If you read my cooking adventures or follow me on Instagram you know I am a lover and a shopper of my farmer’s market. The question I get asked often is “How do you know it’s ripe?” “How do you cook it?” and my favorite “What the hell is it?” Today I will answer the first question as some signs of freshness are unique to specific produce, but these will become second nature once you learn these tips. Happy
Tips for common produce
Apples: They should be firm and smooth. Gently press a small area of the fruit’s skin, and avoid anything noticeably soft, wrinkled, bruised or discolored.
Avocados: To tell how ripe they are, look at color and firmness. Ripe Hass avocados have a dark green, almost black skin, and they give just slightly when you press. Underripe avocados will be hard, while overripe avocados will feel mushy, and the skin might feel like it’s separating from the flesh inside.
Berries: Seasonal berries will always have the best flavor. You want bright colors, firmness, a sweet smell and zero visible decay. Since berries are typically sold in clamshell packaging, check the bottoms for liquid or mold. At farmers markets, berries are often sold in open containers, where it’s easier to spot issues.
Broccoli: Avoid broccoli with pale or yellow spots. A strong smell is also a sign that the broccoli is old. The stalks should be firm, with green, crisp leaves. Florets should be dark green.
Carrots: Look for bright, smooth and firm carrots, with no limpness or visible cracks. Ideally, the leafy green tops will still be attached since those are a good indicator of freshness. The bulk bin is your best bet, instead of bagged carrots.
Citrus fruits: Look for vibrant colors and fruit that’s firm but just slightly tender. If the fruit is too firm, it might be lacking in juice. Skip citrus with bruised surfaces that are dull in color and/or mushy. Heft can be an indication of juicy fruit.
Garlic: Bulbs should be plump and firm. The papery outer skins should be intact. The garlic should not have an odor. Avoid anything soft or with green sprouts.
Leafy greens: Look for bright, crisp, full leaves with a consistent color. Avoid anything slimy or wilted.
Mushrooms: Avoid mushrooms with a fishy odor, slimy exterior or noticeable discoloration. While there’s sometimes a bit of natural texture (oyster mushrooms), fresh mushrooms will generally have firm, smooth caps and stems.
Onions: Look for onions that are firm and heavy, with their papery skins intact. Avoid anything that is sprouting, soft or that has an odor.
Peaches: Local, seasonal peaches will always have the best flavor. Select fragrant, colorful peaches that are mostly firm but slightly soft to the touch.
Peppers: Both bell and chile peppers should have smooth surfaces and vibrant colors. They should feel firm. Avoid anything wrinkled or bruised.
Potatoes/sweet potatoes: Look for firm potatoes without wrinkled skins, sprouting eyes or a green tinge.
Summer squash: Summer squash (zucchini, yellow squash, pattypan) will have glossy skin, bright color and fresh appearance. There should be no wrinkles or mushy spots.
Tomatoes: Seasonal, locally grown tomatoes will always have the best flavor. Look for smooth, unbroken skin. Tomatoes should be slightly soft but not mushy.
Winter squash: When selecting winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn), look for a hard rind. You want something that seems heavy for its size, because in this case, weight is a good indicator of quality.