“Mmmm, Those Delicious Fresh Fruits and Vegetables”

During the month of May and early June, many of the Farmers Markets throughout the state of Delaware will be opening, and farmers will be bringing their fresh produce for many of us to purchase. How lucky we are, because meeting and getting to know our farmers means we know our food. Buying local ensures we have really fresh food and a great way to keep our small farmers in business.

It is important to remember that vegetables are usually at their best quality and price at the peak of their season. Purchasing produce when in season also ensures its freshness.

Always check the characteristic signs of freshness: crispness, uniform color, firmness, blemish free and dryness.

The difference in these qualities means the difference in price and quality grades furnished by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Equally important to remember is that vegetables grow in a great variety and provide vitamins and minerals.

Because fresh vegetables have individual characteristics and values, there are no set rules for buying them. Personal experience is probably the best teacher.

However, the following list is designed as a handy reference when purchasing certain vegetables:

Beans (Snap): Look for fresh, bright appearance with good color. Purchase young, tender beans with pods that are firm and crisp. Thick, tough fibrous pods indicate over-maturity.

Beets: Should be firm with a deep red color, and have a round taproot. In most cases beets are sold in a bunch with tops attached. The condition of the tops is a good judge of their freshness. Avoid wilted and flabby beets.

Broccoli: Look for a compact cluster of flowers that is firm, green and sometimes has a purplish cast. Avoid yellow-opened buds or wilted clusters.

Carrots: Should be well-colored, firm, well-formed and smooth. The tops, if attached, should be fresh and have a good green color.

Corn: Pick ears that are well covered with plump, but not too mature kernels. Husks should be green and the silk-ends should be free of decay or worm damage.

Cucumbers: Look for a completely firm, well-developed good green-colored fruit. Avoid overgrown, large-in-diameter, withered and dull green-colored cucumbers.

Peppers: Look for peppers with a deep characteristic color (peppers come in a variety of colors like: purple, green, yellow, white, orange and red), glossy sheen, firm-walled, and relatively heavy weight. Avoid a pepper that is wilted or soft.

Potatoes: Potatoes should be firm, smooth, free of blemishes and sprouts, and free of the green discoloration under the skin (sunburn). Avoid potatoes with large cuts, or that are shriveled, bruised and/or decayed.

Squash (summer): Look for somewhat young, small, firm, glossy, blemish and pit-free skin, and tender fruit.

Tomatoes: Look for a smooth, firm (but not hard), well ripened fruit, with a deep color, and reasonably blemish free.

Remember, Delaware vegetable producers will be harvesting freshly grown products soon.

Therefore, buy when vegetables are in season; the prices will be more reasonable.

Buy only what you can eat or store for two to five days (root vegetables can be stored longer). Handle produce carefully because vegetables bruise easily. At the point of sale, you are the best judge of vegetable quality.

Enjoy Delaware’s best and remember: Know your farm; you’ll know your food. You can find a list of local Delaware Farmers Markets on the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s website at @link href='http://@link href='http://www.dda.delaware.gove/marketing'target="_blank">/link

Maggie L. Moor-Orth
Delaware Cooperative Extension, DSU

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