firm, but offering some give at the stem end.

  • In winter, broccoli rabe is the most well known piece of produce. It's standards for purchase are the same as any broccoli.

  • Buy any time if it looks safe. Out-of-season produce doesn't mean it's not still fresh and flavorful, it's probably just a bit smaller or has a weaker taste than in-season produce.

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