A Few Tips to Make Better Produce Purchases
By Mark Mulcahy
I've been working at a Co-op in Isla Vista, CA the past few months as their interim General Manager while they look for a new leader.
While merchandising in the produce department one Friday, I watched a customer pick out an organic pineapple. He would flick it with his index finger to check for ripeness as he picked up each one. Then he would pull out a leaf from the green top, and finally, he would smell it. Of course, only one of these, smelling, will let him know ripeness. Then I watched another customer shake and listen to a watermelon. This got me thinking that many produce customers could use a lesson in the world of picking organic produce.
The first step is to choose Melissa's organic produce, which will give you a good start. Here are a few more points that will be helpful to pick some of your summer favorites.
Organic Sweet Peppers: Whatever color you choose - red, yellow, or orange - the best ripe bell peppers will have deep, vivid colors, should be firm and wrinkle-free, feel heavy for their size and yield only slightly to pressure.
Organic Blueberries: Look for firm berries that have a deep blue hue with a whitish bloom. If they come in a basket or container, shake it! Pay attention to whether the berries tend to move freely. If they don't, they may be soft or moldy and will break down quickly. If your blues appear dull in color, they are more likely to be soft and watery in flavor.
Organic Tomatoes: Look your fruit over closely and make sure it is free of blemishes and bruises and has deep, brightly colored skin - dull-looking tomatoes will have fewer flavors. When cupped in the palm of your hand, a good tomato is firm enough to resist pressure but not so hard that it doesn't react to your touch. It should be heavy for its size as juicier tomatoes are denser, while unripe tomatoes will feel lighter. Check it out next time you are shopping - you'll be surprised at the difference. The old saying that the nose knows is true with tomatoes. For the best fruit, smell the tomato at the stem end; it should have a strong, sweet, earthy odor—the more fragrant the smell, the more flavor waiting for you inside.
Organic Plums: There are thousands of varieties of plums, which can range in color from green to red to deep purple and almost black. Choose Plums that are plump, smooth and well colored. Avoid wrinkled, spongy or dull fruit. If you notice a dusty-white coating on your plums when you choose them at the store or farmers market, this is a good thing. This is a natural, plant-produced waxy coating known as wax bloom that is easily rubbed off and acts as a natural water and insect repellent for the fruit.
Organic Corn: Fresh ripe sweet corn should have bright green, moist husks. The silk should be stiff, dark and moist as well. When choosing corn, you should be able to feel individual kernels by gently pressing your thumb against the husk and running it up the length of the cob. This will let you know if all the kernels are fully developed without pulling away from the husk.
Oh, and by the way - if you are picking out an organic pineapple, first off, you should know that a pineapple ripens from the bottom up. Ripe organic pineapples should have green, fresh leaves, be plump and heavy for their size, and as always - believe your nose! A ripe pineapple should have a strong sweet scent. If it smells at all fermented, then leave it be. Depending on the variety, pineapples can range in color from green to gold so look into their eyes to find the truth. They should have eyes (the little puffy squares that cover the fruit) that are bright and shiny. Lastly, feel the bottom - it should yield to medium pressure and have no signs of mold. If all these things are right, you've got a good one.
Good luck with your produce buying, and enjoy the bounty of summer.