My father's family has been in the produce and grocery business since the 1930's and have owned stores in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Saratoga, California. He started working in the stores when he was 12. Growing up, I would always watch him diligently shop for fresh produce, and over the years, I have learned many tips and tricks. Here are some of my favorites, since summer is right around the corner.
1. Washing produce - Did you know you can wash your wax-coated fresh produce with a mix of white vinegar and water? Put equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spritz on any produce that has a wax coating (ex. apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, etc.), wipe with a towel and then rinse with water. No need to buy the expensive washes at the store.
2. Produce that is seasonal in May and June - May: cherries, apricots and stone fruits (i.e. anything with a pit). June: melons, grapes, squash and beans. Being located in southern California, you see these in the store all-year-round, but technically these are the months they are in season (meaning they should all be California grown).
3. How to pick the best melon - When you pick up a melon, how do you know its ripe? Cantaloupe: you want the outside netting (skin) with some orange/amber color to it (instead of green) and a slight fragrance. Honeydew: the non-stem end should have "give" to it and the outer shell (skin) should have a tacky feel (slightly sticky). Watermelon: should sound hollow when you tap/pat it.
4. Always check the ads in the mail for good prices - When the stores get in a large shipment they will put it on sale. By shopping these sales, and creating your menu around the peak-season produce, you will save money.
5. Bulk is not always best - The "Costco effect" isn't always true when buying packaged produce. Check the price per unit when buying in bulk. Sometimes it isn't cheaper, and most of the time it isn't the freshest.
6. Ever have questions while shopping? - Ask the people working in the produce section. They can tell you what items are in peak season and help you pick out ripe fruits and veggies.
Happy eating from Jim (Dad) and Alicia