When I moved to New Jersey, I realized how lucky I'd been. I also realized how odd people thought my thorough inspections of fruit and vegetables were. But two heads of broccoli can provide very different results, and if I'm going to be paying that much for a nectarine it better be a damn good nectarine.
So how do you pick? Well, first pick by season. You should probably stick with things that are in season in your hemisphere, because long commutes don't bode well for most things.
I think summer is the best time of year to eat fruit, so you should get your fill. Apricots probably have the fastest season, so snatch them while you can!
- Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries): These should all be very dark in color, and generally smaller berries have more flavor. Especially strawberries, blackberries and raspberries should look about ready to burst with juice.
- Stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots): When you walk past this section, you should smell it. If the fruit is kept cold, the fragrance will be less noticeable. Plums should give when squeezed, but return to their original shape (soft, not squishy). For peaches, nectarines and apricots, their firmness is a matter of preference, but make sure they don't have any soft spots. To check ripeness, look at the stem; the area around it should be the same color as the rest of the fruit. Special note: If the thought of eating a nectarine makes your mouth pucker, try a white nectarine! They're less acidic.
- Melons: Cantaloupe and honeydew should give off a distinct aroma, and should have a very slight give in the skin. Although there are numerous theories about watermelons, I've found mine to be 100% successful. If the watermelon produces a hollow sound when knocked upon, it will be delicious. Also, make sure to check for a yellow spot on the skin—this is the part that sat on the ground while the rest of the melon ripened, and should be very obvious.
Most people think of apples and grapes as seasonless fruits, but they're a lot better in fall so get as many as you can during the fall season!
- Apples: Similar to stone fruits, these are best when the area around the stem shows no signs of green. Apples should be very firm, and check thoroughly for soft spots. If they're room temperature, they'll probably also smell good!
- Grapes: Try one! That's really the best way to tell how good they are. Nobody has ever stopped me from munching on a grape in the grocery store.
- Pears: If you're going to eat them right away, the area right around the stem should just give to the touch, but elsewhere should be firm. Much beyond that and they'll be too soft. If you plan to eat them later in the week, buy incredibly firm pears and ripen them on the counter at home.
- Pomegranates: These are ripe when the outside skin splits. They should also feel heavy for their size.
- Cranberries: Ok, these aren't so great for eating, but try baking with them! They should be firm. When they're over the hill, they'll feel bloated and squishy.
Winter is the time for all things citrus. Also a great time to eat more vegetables, as the fruit selection is somewhat limited.
- Grapefruit, Oranges: If you have options, try the Red Star variety of grapefruit. All grapefruits and oranges should be incredibly fragrant and very heavy for their size. (Compare several fruits and pick the heaviest ones.)
- Kiwis: This should have a very slightly give to them, sort of like a ripe pear or avocado. To eat them, slice them in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
- Kumquats: If you see these in the grocery store, give them a try. They should have no signs of green on them. To eat them, put the whole fruit (with skin) in your mouth and chew. The flavor will start sour and gradually become incredibly sweet and delicious.
- Persimmons: There are two varieties of persimmon. One variety, Fuyu persimmons, are fairly flat, like a large head of garlic (without the excess paper). Thay should be very firm and can be eaten like an apple. The other variety, Hachiya persimmons, are shaped like a large acorn, and should be soft. Eat this one like a kiwi--cut it open and scoop out the flesh.
Spring is a transition time from the winter citrus to the summer fruits, and not really a distinct harvest season so far as I can tell. Look for the last of the winter fruits, and keep an eye out for early summer fruits.
- Cherries: Bing cherries are my favorite variety. They should be very dark and very firm. I think it's very worth picking them individually. Rainier cherries are also good—they've got white flesh instead of red. They should be fairly firm, and can be both red and white on the exterior.
- Rhubarb: This comes into season fairly early in the spring. Choose red and shiny stalks. Try cooking the rhubarb in sugar until it gets soft and then spooning it over oatmeal.
What's your favorite fruit of each season?