APPLES – Look for a deep, rich coloring, particularly around the stem, where it should be dark, instead of green. With the Red and Yellow Delicious Apples, a slightly speckled skin and some brown lines are good signs of ripening. In the summer the New Zealand Gala Apples offer the best quality.
BANANAS – Look for short, round, stout bananas because these ripen the best. Ideally, a banana should speckle when it ripens, and the green should disappear from around its base and stem. A banana that turns uniformly brown without speckling should be avoided. Rarely do thoroughly green bananas ripen well at home. Look for a rich yellow color from end to end.
GRAPES – When buying Thompson Seedless Grapes, or “green grapes,” look for a yellow or golden hue, which indicates a higher sugar content. The smaller grapes are usually superior to the larger ones. The Red Flame Seedless Grapes are widely available, and the redder they are the better. Be on the lookout for the Black Seedless Grapes, which have a tough skin but a bold flavor.
PEARS – A pear is one of the few fruits which actually ripen better off the tree than on. So, don’t be afraid to buy pears and ripen them at home. The Bosc Winter Pear is actually best eaten hard. With other varieties, check for softness around the stem.
WATERMELONS – Look at the “belly,” or underside, of the watermelon. It should be yellow, not white. Look at the stem..It should look brown and withered, not green. Look at the shape. It should be symmetrical, not gourd-shaped. Thump the melon. An unripe melon thumps with a high, squeaky note. An over-ripe melon thumps flat. A ripe melon thumps with a low, bass note.
CANTALOUPES – Here you have to use your nose. A ripe cantaloupe emanates a wonderful perfume. The skin should have a deep netting and a golden tan. Check for softness at the opposite stem. When soft to the push, it is ripe.
MANGOS – The more color in a mango, the better. The best ones are usually multi-colored, like a rainbow. The round, symmetrical ones are usually superior to the long, slender ones. Mangos should yield to the pressure when ripe, but they should not feel “mushy” to the push.
PEACHES – These should always be fragrant and should have a distinct “blush.” Hard peaches rarely ripen nicely at home. Look for peaches that feel solid, but which yield to gentle pressure. The same is true of nectarines and apricots.
PINEAPPLES – These should be golden from top to bottom – and very fragrant. Check for softness, particularly at the top. The “litmus test” is to try to pull out one of the leaves from the top. It should yield easily.
LETTUCE – The more green in the lettuce; the more food value it has. Pick heads that are crisp, dense and heavy. To insure freshness, store lettuce in a plastic bag, squeezing out all of the air before securing the bag lightly.
CELERY – To avoid stringy celery, pick stalks that are thick, stout and succulent. Color is a delicate matter. Celery that is too green is often bitter. Celery that is too white has less food value. Here we are looking for a happy medium. Like lettuce, celery should be protected from exposure to air.
TOMATOES – A good tomato is very red, thin skinned, and symmetrical, with the stem end well indented. Often, the cherry tomatoes and Roma (pear-shaped) tomatoes have the most flavor, especially in the winter.
CUCUMBERS – Remember that cucumbers are best eaten young. Therefore, look for the smaller, more slender, and knobby cucumbers which have more flavor and fewer seeds. When available, get the pickling variety because they are neither waxed or oiled.
PEPPERS – It doesn’t make much sense to buy green peppers when red and yellow ones are available. However, when you are sorting through green peppers, look for the ones with red streaks because they are bound to be sweeter. Even a little bit of ripening is better than none at all.
CARROTS – For juicing, the large, bulk carrots are best. For salad use, the smaller, younger carrots are to be preferred. In general, the California carrots are the most consistently sweet, followed by those from Colorado. Carrots grown in warm places like Texas, Arizona and Mexico are often bitter.
BROCCOLI – Here again, the greener, the better. Look for crisp, wide heads with tight, dense buds and dark, even coloring. Yellowness is a sign of overmaturity. Remember that the leaves of the broccoli are tasty and nutritious, too. Also, try peeling the stalks and eating them like celery.
ZUCCHINI – This vegetable should always be eaten young. Look for thin, shiny ones with a medium-green color. The presence of tiny, fuzzy hairs on the surface actually indicates garden freshness. With yellow squash, the crookneck variety usually has the most flavor.
There you have it -from “A”, to “Z” – some of our most readily available and most delicious fruits and vegetables. Enjoy!