How to Shop for Fruit, Vegetables, and Fish

backyard fig from early September

How to Shop for Fruit, Vegetables, and Fish

For some folks, going to the market is a weekly chore and for others it’s an opportunity to purchase wonderful meats, vegetables, cheeses, fish, and fruits. It’s probably no surprise that we fall into the later group here at Scordo and that we actually look forward to food shopping!

It wasn’t until I learned how to shop for food, however, that I began enjoying looking for the ripest tomatoes, freshest salmon, and just-roasted coffee beans.  Learning how to shop for quality food is not rocket science, but there are some basic rules to follow (specifically in terms of produce and fish):


Buying in season is key so, for example, do not buy peaches, cherries, and plums during the Winter months.  Buying organic across the board is also not always necessary, but there are some fruits and vegetables that yield less pesticides when purchased in organic form, for example: grapes, apples, berries, pears, cherries, lettuce, tomatoes, and beans.  Organic produce usually tastes better that generic conventional stuff flown in from other parts of the country/world, but I’ll often buy non-organic fruits and vegetables if the items appear fresher and are local (generally, and in my view, local is better than organic).

In terms of picking specific fruits at the market, look for ripe, but not too soft tomatoes and peaches, for example.  Some fruits should smell, well, like fruit; you can smell a good peach at the market.  The exterior of most fruit should be vivid in color and blemish free.  Pears, bananas, peaches, figs, and some plums will ripen at home, while grapes, oranges, etc. will look and taste like they do at the market.

You can apply the same technique to picking pears as you do to peaches, though you won’t get any pear scent if you hold a pear to your nose at the market. Fortunately, there are fruits that you can just sample at the market and buy on the spot if they taste good (for example, grapes, cherries, strawberries, and apples)!

When it comes to selecting vegetables things are a bit easier as you basically want to look for crisp green colors in vegetables like arugula, romaine lettuce, string beans, collard greens, escarole, dandelions, and Swis chard (brown or yellow is not good and leaves should not be wilted). A little dirt and a garden bug or two is a good thing (if bugs can live, then the pesticides aren’t the kind that kills everything). If you’re looking for onions or garlic make sure the outer skin is tight and shiny. Potatoes should be hard and not contain too many blemishes.

My wife and I eat fish about 2x per week and we only consume the wild variety including salmon, mackerel, cod, sole, flounder, sardines,  scallops, trout, snapper, and trout as often as possible. Tuna and swordfish are delicious but we try not to have it more than 1-2 per month given mercury concerns (the general rule is the older the fish the more mercury it may contain). Good fish, as you probably know, is all about freshness and freshness can be measured if you focus on smell, texture, and physical appearance (fish should not smell fishy or have a slimy appearance and the texture should be firm and shiny, good dish smells like the ocean). When it comes to fish the best thing you can do is to make friends with your local fish guy (ask around and folks will tell you where to get the freshest fish in your neighborhood).

Purchasing the finest foods is not about parking your car outside some random supermarket on Saturday morning and coming out with a week’s worth of groceries. Getting the best fish may require a trip to the fish guy 20 minutes away from home (on Monday) and the best tomatoes and greens may be located at the farmers market a few towns north of your house (which is only open on Thursdays), for example. The bottom line is that if you have the time, food shopping should be done at local shops that have a particular expertise. You should also do your shopping as close to the day you will consume the food as possible.

Happy eating!


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