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Summer Bounty from CSAs and Farmers Markets

To get the freshest in-season produce, you can hardly go wrong at your local farmers market or by signing up for a weekly share through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Both are great ways to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer who grows it. Farmers markets and CSAs have exploded in numbers the past few years as people want to learn more about how and where their food is grown.

With CSAs, a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of fruits and vegetables, but other farm products may be included, such as farm-raised chicken or eggs. People buy a share and receive a weekly box or bag of seasonal produce each week throughout the growing season. Farmers benefit by receiving payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow. Buyers get exposed to new produce and new ways of cooking it and enjoy the added benefit of getting the freshest food available to them.

If you'd rather select your own produce, farmers markets are another alternative to explore.  You’ll find farmers markets in urban settings, as well as in the suburbs and on countryside roads. When you visit the market, be sure to bring along a couple of sturdy bags.  I keep a supply of reusable grocery bags in my car at all times so that I'm always ready.  Visit regularly and get to know the growers.  Ask questions, be willing to try new things, and know that sharing recipes is always welcomed.  Plan your trip so you are able to shop and then go directly home to store your treasures in the refrigerator to keep them as fresh as possible.  Remember, potatoes, onions and tomatoes should be stored in a cool, dry place and not the refrigerator.

The key to choosing good quality produce is to look, touch and smell.  Look for undamaged, blemish-free, healthy fruits and vegetables.  Touch and smell to help determine ripeness.  It's also important to purchase produce in season to ensure the best quality.  Below are some general guidelines to help with your selections:

 


Fruits What to Look For:
Apples Look for firm, bruise-free fruit.
Bananas The color of the banana will determine the taste.  Green indicates not ripe, yellow means ripe, yellow with brown spots means more ripe (the more brown the sweeter the banana), lots of brown means use for banana bread or muffins. Remember, bananas will continue to ripen on your counter so you may want to purchase a couple of different degrees of ripeness to carry through the next few days.
Blueberries Look for deep blue/purple berries with a dull white frost.  Berries should be plump and smooth, not wrinkled or shriveled.
Cantaloupe Look for close netting (the pattern of the ridges on the outside of the fruit) for best quality.  Check the stem end for a smooth “stem scar” and a yellow or green-yellow color which indicates ripeness.  They should also have a fruity aroma at the stem end.
Cherries Look for large glossy, plump, firm cherries that have a dark color.  Cherries should be kept cool and moist to retain the best texture and color.
Citrus Fruits Look for fruit that feel heavy for its size.  Smoother, thinner skin usually means more juice.  Gently squeeze the fruit and select those that are firm with no soft spots.
Grapes Look for plump, wrinkle-free grapes with stems firmly attached.
Honeydew Look for a creamy to yellowish color rind that has a velvety texture.
Kiwi Look for kiwi which will yield slightly to the touch when gently squeezed.  Mushy or wrinkled kiwis are overripe.
Mangos Look for mangos that yield to pressure when gently squeezed, have no dark spots or blemishes and have a very fragrant aroma.
Nectarines Look for brightly colored fruit with a fragrant aroma and which yield slightly to pressure when gently squeezed.
Papayas Look for papayas that yield slightly when gently squeezed and are starting to turn yellow.
Peaches Look for fruit that have a yellow or warm cream colored background color with no green, yield slightly when gently squeezed and have a fruit aroma.
Pears Look for pears with a pleasing aroma and which are slightly soft at the stem end.  Pears often have some brown discoloration which is acceptable.
Pineapples Look for fruit with a slight amount of softness and a sweet fragrance.  Leaves should be bright green and healthy.
Raspberries and Blackberries Look for well-shaped plump, dry berries that have intense color and are free of debris or mold.
Strawberries Look for bright red berries where the color extends to the stem.  Berries should not be hard or mushy and should be free of blemishes.  They should have a strong fruity aroma.
Tomatoes Look for tomatoes that feel heavy for their size and yield slightly to gentle pressure.  They should have a rich color and be free of soft spots, wrinkles, cracks and bruises.
Watermelon Look for a heavy, dense melon that has a dull rind with a creamy-yellow underside.  It should be free of cuts, dents, soft spots or sunken areas and will sound hollow when tapped.

 

Vegetables What to Look For:
Artichokes Look for heavy artichokes with tightly closed leaves.  The leaves should squeak when pinched together.
Asparagus Look for bright green spears with tight, purple-tinged buds.
Avocados Look for firm avocados that yield to gentle pressure.  If pressing leaves a dent, the avocado is very ripe and is only suitable for mashing.
Beets Look for smooth, unbruised and unwrinkled skin.  If the greens are attached they should not be wilted.  Large beets will have a hard, woody core while smaller beets will be sweeter. 
Bell Peppers Regardless of the color (green, yellow, red or purple) look for peppers that are bright in color and free of wrinkles, soft spots dents.  They should feel “weighty” for their size and the stems should be a bright, deep green.
Broccoli Look for firm stems and tight florets that are a deep green
Cabbage Look for heavy heads which are compact.  Heads should have many outer leaves.  Be sure to check the stem end for separation, which indicates age.
Carrots Look for carrots with greens still attached – these will keep longer and taste fresher.  Also, look for a dark orange color, smooth surface with no blemishes or cracks, and they should be firm.
Corn (Sweet) Look for plumb, juicy kernels which are large enough to be compact and fill the entire cob.  If the corn is still in the husk, peel back a bit of husk to check the kernels.
Cucumber Look for long, slender, firm cucumbers that are dark green with no yellow areas.
Eggplant Look for heavy eggplants that spring back when you touch or gently squeeze.  The skin should be tight and shiny.
Green Beans Look for thin beans with a smooth and velvety surface.  They should snap when gently bent.
Lettuce (romaine, leaf) Look for crisp green leaves that are free of blemishes, browning and rust.
Onions Look for nicely shaped onions that have a dry outer skin, no soft spots or dark patches.
Peas and Pea Pods Look for pods that are well-filled, have no spots, yellowing or wrinkles.
Potatoes Look for potatoes which are well-shaped and feel firm with no decay, sprouts or green spots.
Radishes Look for bright green leaves which are not wilted.  The roots (radishes) should be bright, deep red with no cracks or nicks.  When the radishes are gently squeezed they should be firm, not soft or hollow in the center.

Remember to shop for fruits and vegetables in season from markets that are as close to the grower as possible. Use your senses when selecting quality fruits and vegetables – look, touch and smell. Shop several times per week and plan to use your produce within two to three days to enjoy fruits and vegetables at their peak quality. Enjoy the best that summer has to offer!

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