3 Tips to Choosing Fresh Fruits and Veggies

by Chef Samantha

pears and apples
Have you ever started a new diet or set in motion a resolution to be healthier and seen your money go up in flames because your fruit and veggie basket rotted before you got a chance to eat it? It’s discouraging right? We spend time and money at the grocery store trying to do the right thing and we end up paying for it in a few days with stinky, fuzzy, slimy, green produce. Well here are a few easy tips to make sure you keep on track to fitting in your new dress or lowering your cholesterol.

1. Eat foods that are “In Season” – I know that most households always have the same 3 or 4 fruits hanging around for the kids to snack on; apples, grapes, bananas and oranges. Well I’m here to tell you that your kid may not like apples or oranges so much because they are so bland most of the year. Try giving them a juicy, sweet summer peach in the summer instead of an orange. Watch their eyes light up! Citrus fruit is in season in the winter – which is a common misconception because people naturally associate the bright color of the rind with the hot, bright, sunny summer. Eating fruits in- season also gives you more vitamins and nutrients than eating them out of season. Here is a list of our common fruits and veggies in the different times of the year as a reference for the next time you go shopping.

Spring

Asparagus Cucumbers Papaya
Avocados Guava Peas
Beets Honeydew Strawberries
Blueberries Lettuce Sugar Snap Peas
Blood Oranges Morels

Summer

Apricots Celery Mangos Summer Squash
Arugula Cherries Nectarines Tomatoes
Basil Corn Peaches Watermelon
Blackberries Figs Plums Zucchini
Cantaloupe Grapes Raspberries

Fall

Apples Chanterelles Leeks Pomegranates
Beans Cranberries Mushrooms Pumpkins
Broccoli Dates Pears Squash
Cauliflower Garlic Persimmons Tangerines

Winter

Bananas Citrus Fruits Passion Fruit Sweet Potatoes
Black Beans Kale Pineapples Turnips
Brussels Sprouts Kiwi Potatoes Winter Squash
Cabbage Parsnips Rutabagas

* Items listed in boldface are most characteristic of the season

2. Eat Local – It is a known fact that the shorter your food has to travel to your table, the better it tastes and the more nutritious it is. Have you ever wondered why apples are so perfect looking lined up all pretty and shiny on the shelf at the store? Many times we outsources them from far across the world because it is cheaper in the off- season. Therefore – your apples are picked prematurely, waxed to perfection for looks, stored cold and shipped from one boat to another, then to a plane, then to a store room where they sit for a week prior to being shipped to your local store. And then we go shopping and feel good that we are eating “Fresh” produce. Fresh? – yeah right!

So you ask, how do I go about shopping “local”? One way is to read the sticker/ label on your item. If you live here in Texas, and it says “Texas Grown”, then chances are – you’re getting close if not right on target (not Nicaragua or Mexico). The rule of “local” to most people means within 50 – 200 miles of where you live. If you look around your local grocery store or farmers market, chances are several items are right there within your grasp – you just have to be ok with eating something different than the usual apple, banana or orange if those are not available. Many times, you will find all kinds of new culinary ingredients you would normally pass up if you were not looking. And one of the best perks (to me at least) is that when we choose to eat local, we are supporting our local farmers who work so hard to compete with big corporate produce companies like Dole or Driscoll. So all in all, you not only help your body to be healthier, you enjoy your food more and you help your local economy! How cool is that?!

3. Smell and Look at Your Food – Don’t Squeeze it! – So many times I see people pick up produce and give it a good squeeze before they decide if they want it (which usually they don’t want it and have to squeeze 10 pieces of fruit before they decide). I plead with you – STOP the fruit abuse! All you are doing is spreading germs and making new bruises for the poor sap that ends up buying it. There are other ways of telling if your fruit and veggies are ripe. First – if it is a piece of fruit, smell it – and you don’t have to wipe your nose all over it to smell it. Just hold it a few inches from your face and waft it in. If you can smell the sweet aroma of the peach or the cantaloupe, then chances are – it’s ripe! Next – look at it. If it is bright and deep it color, then chances are it is good. However, if the color is is too deep, like strawberries on the bottom of the pile tend to be, then they are probably on their way out and have a very short shelf life. Some fruits are a little more difficult to tell. One such fruit is watermelon. Now every mother and grandmother has their “trick” to telling if a watermelon is ripe – thump it, shake it, smell the stem… NOPE! Watermelons grow on long curly vines in the dirt. Then they sit there in one place, growing in size, until they are ready to fall off the stem. However, much like the apples we talked about, watermelons are often picked prematurely and shipped to the store. The true tale sign of a good watermelon is to get one that is green all the way around with as little of a light spot (where it sat on the ground) as possible. To put it in scientific terms – chlorophyll, the green pigment which allows plants to absorb their energy from light (a process called photosynthesis), becomes deeper and darker in color and spreads all the way around the watermelon the longer it sits in the light – thus meaning it was allowed to mature on the vine, out in the sun, rather than in a dark, cold store room.

So after you have been to the store or farmers market, how do you store your produce for as long as a shelf life as possible? Do you leave it out, put it in the fridge, rinse it off or leave it alone? Here is a list that can help you determine what to put up and what to keep out.

Keep out on the counter: Citrus fruit, tomatoes, avocados, bananas, mangos, kiwi, potatoes, squash, onions, garlic.

Store in Fridge: Apples, grapes, berries, lettuce, greens, celery, carrots, beets, broccoli, bell peppers, green beans.

Rinse: Lettuce – rinse, pat dry and roll in paper towels. Then, store in crisper tray. This will keep your lettuce, the most quickly perishing items, crisp and fresh much longer.

Don’t wash until use: Berries – they become moldy very quickly. Herbs – don’t rinse, just keep rolled in damp paper towels.

Many times I will come home and unload all of my produce out on the counter and rinse and dry them immediately (except for berries). This mostly prevents any fruit flies from getting in your house. Yes – they sit on your produce as larva and hatch in a few days. Nothing too harmful, but it is nice to know you are not eating little bugs if you can manage the extra work. Rinsing your fruit can also help prevent mold from growing so early as well.

Next time you go to the store, be aware of these few tips and you will be surprised at the selection around you and enjoy your food for much longer. So jump out of the norm of bananas and apples and pick up some snap peas and persimmons! You might be amazed at what your family will eat if given the opportunity!

Chef Samantha

Samantha Rensel is the owner of Savory Celebration with her husband and holds an associates degree in culinary arts and a bachelors in culinary business management from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She interned at the famous Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, where she worked with world class chefs and developed a diverse portfolio of restaurant experience. More recently, she moved back to Houston, Texas where she was the front of the house manager for Central Market. She specialized in working with customers who requested specialized and customized products and services.

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