Prime fruit and veggie season is almost upon us, meaning grocery stores and farmers’ markets will soon be overflowing with delicious produce. Here’s how to pick the best of the crop.
Fruits and vegetables taste freshest when they’re bought in season. Which means these sweet "accessory fruits," whose peak months are between June and August, are almost ripe for the picking. For the best bushels, pick berries that are firm, shiny, and bright red, with stem caps still attached.
Some fruits, such as pears, keep ripening after they’re picked. So when it comes to choosing one, only pick a particularly ripe pear if you’re planning on eating it right away. A pear’s stem end is its best indicator of ripeness; if it gives under slight pressure, you’re good to go. If you notice softness anywhere else, the pear is already past its peak. Pears are in season from August to May, so hurry out and grab the best ones while you can.
If you’re looking to increase your vitamin intake through fruits and veggies, then seek out produce that’s vividly colored, like this vitamin-packed fruit (that actually helps fight cancer!). The freshest tomatoes are plump, brightly colored, and free of dark spots. You can also use your nose to check for ripeness; if the stem end smells like a fresh garden, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Tomatoes are in season from May to August.
Another vitamin powerhouse, kale is best when its leaves are unwilted and deep green. Bunches with small leaves are usually more tender; those whose leaves are yellowing should be avoided. These leafy greens are in season from January through April.
Sometimes the best indicators of freshness are the ones that look the least appealing. In the case of watermelons, it’s that ugly patch of dirt you often see on their sides. Called a ground spot, it’s a sign that the melon was left on the vine long enough to ripen. Withered stems, while equally unattractive, also point toward ripeness. These summer favorites are in season May through August.
Peaches, in season from June to September, also taste better the more unappetizing they look. While your instinct may be to avoid the more bruised-looking fruits, those blemishes, called sugar spots, are actually signs you’ve got a sweet, sugary peach on your hands. Also look out for a stripe of lighter-colored flesh across the stem, which means the peach was allowed to ripen for longer before being picked.
Gone are the days that carrots only came in the color orange. These days, farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores carry them in a rainbow of colors, from purple to yellow to red to white. Regardless of the color, seek out carrots that are firm and well-shaped and eschew those that sport cracks. And if you buy them in bunches with the leafy green tops still on, be sure to remove the tops before storing, or else your carrots will start to dry out. These crunchy veggies are in season all year.
8. BELL PEPPERS
Like carrots, peppers are in season year round, although they’re at their most flavorful during the summer and early fall. Look for ones that are firm, heavy, and brightly colored, with green stems and skin free of blemishes. As peppers come in a range of colors, keep in mind what taste you’re going for when you choose one; green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange, and yellow varieties are sweet.
9. SUMMER SQUASH
As their name attests, these squashes, like zucchini and yellow crooknecks, have a peak season between June and August. Be on the lookout for medium-size squash that are firm and heavy, with skin that’s glossy and brightly colored. Stay away from those with dull, tough exteriors, which usually house enlarged seeds and stringy flesh.
These root veggies, in season from June to October, come in red, golden and even striped varieties. For all colors, seek out beets that are firm, round, and smooth. And if they’re sold in a bunch with the leafy tops attached, go for ones with fresh-looking greens, which are also edible. Pass over any beets with long roots or scaly areas up top, as these will be tough and yield a strong flavor.
In season from October to May, broccoli’s at its best when its stalks are firm, its leaves are crisp, and its florets are dark green. Ones to avoid: any bunches with a very strong smell, or yellowing or flowering florets, all signs that they’re past their peak.
If you’ve frequented a farmers’ market in fall, you’ll know this fruit comes in a multitude of varieties, from McIntosh to Macoun to Honeycrisp. But the ripeness indicators are the same no matter the breed: look for apples that are firm, richly colored, and heavy for their size. Apple season runs from September to May.
Bananas are at peak taste when their skin is bright yellow mottled with a little brown. But if you’re not planning on eating them right away, it’s best to buy them when they’re still a bit green, as they keep ripening after they’re picked. Just be sure to keep them on your countertop rather than in your fridge; contrary to what you might think, the fruit actually ripens more quickly in the cold. Banana lovers are in luck: this fruit is in season year round.