Artichokes: Use the squeak test. A fresh artichoke will squeak when you rub it between your fingers.
Asparagus: Look at the end. It it's shriveled and dry, you know it's old.
Avocados: When they feel heavy for their size, they have high oil content (and therefore good flavor).
Beets: Like sweet corn, they're best when eaten right after they're picked because their sugar gradually turns to starch.
Blackberries: A ripe blackberry has a sheen to it and drupelets (the little sacs that make up the berry) that are big and plump.
Broccoli: The cut end should be moist, not cracked; broccoli should smell sweet and mild, not strong and cabbagey.
Cantaloupes: Look at the background color between the raised netting. It should be tan or gold, not greenish.
Eggplant: Go for the gloss, as the pickers do. A shiny eggplant is probably a fresh one.
Green beans: An old timer's trick—if they stick to your clothes, they're fresh.
Hard-shelled squashes: Look for a dull rind; a sheen indicates lack of maturity. with the buff-colored butternut, greenish streaks on the skin are a sign that it's underripe.
Parsnips: They tend to yellow a little in storage, so look for the whiter ones. Parsnips should also feel rigid; if at all flabby, they've probably been out of the ground awhile and have lost moisture.
Peas: Look for pods that are filled out but not to the point that you can see the shape of the peas.
Peaches: The clue to ripeness is the background color. It should be golden yellow, with no hint of green.
Plums: They should have some "spring": when you press gently, they bounce back.
Pomegranates: Look for a few cracks, which indicate that the fruit is ripe and beginning to burst.
Strawberries: A shiny berry is a fresh berry. If the shine is off the berry it's a good chance it's several days off the plant.
Summer squash: The stem end will tell you how fresh it is. If you can see a little juice coming out of the stem, that's really fresh.
Watermelon: Hold it like a baby and slap it on the bottom. It should sound like you're hitting a jug of water.
Fresh From the Farmers' Market
by Janet Fletcher
1997; $19.95 paperback
Recipes and photos reprinted by permission.
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