How to Choose the Best Local Produce
Find that red ripe watermelon using sound. First, take your hand and tap the watermelon. If it has a high pitch, that’s a good sign. If the sound is more of a deep “thump” or “thud”, that typically means the watermelon is overripe. Second, look for one side to have a yellow belly. That is an indication the watermelon was left on the vine for the entire growing process. Third, the external of the watermelon should be smooth. If you take your hand across the watermelon and feel a raised area along the ribbing of the watermelon, it could be an indication that the watermelon was left on the vine too long.
The best thing to look for is the netting on the cantaloupe. The netting should be fairly tight and not widespread. Typically, if it’s widespread, it doesn’t have the flavor because it grew faster than it should have. You also want a straw-like color on the cantaloupe, and you can also go by fragrance. If you smell around the stem end and it has a strong cantaloupe fragrance, that’s another good sign.
To pick a peach that’s ready to eat, give a slight amount of pressure with your fingers, and if it gives just slightly, then it’s ready. If you try to give it some pressure with your fingers, and it doesn’t give at all, let it sit for another day. Peaches will ripen within a day or two, typically, out of refrigeration. On the counter is the perfect place to let it ripen.
Local nectarines are one of our favorites. They are left on the tree until they are at the peak of maturity. Choose a nectarine that is firm ripe which means, the nectarine gives with just slight pressure and free from bruising. Since these are ready to eat, they can bruise easily so be sure to handle carefully.
Most times of the year, blackberries can be slightly tart but during our local growing season, the blackberries are sweeter than normal and make for a special treat. Look for berries that are uniform in size and are dark purple in color.
The best way to check on an ear of corn is to pull back the husk just a little bit, just to make sure the ear is developed all the way to the very end. Sometimes you’ll see the last half-inch never developed at all, and it’s just kind of white. That happens from time to time. Don’t choose that ear. I always take my fingernail and puncture one of the kernels. If it spits the juice out at you, you know you’ve got a good ear of corn. If you press on that kernel and nothing happens, then the kernel is probably dehydrated, and there’s no sugar content. You want a good, green husk and stay away from any ear with silk that’s real slimy.
I think a medium size is the right size (to choose). The calyx — that’s the green part at the end of the eggplant, the stem end where they would have picked it from the plant — you want that to be a nice, vibrant green color. That shows freshness. You want the skin of the eggplant to be purple to chocolatey brown in color. And you want it to be firm. You don’t want it to really have much give or sponginess to it at all.
There’s nothing like a good local tomato. When choosing a tomato, you are looking for good red color, has slight give and no bruising. It’s also good to look at the stem end to be sure there are no cracks which can minimize shelf life.
A nice green color, the ends of the beans are clean and they aren’t broken, and no russeting on the beans — no little brown specks.
Whether it’s stuffed peppers or on top of a salad, green peppers are a must for the summer. When selecting peppers, the stem should be green and the wall of the pepper should be thick and not give to slight pressure. Although the size of the pepper will vary, choose a pepper that has good weight.
Over the past several years, Lancaster County is starting to become a rather large growing area for sweet onions. They say that some sweet onions are as sweet as watermelons. When selecting an onion, the onion should be firm. Also, check just below the neck of the onion to be sure you do not notice any softness to the onion. Don’t forget to grab some of these nature’s candy for the perfect burger or salad.