Fresh Fruit
December 26, 2003 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I keep buying produce that tastes terrible, and I know it's because I'm buying stuff out-of-season. I need a really good guide to fruit that tells me when it's best to buy various items. I already found a great book that helps me buy vegetables.
posted by grumblebee to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not only should it be in season to be optimal, it should also be organic. I can't eat non-organic (or "conventional, as the grocers put it) produce anymore - I can taste the chemicals.

Did you notice that right under your link to Chez Panisse Vegetables, there is a link to a book called Chez Panisse Fruit? That might be just what you're looking for. If anyone has a link to a good list of what produce is in season for each month of the year in the US, I would love to see it. Right now I'm pigging out on persimmons, pomegranates, and clementines.
posted by iconomy at 9:37 AM on December 26, 2003

First and foremost, I can't recommend Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything enough. He discusses each common NA vegetable at length (a few pages for each). He also has a chapter on fruit in a similar vein. Bittman reads much like a textbook though. If that turns you off, The Joy of Cooking is a bit more chatty. James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking is a bit dated, but has great concordance of ingredients at the back. Finally, look at James Peterson's Vegetables. Peterson give a huge number of pictures in his books, not only of the ingredients and the finished dishes, but also of the preparation, so you have some idea what the cooking process looks like. I've found his books (The Essentials of Cooking particularly) to be really helpful.

That's the theory. In practice, your best connection to good food is usually found in a farmer's market or that produce stall selling corn by the side of the road. Watch out for faux farmers, that is, stalls which sell imported food, particularly at touristy and up-scale "markets". You can learn what's in season when in your area by watching what comes and goes from the farmer's tables over the turning of the year. Talk to the sellers. They are usually the growers or the growers' kids and know a lot about what they sell. If they're not too busy, they're usually all to happy to talk about their food.

Independent butchers, incidentally, do the same for meats. A good butcher is worth the world.
posted by bonehead at 10:07 AM on December 26, 2003

This book is fantastic for what you're looking for. Covers fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, legumes, crustaceans, seaweed, nuts and seeds, mollusks, herbs/spices/condiments, grains... Each page has a different item and explains the history, buying tips, storage/preserving tips, preparing/serving ideas, nutritional info, and lots of illustrations. There is a later edition which has 3 extra pages and a different cover, but it's twice the price. Probably the most used reference book in my house.
posted by dobbs at 11:31 AM on December 26, 2003

A general list of what's in season when. Also, Rebecca's Pocket has some more specific lists (scroll down).
posted by JanetLand at 1:41 PM on December 26, 2003

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Great recommendations. (I also highly recommend "How to Cook Everything."
posted by grumblebee at 6:50 PM on December 26, 2003

Pineapples: Pineapples are ripe when you can pluck one of the small leaves at the very top of the bunch out with a satisfying "pop." If the leaf does not come out with a gentle tug, it's not ripe. If the leaf comes out too easily, it's too ripe (but by this point, you might be able to tell by the yellowness of the skin, odor, etc.)

[Note: Hey, at least my trip to Hawaii was worth something more than the memories. And the surfing.]
posted by zpousman at 12:34 AM on December 27, 2003

Use your nose as well. Sometimes this is will not work in a large grocery where the produce is kept too cold but if the piece of fruit smells as if it should (this goes for tomatoes as well) it will likely taste as it should.

Tomato growers are onto this though -- in France at least -- when a tomato is sold as a bunch on a bit of vine, the vine itself imparts a strong tomato aroma. Caution.

Another farmer warning: many use hothouses which may distort their seasons. Some veggies are okay from the hothouse but others -- like the tomato -- fall flat. Even a salad tough is better when it is straight from the good earth.

I've learned about fruit and veggies from my wife; you are over the first hurdle. It takes time to learn but just asking the question means you will eventually be successful. Train your eye, your nose and your ability to feel the proper heft. (And as Zpousman suggests, some fruit comes with ready made tricks to judge ripeness.)
posted by Dick Paris at 4:56 AM on December 27, 2003

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